by Chené Koscielny
Every week people from every nationality queue at the two market stalls of a very unusual couple for a taste of their fresh, homemade falafels, taboulé, galettes sprinkled with olive oil and za’atar (a spice mix of thyme, sesame seeds, oregano and sumac), served with filling of hummus, aubergine puree, beef, lamb or labneh (a thick yoghurt cheese) and fresh tomatoes and onions.
Their countries may be at war, but in their own humble way Raya Elhajhasan (Palestinian) and Ozi Salma (Isreali) are a shining example of how people from different cultures and religions can live in peace.
The couple met in Geneva and Raya started selling falafels and galettes (a round crusty type of flatbread eaten with every meal in Palestine) as a hobby six years ago to boost her income. Her first stall was at Plainpalais market on a Saturday morning and she would sell out before lunchtime every time.
Today the couple have both given up full-time jobs to commit themselves to their two stalls – The Galette de la Paix at Carouge market on a Thursday and Saturday and Croc’Orient on a Sunday at Plainpalais.Raya runs the Plainpalais stall, while Ozi is in charge at Carouge. They will soon open a new take-away venue at the Velodrome (near Jonction), where they’ll also finally get to stock some of their wares.
“The apartment looks a bit like Migros,” says Raya. “I even had chickpeas under the bed at some point! We never thought it would be such a big success,” she says.
Who owns the falafel?
Their top-seller by far is the falafel – tasty balls of onion, chickpeas, garlic, parsley, coriander and cumin. Raya soaks the dried chickpeas overnight and uses a special machine to mash them, this way there is no need to add any extra ingredients to bind them together, meaning that they are truly gluten free.
“There is another war over the origin of the falafel,” laughs Raya, who insists that it is originally a Palestinian speciality, which later also became a staple on Lebanese menus.
The Egyptians also claim the falafel as their own, but they use fava beans (broad beans), as opposed to chickpeas – which Raya claims, is the original way. The galettes can be filled with any filling of your choice. For 9chf you can’t have a tastier and better value meal anywhere else in Geneva.
Ironically, Raya doesn’t eat galettes or falafels herself – she prefers salads and vegetables – and she doesn’t use a family recipe, but started experimenting on her own in Geneva.
“I like to experiment – for example, sometimes I add a bit of ginger to the falafel and ask people what they think. Some like it, others don’t …. “
War and peace
War is never far from this young couple’s minds, as their unusual union has caused them lots of problems over the years. They prefer to keep their heads down and get on with their lives. “We have to watch what we say”. Raya comes from a mixed family with a Swiss mother and Palestinian father. She was born in England and grew up in Palestine.
Her parents’ mutual respect for each others’ cultures and religions have laid the foundations for the values she strongly believes in and lives/practices in her own relationship every day.
“We respect each other. It’s not about religion, but about the person. How you behave and treat other people is what counts. Religion has nothing in common with hatred and killing. Our differences make our relationship richer. We learn from each other.”