Roman Zaman: A Taste of Damascus
Written by R.E.
On Friday I went to Roman Zaman, a Syrian restaurant located on central parkway in Mississauga. As we entered and sat down on an old wooden decorative antique bench, I could already smell the fresh pita bread being made in the back. The table at the entrance where our waiter came to great us was designed like an elaborate food street cart, which instantly reminded me of the food street carts I used to see in Egypt as a child. Already I had a very strong sense of Middle Eastern culture as the restaurant was designed to depict the City of Damascus, which is considered to be the oldest city in the world comprised of historical civilization, science, and art.
Knowing that “Roman Zaman” in Arabic translates to “The Oldies Pomegranate” I was not surprised to see that a big part of the restaurant’s theme was the pomegranate fruit. This made sense to me, given that the pomegranate tree has been planted and used in the homes of the people of Damascus for many years and heavily incorporated in their traditional dishes. Not only did most of their menu items incorporate pomegranate like their Fattouch, Baba ghannouj, Kubba, and Mahashi, to name some, even their interior art work had abstract depictions of the exotic fruit.
After the waiter sat us down at our table I couldn’t help but look around. Above us were coloured glass lanterns. Traditionally you would see these types of lanterns in Middle Eastern countries, hanging in people’s homes and on the streets as decorative items during the holy month of Ramadan.
On our table there were cups and a water jug made out of copper. As I looked around I noticed that all the food was, indeed, served in copper bowls and plates. This too was expected, as copper is frequently used in the Middle East and Mediterranean due to its ability preserve food’s heat and taste.
In the centre of the restaurant was a beautiful fountain, an imitation of the fountains that sit in the courtyards in Damascus full of roses and jasmines giving the courtyard a perfumed scent. The windows and doors were also crafted to mimic the architecture of the buildings and homes in Damascus.
Though the majority of the people in the restaurant came from Arabic speaking backgrounds, there were other ethnicities also dining in. These customers represented the demographics in this area of Mississauga, as many of them dining together were of different ethnicities, but all appeared to be middle class. Even the workers differed in background, and though they were not all of Syrian background, they still all dressed in traditional costumes, wearing linen and cotton woven garments, shawls, and low-cut sheepskin shoes with a turned-up point in front. These customs combined with the architecture, furniture, and Arabic music playing in the background gave the feel of the oriental Damascene theme that the restaurant was successfully portraying. The food, however, is what really gave an authentic feeling. The incorporation of the pomegranate gave the dish a vibrant colour and a refreshing sweet and sour taste to food that is essentially salty, which was unusual but delicious.
Though Roman Zaman worked towards creating a Damascene ambiance, they made their dining experience accessible to a wider variety of cultural backgrounds by giving customers cutlery to eat the food instead of pita bread to dip and scoop it. Overall Roman Zaman brings their guests the whole Middle Eastern/Mediterranean feel, starting with the name down the copper pots, wooden trays, chairs and tables, antiques, crafted windows and doors, colorful glass lanterns, and warm hospitality. Their architecture, food, and specifically their incorporation of the pomegranate bring authentic Damascene traditions and cuisines to the western world.
R.E. was born in Egypt, raised in California, and settled down in Mississauga at the age of 10. She is an open-minded student who loves to meet new people and learn about different cultures.