London loves a good brunch. The more unconventional the better: there are hip-hop brunches, Mamma Mia brunches, vegan brunches, bottomless brunches, and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head! Since last year, there is a new kid on the blog: Mo’s Eggs Syrian brunch pop-up, where the only thing more extraordinary than the food is chef Mohammed Rahimeh’s story. I sat down with him to chat about all things food and how he got started.
Picture curtesy of Mo's Eggs
Originally from Damascus, Syria, Mo came to England just two years ago. Prior to this, he spent a year in the "jungle" camp in Calais, France, waiting for asylum. It was not until moving to England that he began to learn English, and more importantly, how to cook: "I taught myself. I didn’t know how to cook. I was a political science student. I started because I had to. I used to be in the jungle, in France, started to cook because I have a Syrian friend, his name is Mohammed, he’s like my brother. [...] We tried to come to the UK together. When we tried, he broke his legs and I had to take care of him and when I first started cooking it was for him. Now that I am better known, I love that people try my food and I’m getting better at cooking. [...] In the Jungle, it’s a bad situation and you have to make something nice that reminds you of home while you’re there. So I started to cook, asking my mum, asking friends. I’m doing well. I’m getting brilliant".
Mo still lives with his friend, Mohammed, and a kitten named, Camun, the Arabic word for his favourite spice cumin, in a shared flat in Brighton, and still cooks for him: "I cook, he does the washing up". Mo says it was the volunteers he met while in the camp that inspired him to start a Syrian brunch in England. His business, that includes a team of seven people is growing, and he has now expanded to include catering. Mo does not see cooking as a job but says that he "work[s] a lot in the UK, different jobs, but I have to do something for myself. And I find that cooking is brilliant because everyone likes the eggs and they support me. People tell me that my eggs are amazing and they can’t stop eating them".
The Mo’s Eggs menu is reminiscent of his time in the jungle camp, but in a sentimental and hopeful, rather than negative, way. It includes two egg dishes: Asylum Eggs and Jungle Eggs. Jungle eggs is not only the first thing that Mo learned how to cook, but are his favourite dish to make to this day: “It’s simple ingredients. Eggs, tomato, garlic, onion, kind of like shakshuka [a North African dish that consists of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce], Syrian style.” Asylum Eggs, a slightly more elaborate version of Jungle Eggs, was invented as a celebratory dish the day Mo found out he got his documentation that would allow him to come to England. Mo’s other signature dish is hummus – sometimes with added beetroot and avocado – and he taught himself in a very relatable way: “I experiment a lot with the food, to make it my own. I watched a lot of YouTube videos to teach myself, and now have my own way of making hummus. Lots of people make hummus and all of them are delicious, so I won’t say my hummus is the best".
For Mo, cooking is not about being the best, or the most elaborate, but about making people happy, which is the very reason he started to cook in the first place. He tells me about cooking in the jungle camp, when everyone gathered in tents and sat on the floor to eat. In London, he is carrying on this tradition “We are moving the jungle way here, and eat how we did in the jungle. Everyone’s at a table together, sharing food with people they’ve never met. We want to make people share food again. With fast food, you just go and eat it. You don’t have time to sit with someone you don’t know, who is from a different background than you. People have met each other over Mo’s Eggs, had a conversation, sharing some food", Eventually, Mo said, he wants “the whole world to eat Mo’s Eggs. Soon, we’ll be everywhere. I love when people tell their friends about us and bring other people. Because we make our food from love and it’s nice in the kitchen, everyone knows each other and there’s no grumpy face. We all work as a team and enjoy it because we get better every time".
While Mo says that he is making himself at home in England, living in Brighton and working in London, and “it’s going well”, he eventually hopes to return to Syria. “I want to build myself first, see how the business grows. I am thinking about studying again, because my parents want me to. I’ll see. I don’t really know, the future is hiding from me. I want to study again and I definitely want to go back to Syria. One day, when everything gets better".
Lastly, I asked him what the most important thing he wants people to know about him. “I don’t want people to know about me. I just want people to be happy when they eat the food – that is important. When I see the smiles of people enjoying my food, it makes me happy. It means I trust what I make – every chef wants to see the people smile and be happy. It is our job to make people happy".
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor