Alibi V.12 No.45 • Nov 6-12, 2003 

Food Article

Hussein Awad of Yasmine's Café

on the middle-eastern flavors at his new restaurant

The sign has been posted for weeks now, letting us know that something new was coming on Central near the University. Last week, Yasmine's Café (1600 Central SE, 242-1980) opened at last.

First, tell me: Who is Yasmine?

She's my daughter. She's nine years old. I have another daughter named Zena and now she wants a restaurant named after her.

Your sign says Mediterranean Café but the food seems to be from a wide region, including the Middle East.

Well, yes. I am Palestinian and foods like kibbeh (balls of cracked wheat, minced meat, pine nuts and onion) come from all over. The Lebanese and Syrians all make kibbeh. There are so many countries in that region.

One item that shows up on your menu in several different places is shawerma. What is shawerma?

It's the same idea as gyros but instead of buying it frozen we buy the beef and chicken, we take the bones and fat out, season and slice it the way we want it and stack it on the spike and cook it. There are lots of things we want to add to the menu too.

Like what?

We're going to start making our own pita bread—I'm making some right now. We'll have spinach pies, meat pies, that kind of stuff and we want to start making special homemade meals. It's tough to start a business these days. I don't want to put too much pressure on me and Moussa [the cook]. So we started with this menu but we are expanding it.

What do you mean by special home-made meals? Do you mean in the same way that food in Chinese restaurants is often different from the food Chinese people eat at home?

Yes, it's much different. The food we make here now is like fast food, kebabs and sandwiches and things like that. But we're going to make dishes that people would make at home for special occasions.

I tried your kifta the other day...

The ground beef with spices. You know we use halal beef and chicken. Halal is like kosher meat. It's natural, no hormones, no antibiotics, the animals are slaughtered by hand, not by machine. It's expensive but it's good. We'll have some signs soon explaining what it's all about.

My combination plate came with a bunch of little dishes of stuff, too. What is all that?

Because the entrées take a few minutes to make we come out with some pita, pickles, salads just so you can start tasting some things. ... The Jerusalem salad is tomato and cucumber with tahini [sesame seed paste]. The Arabian salad is the same thing but with lemon and mint instead of tahini. Did you taste our hummus?

Yeah, I thought it was good, different.

I've heard people say that. We have some different seasonings. Lots of people just open up a can of chickpeas, toss with lemon juice and olive oil. But we soak the chickpeas, cook them and use special seasonings.

What did you do before you opened Yasmine's?

We owned a convenience store—we still do. It's the Country Club Market at 10th and Coal. I'll be there tonight actually.

You've got a lot of work to do these days.

That's right.