The menu at Salima Specialties in Skyway calls alone Pan-Asian, seemingly that includes Malaysian roti canai, Vietnamese banh mi, and Indian lassi drinks. But the dishes seriously all come from a one tradition, Cham, a mainly Muslim Indigenous people today from Southeast Asia. When Nurhaliza Mohamath, who goes by Liza, opened the restaurant in March 2022 with her mothers and fathers, Salima and Asari, she discovered herself pushing the household to think about what Cham delicacies is. Right after a life time of curiosity about her own id, she now confidently describes the foodstuff at her cafe as Cham. “It’s Cham because our persons made it our own, we have our own twist to it,” she suggests.
Cham food stuff fluidly crisscrosses borders, often on the lookout like that of Vietnam, where all a few Mohamaths have been born, or Malaysia, the state whose delicacies Salima learned to cook dinner doing work at her oldest sister’s cafe in the village she grew up in. Other moments, it borrows from all around the Muslim environment, bringing in flavors from North Africa or the Center East.
In 2005, the Mohamaths opened Salima Restaurant on MLK Jr. Boulevard, where by Salima cooked a big menu of Southeast Asian halal delicacies her peanut sauce from that restaurant earned a reputation that perseveres to this day. The place also became a collecting stage for Seattle’s Cham group and Muslims from all more than who relished the scarce probability to eat halal variations of pork-large local favorites, like Vietnamese foodstuff.
Sadly, in 2009, the combination of a long time of gentle rail development closing down the road in entrance of the restaurant and the 2008 financial recession place the cafe out of business enterprise. “It was a huge loss for my loved ones, for the neighborhood,” claims Liza.
Quickly just after, the few began doing the job at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, where by they even now get the job done — Asari managing servicing and Salima as the chef (all a few Mohamaths nonetheless function their entire-time positions in addition to operating the restaurant). But in the additional than a ten years due to the fact closing their restaurant, Salima and Asari never ever stopped dreaming of opening a further one particular.
Final 12 months, Liza graduated from faculty and joined her mothers and fathers in dreaming of a cafe, seeking at a lot more casual suggestions that could enchantment to youthful generations. When Salima not long ago located out the previous Catfish Corner room was offered, she knew it was time to act. Inside 3 times of getting in touch with the landlord and explaining the approach, the Mohamaths signed a lease on the area.
They diligently chose reasonably priced menu objects for folks on tighter budgets but also incorporated pricier choices that showcase Salima’s techniques, like the tender oxtail soup. Salima’s well-known peanut sauce and chicken satay skewers returned, alongside with mild dishes for modest youngsters, brightly coloured drinks and snack foodstuff for youngsters, and conventional Cham flavors for the elders. “There’s intention behind anything,” Liza suggests.
For drinks, Salima Specialties serves conventional Malaysian teh tarik (pulled tea) and bandung (a rose syrup consume) but also Liza’s individual matcha cookie beverage invention, impressed by Oreo drinks and Hello there Panda cookies. The banh mi and pho may well look acquainted to Seattleites versed in Vietnamese food, but right here, everything is halal, so there is no pork, a requirement that led to the Mohamaths making all the meats — hen ham, vegan ham, and beef meatballs — in-dwelling. They get in touch with their massive stuffed steamed buns that fill the deli scenario in the front “Cham bao,” a enjoy on humbow (the identify that most of Seattle arrived to use for Chinese-style filled, stuffed buns), but made with no pork. Instead, the fluffy dough wraps close to shrimp, jicama, wood ear mushrooms, carrots, and a quail egg, cooked in the just one component Liza names as quintessentially Cham: toasted coconut milk. Sweet and smoky, it provides the flavors in the bao collectively in a way distinctive to Cham tradition.
In the preceding cafe, Liza recounts, Salima felt like she was running in the darkish as a new immigrant, that she and her partner ended up by yourself, just them with everything on their shoulders. At Salima Specialties, the reverse is genuine. “Now, she has group on her facet,” Liza suggests.
Liza estimates about fifty percent their business enterprise is Cham folks. South Seattle and King County have a substantial Cham population, and Liza describes the mobile property parks driving Skyway’s fuel stations as “literally Cham villages.” However entry to Cham delicacies has pale in the pandemic, states Liza. “A lot of our elders who have traditionally cooked and bought foods out of their kitchens — that is what we have been lifted on — people men and women have retired or passed on.” Salima Specialties, the reincarnation of her parents’ dream, hopes to carry it back again. “Cham persons can occur below and come to feel proud,” Liza claims. “You can recommend this cafe you can taste Cham food items below.”
Liza was in elementary university when they had the 1st cafe and fondly remembers her father hand-delivering her lunches of chicken with rice and fish sauce. But if she stated she was from Vietnam, classmates would inquire why her family members didn’t try to eat pork, why they wore headscarves, why she was unique from every person. It fed into Liza’s own wrestle to realize her identity and where they arrived from. But Salima’s cooking combatted individuals concerns for Liza: the food stuff her household ate, what they served in their cafe and to their own group, represented her cultural prosperity, as it experienced for generations. “Our loved ones definitely values recognizing the delicacies.”
It is straightforward for persons to say that their foodstuff is not Cham simply because it’s Malaysian, or Vietnamese, Liza observes, but she shuts that criticism down. “I’m genuinely passionate about reclaiming what our society signifies,” says Liza. “It’s Cham mainly because we produced it.”