Hana Assafiri has already hooked many of us on North African cuisine via Fitzroy North’s Moroccan Soup Bar. Now, she’s helping us take that food into our homes, with the new Moroccan Deli-cacy in Brunswick.

The site of the new deli was once the home of Miramar Nut Shop, a business that serviced the community for 35 years. Assifiri had been shopping there for 25 years when she heard it was closing.

“Initially, we set out to preserve it,” she says. “I took it on because it was going to be, yet again, another tradition due to close down and be replaced with a slick 200-seater restaurant and an apartment building.”

Because the nut shop was such a lynchpin for locals, Assifiri decided to keep the store open while she renovated within. “Really early on, people were hanging on – they didn’t want it to change,” she says. “So, I thought I’d stay open and take them on a journey. Those that want to come on board will come on board in a way they’ve embraced.”

But while the bones of Miramar are still clearly visible, the space has changed. A crateful of specially painted crockery, tiling and handmade mosaics was imported from Morocco, and the rows of shelving have been traded for long communal tables.

The deli continues to sell the basics of Arabic cooking, but its spices and dry goods are all of improved quality. The trays of almonds, pistachios and pumpkin seeds are roasted in-house, and the ras el hanout, dukkah and za’atar are mixed by hand. Cabinets brim with brightly coloured bowls of preserved olives and lemons, fresh hummus, tabouleh, labneh and shanklish. Silver plates are piled with fennel-flavoured shortbreads and stubby, sweet pastries called Zanab’s Fingers. “Poor Zanab,” says Assifiri, sympathetically. “If she had fingers that looked like that, it’s pretty sad.”

From 9am to 11.30am on weekends, the kitchen serves set breakfasts in either sweet or savoury varieties, which may contain eggy chakchouka with house-made harissa, or baghrir, a sweet Moroccan pancake with lemon-zested ricotta, caramelised fruit and nuts. One-plate lunches are available week round, with selections of cous-cous salads, haloumi, grilled vegetables and falafel. Assifiri is planning take-home tagines.

And although it’s a work in progress, Assifiri reckons Moroccan Deli-cacy is already becoming a successful multicultural hub. “It’s interesting to see the cultural mix. You see older Muslim men with their beards, women in a hijab sitting having coffees, served by women in a hijab, while you have the more Brunswick-ites, who come in and sit alongside them,” she says. “Food speaks to the curious. Food speaks to those who haven’t made up their minds – and they’re the sort of people I love.”

Moroccan Deli-cacy
313 Lygon Street, Brunswick East

Hours
Daily 9am–5pm

Hana Assafiri has also just released a cookbook, Moroccan Soup Bar – Recipes of a Spoken Menu., which is available online and in stores now.

moroccansoupbar.com.au