The menu at Salima Specialties in Skyway calls itself Pan-Asian, seemingly featuring Malaysian roti canai, Vietnamese banh mi, and Indian lassi drinks. But the dishes genuinely all occur from a one society, Cham, a largely Muslim Indigenous people today from Southeast Asia. When Nurhaliza Mohamath, who goes by Liza, opened the cafe in March 2022 with her mothers and fathers, Salima and Asari, she uncovered herself pushing the household to imagine about what Cham delicacies is. Just after a life span of curiosity about her very own identification, she now confidently describes the food at her cafe as Cham. “It’s Cham because our people manufactured it our personal, we have our personal twist to it,” she suggests.
Cham food items fluidly crisscrosses borders, at times hunting like that of Vietnam, where by all three Mohamaths ended up born, or Malaysia, the place whose cuisine Salima figured out to cook performing at her oldest sister’s restaurant in the village she grew up in. Other occasions, it borrows from all-around the Muslim entire world, bringing in flavors from North Africa or the Middle East.
In 2005, the Mohamaths opened Salima Restaurant on MLK Jr. Boulevard, wherever Salima cooked a enormous menu of Southeast Asian halal delicacies her peanut sauce from that restaurant earned a popularity that perseveres to this working day. The location also turned a gathering level for Seattle’s Cham community and Muslims from all in excess of who relished the exceptional possibility to take in halal variations of pork-large nearby favorites, like Vietnamese food stuff.
Regrettably, in 2009, the combination of a long time of gentle rail building closing down the avenue in front of the cafe and the 2008 fiscal economic downturn put the restaurant out of small business. “It was a enormous decline for my family members, for the group,” says Liza.
Quickly following, the few commenced operating at the Asian Counseling and Referral Support, the place they nonetheless work — Asari taking care of upkeep and Salima as the chef (all three Mohamaths continue to work their comprehensive-time work opportunities in addition to operating the cafe). But in the more than a 10 years given that closing their cafe, Salima and Asari never ever stopped dreaming of opening a different one particular.
Very last calendar year, Liza graduated from college or university and joined her parents in dreaming of a restaurant, on the lookout at far more everyday suggestions that could enchantment to youthful generations. When Salima just lately uncovered out the previous Catfish Corner area was out there, she understood it was time to act. Inside of 3 days of making contact with the landlord and detailing the system, the Mohamaths signed a lease on the area.
They meticulously chose cost-effective menu items for persons on tighter budgets but also involved pricier options that showcase Salima’s skills, like the tender oxtail soup. Salima’s well-known peanut sauce and chicken satay skewers returned, together with moderate dishes for smaller little ones, brightly coloured beverages and snack foods for teens, and common Cham flavors for the elders. “There’s intention at the rear of everything,” Liza claims.
For drinks, Salima Specialties serves regular Malaysian teh tarik (pulled tea) and bandung (a rose syrup consume) but also Liza’s possess matcha cookie beverage invention, inspired by Oreo beverages and Hi Panda cookies. The banh mi and pho could possibly seem familiar to Seattleites versed in Vietnamese foods, but listed here, every little thing is halal, so there’s no pork, a prerequisite that led to the Mohamaths creating all the meats — hen ham, vegan ham, and beef meatballs — in-property. They get in touch with their substantial stuffed steamed buns that fill the deli situation in the front “Cham bao,” a participate in on humbow (the identify that most of Seattle arrived to use for Chinese-design crammed, stuffed buns), but built with out pork. Instead, the fluffy dough wraps about shrimp, jicama, wooden ear mushrooms, carrots, and a quail egg, cooked in the 1 component Liza names as quintessentially Cham: toasted coconut milk. Sweet and smoky, it brings the flavors in the bao jointly in a way unique to Cham lifestyle.
In the past cafe, Liza recounts, Salima felt like she was working in the dim as a latest immigrant, that she and her spouse had been by itself, just them with every thing on their shoulders. At Salima Specialties, the reverse is correct. “Now, she has neighborhood on her side,” Liza states.
Liza estimates about fifty percent their company is Cham people. South Seattle and King County have a substantial Cham populace, and Liza describes the cellular property parks at the rear of Skyway’s gas stations as “literally Cham villages.” But access to Cham cuisine has faded in the pandemic, suggests Liza. “A good deal of our elders who have historically cooked and sold foodstuff out of their kitchens — that’s what we ended up raised on — individuals men and women have retired or passed on.” Salima Specialties, the reincarnation of her parents’ dream, hopes to bring it again. “Cham men and women can arrive below and truly feel proud,” Liza claims. “You can advocate this restaurant you can taste Cham meals below.”
Liza was in elementary faculty when they experienced the 1st cafe and fondly remembers her dad hand-offering her lunches of hen with rice and fish sauce. But if she explained she was from Vietnam, classmates would talk to why her household did not consume pork, why they wore headscarves, why she was various from absolutely everyone. It fed into Liza’s personal battle to fully grasp her identity and the place they came from. But Salima’s cooking combatted people questions for Liza: the foods her household ate, what they served in their restaurant and to their possess group, represented her cultural wealth, as it experienced for generations. “Our loved ones definitely values recognizing the delicacies.”
It’s easy for people today to say that their foods is not Cham mainly because it is Malaysian, or Vietnamese, Liza observes, but she shuts that criticism down. “I’m truly passionate about reclaiming what our tradition implies,” suggests Liza. “It’s Cham due to the fact we manufactured it.”