Maria Bizri of Hong Kong’s Pomegranate Kitchen restaurant has collaborated with Baking For Syria, a charity recipe book published this month to support Syrian children through Syria Crisis Appeal. She spoke to Carolynne Dear.
I grew up in the Middle East, although I was born in Southampton in the UK. My parents had been living there for a while but moved to Lebanon when I was quite young. When the Lebanese civil war started in 1975 we moved to Syria – I stayed here until I was in my late teens. Then I moved to Montreal, Canada, where I went to university. I have been travelling around Europe and Asia ever since I graduated.
My family lived to eat. Food was always an integral part of our family life. My grandparents showed me love through feeding me and my numerous friends and cousins, and so did my mother and aunts. I don’t think I ever entertained the thought that life and love could be separated from eating and feeding.
I landed in Hong Kong in August 2010 and felt instantly at home. Pomegranate Kitchen was conceived on the balcony of my Southside home. After many long lunches and being asked to cater for ‘a few friends’, the business was born and started growing. I cooked out of my apartment (and those of my lovely neighbours) for the first year-and-a-half, and then my husband – who found he never got to eat any of the food being prepared – sourced the industrial location in Wong Chuk Hang where Pomegranate lives today.
Being Middle Eastern, I grew up with lots of fresh vegetables and lots of lamb. So I guess it’s no surprise that Pomegranate is well-known for both these things. Think big, hearty plates of salad, vegetarian dishes, and lots of lentils, chickpeas and lamb – chops, shoulder, leg, you name it.
It’s tough witnessing what’s happening in Syria today. To see a great country, so rich in culture, being smashed to rubble and its people become refugees is just heartbreaking. My mother has been doing a lot of work with refugee children in Lebanon (where there are over 1.2 million refugees already) and I have tried to support her schools through a few fundraisers. I’m also working closely with the Cook For Syria initiative, you can check it out on Instagram, both through @pomegranatekitchenhk and @cookforsyria. It’s a fantastic initiative. Syria has an incredible food culture and history which is being celebrated around the world by chefs and cooks through supper clubs raising funds for Unicef, which operates inside Syria. Cook For Syria has published two books so far and we are extremely proud to be part of their second publication, Bake For Syria.