Chicken shawarma might not be the first food that comes to mind when you think of Memphis. This episode of Gravy takes us inside Ali Baba Mediterranean Grill to meet Mahmoud al-Hazaz, who made his home in the U.S. South after being forced to leave his native Syria.

Syria shares borders with Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon. Those countries also share a history and—equally important for us—they share a larder. By peeling back the layers on Mahmoud’s story, producer Rose Reid get a picture of the miles traveled and hardships endured by other Middle Eastern immigrants to Memphis.


Find more, including a recipe adapted from Ali Baba, here.

Better yet, stop in to Ali Baba any day of the week.

Anyone can volunteer to greet a new Syrian family or work with the organization to assist newcomers to the United States.


This episode was inspired and greatly assisted by Emma Beals, who wrote a 3-part series on food security in Syria, and details how wheat has and continues to be used as a weapon of war. The series earned this year’s James Beard award for Food Reporting.

Thank you to Mahmoud and his family for the generosity of spirit, to the entire staff at Ali Baba’s, and to the Reid Family for editing.

Mahmoud was introduced to Rose Reid by Dalia Mortada, who documents Syrians cooking in exile.

Translated from Arabic by Hany Hawasly. This episode was scored and mixed by Dara Hirsch.

Songs used in this episode, made available via Free Music Archive, byThe Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear, and Scott Holmes.

Rose Reid is an experienced podcast producer, contributor, and consultant. Her work has appeared on Prince Street, Burnt Toast, and the BBC. While at Gimlet Media, she launched and produced Sampler. This spring, her work and her family’s love stories will be featured on Gimlet Media’s Science Vs.

Rose and her mother will launch their mother-daughter podcast, Details Please, this month.