Former Refugees Open Iceland’s First Afghan Restaurant Skip to content

Former Refugees Open Iceland’s First Afghan Restaurant

The first restaurant in Iceland to serve Afghan or Persian food opened in the neighbourhood of Grafarvogur on the outskirts of Reykjavík this week, Vísir reports. The fast food restaurant, Afghan Style, is owned and operated by Hassan Raza Akbari and Zahra Mesbah Sayed Ali, who met in Iceland after arriving separately as refugees. The couple also runs an interpreting service.

Afghan Style took over its business space from a previous restaurant, so it only took Hassan and Zahra about a month to renovate it to fit their needs. In addition to traditional Afghan and Persian dishes, the restaurant also offers some familiar alternatives, such as jalapeño poppers, mozzarella sticks, and a kid’s meal with a hamburger and fries. So far, Zahra says that the reception from Icelandic customers has been positive, with many people leaving good reviews on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Different paths to Iceland

Both Hassan and Zahra arrived in Iceland as refugees, although five years apart. Hassan arrived in Iceland in 2007. Before that, he had eloped with his girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time. The marriage was against her family’s wishes. When he and his then-wife returned home four months later, she was murdered by her father and he was sent to live with relatives in Greece. He then suffered a knife attack in Greece at the hands of another Afghan man. After that, Hassan decided to flee to Canada. He was stopped when changing planes in Iceland, however, and had no choice then but to apply for asylum amidst the country’s looming economic collapse.

In the 12 years he’s been in Iceland, Hassan has worked in kitchens and as a driver. He received no salary for three months of working the first job he had in the country, as the company went bankrupt in the crash. Despite some initial setbacks, however, he’s made a life and home for himself in Iceland – he has, for instance, since trained as a chef – and during an interview given on the occasion of his receiving Icelandic citizenship in 2015, Hassan remarked that he planned to stay in Iceland for the rest of his life.

Zahra arrived in Iceland in 2012 as one of the country’s first so-called “quota-refugees.” She came to Iceland with her mother and younger sister. Zahra was born in Iran to Afghan parents and in an interview last year, recalled the discrimination that Afghan women in Iran faced. “I can’t imagine now what I was feeling at the time,” she said. “Because we couldn’t go to college, or else we’d have to pay a lot of money. And we couldn’t drive a motorcycle or car. It was difficult for a child.”

Zahra received Icelandic citizenship last year. She and Hassan have an 18-month-old daughter. She said that both of them love to cook, which motivated them to open their restaurant. In addition, they also run an interpreting service, Kabul, ehf. which works in fifteen different languages, including Polish, Hindi, Farsi, and Spanish.

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