From Morocco to Lancaster: Meet the chef making the food of her homeland at the new Southern Market | Food

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From the 1880s to the 1980s, the Queen Anne-style brick building at the corner of South Queen and West Vine streets was known as Farmer’s Southern Market. Designed by Lancaster’s own C. Emlen Urban, the building operated as a farmers market, one of several that served neighborhoods throughout Lancaster city in the late 19th century (and into the first half of the 20th).

For nearly four decades, the building served as office space for city agencies, its future left to the imagination. On Thursday, it begins a new chapter, as Southern Market, completely revitalized and officially back as a public space. The first-floor food hall encompasses 3,000 square feet, with seating for 250. In the middle is Bar 1888, a 30-seat bar operated by Willow Valley Communities, with mixologist Steve Wood at the helm.

From any bar seat, you have a view of eight local food entrepreneurs making their debut as a brick-and-mortar restaurant. The chef vendors are part of Willow Valley’s food incubator partnership with Lancaster Equity and ASSETS. The idea, says general manager Mary Ellen Davis, is that vendors will have the exposure and start-up support to help them grow and launch the next phase of their businesses within 16 to 20 months. The food offerings are notably diverse, reflecting cuisine from five parts of the world, as are the extended business hours, which include Sunday.

“This will be the place to be in downtown Lancaster,” Davis said.

We catch up with one of these emerging chefs, who shares where and how she got started and what food means to her. Go here for a complete list of Southern Market vendors.

Bushra Fakier, Flavors of Morocco

The Arabic word “baraka” means blessing or good fortune. But as culinary doyenne Paula Wolfert explains in her 2011 book, “The Food of Morocco,” the word also has context in the kitchen. “Baraka,” she writes, “can also refer to an ability to start cooking with very little in the way of ingredients and yet feed many people from the food pot.”

Bushra Fakier of Flavors of Morocco, is pictured in her home with a pot of traditional mint tea.

I had first heard about Bushra Fakier last fall, something about a Moroccan with a Ph.D. in physics cooking delicious food of her homeland here in Lancaster. Little did I know that was just a fraction of the story.

Last year, Fakier created an outdoor supper club that grew wildly popular through Facebook and by word of mouth. By the time I reached her, her Flavors of Morocco pop-up had closed for the season and she was in Morocco on vacation.

When we finally meet earlier this month at her home just south of Lancaster city, we sit in a room, maybe 300 square feet in size, brimming with Moroccan art, textiles, furniture and silver. There is color for days. When her husband Feizal comes in to say hello, she quietly ducks out without warning. Minutes later, she returns with enough food for a small village, served in gorgeous pottery and on silver trays. There is semolina soup and chicken bastiya, cookies and walnut-stuffed dates, to name just a few. She slowly pours tea (a mix of mint and thyme from her garden, lightly sweetened with honey) from a traditional silver pot, and for a minute, I forget where I am.

“Who is this magician?” I ask myself, as she tells the story of leaving Morocco in 2008 as a single mom and finding her footing in Canada, with food as the bridge.

By 2010, she and Feizel, a retired IT guy originally from South Africa, would marry and eventually have a daughter of their own. They hit the road for Lancaster in 2014 or 2015, give or take a few months, where almost immediately she started cooking again.

In 2018, she found a home at the now-shuttered Lancaster Marketplace, with a Flavors of Morocco stand. The pandemic brought her business (and that of Pure Palate Organic, her husband’s dairy stand) to a standstill. Overnight, they were both out of work.

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Chicken tagine with preserved lemons and olives served over basmati saffron rice, yogurt sauce and a trio of side salads from Bushra Fakier’s Flavors of Morocco.

“It was a shock that first month,” she said. “I picked up some translation work to pay the bills. But customers were calling. They wanted to know if they could get some of my food.”

At that point, the old farmhouse had little kitchen to speak of, so she decided to build one of her own. In the spring of 2020, Fakier raised $3,500 via a Gofundme crowdfunding campaign to build a commercial kitchen in the dirt basement. Together, she and Feizel built it. In January of 2021, the kitchen, painted in orange, with a dreamy display of tagine clay pots and a view of the Conestoga River, passed inspection, and Flavors of Morocco was open for takeout.

With additional assistance from the nonprofit ASSETS, Fakier created an outdoor space in the backyard with covered tents, art, cushions and Moroccan music. She said people started showing up out of the woodwork and would happily wait for a table.

“It has been incredible,” Fakier said. “I jumped from nothing to being the best rated restaurant in Lancaster on Google. I created something for people. They needed to get out of the house. I’m using local ingredients and making healthy food and showing people this is how Moroccans eat.”

The menu at Southern Market will reflect her Moroccan heritage as well as her husband’s Indian roots, including chicken tagine, braised lamb shank, spicy chicken tandoori, potato samosas and a variety of sweets.

But Fakier wants you to know that she is not just another immigrant chef making delicious food.

“It is not just about the food,” she said. “It’s about healing, it’s about love and it’s about sharing. Through food, I want to share my culture. Being here makes me appreciate my culture more. At the same time, I want to give back to my country.”

Fakier, it seems, is on a baraka roll.

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