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New Coquitlam restaurant offers Middle Eastern hospitality and Halal food

Ayam Zaman, a new middle eastern restaurant in Coquitlam, offers a varied menu of grilled meats, vegetables, dips, sauces and desserts along with tea in copper pots.

Tri-City residents now have a place to experience Syrian hospitality and food at a beautifully decorated new restaurant in Coquitlam.

Ayam Zaman, which means the old days, opened in December 2022 at Unit 116-1090 Lougheed Hwy. in the former Ricky's All Day Grill next to Fatburger.

But you won't see a single sign of the former breakfast and burger place in the newly renovated Ayam Zaman.

Brothers-in-law Muhammed El-Husein and Azzam Abu-Kameel have completely transformed the large space into a welcoming Middle Eastern gathering place.

You'll enter through a traditional Moorish arch and walk past a wall with portraits of poets and singers from Syria, Egypt, Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon.

Your host will great you from an ornately decorated desk made in Syria and your table may be next to a bubbling fountain decorated in mosaic tiles.

Once seated, a tea set made of hammered copper will be brought to your table.

"We want to make everyone feel comfortable," said Abu-Kameel.

Dishes, include Egyptian fatteh, consisting of flabread smothered in sauce, vegetables and meat; Palestinian fukhara; traditional shawarrma; and a variety of grilled dishes, soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts.

Restaurant bombed in Syria

Abu-Kameel said he and his brother-in-law are trying to recreate the experience of home for Middle Eastern immigrants from Dubai, Iraq, Morocco, Palestine, Egypt and Syria, as well as local residents.

Their Canadian venture is their first in this country: Originally, they owned a restaurant in Syria, in a town called Deir Ez-Zur, which was bombed in the war against ISIS, along with the family home.

They fled to Turkey and opened up a restaurant in Istanbul before moving to Canada.

"We thought, 'We need to get out of Syria. It's not worth it,'" said Abu-Kameel.

Now, he said, the family feels "safe" and ready to start a new business.

However, opening up a restaurant in Canada is not without its challenges and it took about seven months to get the business up and running, including ordering decor from Syria and having it shipped to Coquitlam.

"I wasn't sleeping at night," admitted Abu-Kameel, who manages the business. "I was thinking, Will we have success or not? Will people like the food?"

Opening night jitters

Muhammed El-Husein, who is the chef, said he had similar worries.

But a soft opening in mid-December with a singer providing entertainment convinced them they might indeed have a success on their hands.

The first night the place was sold out and the duo plans to bring in more Middle Eastern singers to the restaurant, something that was common back home in Syria.

In their Syrian restaurant, Friday nights were always a big night for entertainment and local musicians who play the oud, which is a lute-type, pear-shaped, fretless stringed instrument.

"In Syria, food is important and we like to have parties, especially at the end of the week," said Abu-Kameel.

"We are going to start that," he promised.

For those who wish to order take out, the restaurant offers its menu on Uber Eats. Meanwhile, a website is under construction. Ayam Zaman is also on Facebook.