In Tripoli, capital of Libya, in the restaurants owned by Fakher
Shames, you can order traditional dishes, such as Libyan soup, made of
lamb meat, chickpea, rice-shaped pasta, spices and a touch of mint, or
a "jar," i.e. baby camel meat baked inside a clay pot that gets broken
on the table, in front of the customer. But you may also ask for a
steak and onion, or steak and eggs, which are staples of Brazilian
"I have gone so far as to cook a feijoada (typical Brazilian dish made of pork and beans) with jerky," Shames revealed, sitting at one of the tables of the Al Ghazala (The Gazelle), in the center of the Libyan capital, one of the three restaurants that he owns in partnership with his brothers.
The Brazilian touch on the menu of local and international dishes is an influence of almost 14 years during which the Libyan businessman lived in Brazil.
Shames took part in the first university exchange program between Brazil and Libya, in 1983. "It was a scholarship. I went to the country not knowing what I would find there, but got along with the Brazilian real well. I never forgot the hospitality after returning to Libya, so much so that I have even dreamt in Portuguese (the language spoken in Brazil)," said he, who still speaks the language fluently.
After studying chemical engineering at the University of Brasília (UNB) and at the University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), and taking a commercial pilot course in São Paulo, he went back to his country of origin in the 1990s. He even worked as a chemical engineer, but at the request of his father, he and his brothers took over the business of the family, which has been in the restaurant industry for 50 years.
During that period, illustrious Brazilians visited the establishments. Shames tells that he keeps photographs of his father with Pelé and the then-union representative Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Other personalities have been to the restaurant as well, such as Fidel Castro and the former Italian prime minister, Romano Prodi.
After he returned to Libya, the businessman never visited Brazil again, but wants to some day. More recently, however, he managed to get a little taste of the country. With the Libyan economic opening, large enterprises, such as building companies Odebrecht, Queiroz Galvão, and Andrade Gutierrez, started operating in Libya, and a small community of Brazilian expatriates emerged.
Many are regular customers at Shames' restaurants, and go to him when they need to solve some local problem. "The coming of the Brazilians has made me very happy," he said.
In addition to the restaurants, the family group offers catering to events, flats and various services, such as cleaning, gardening, and event organization.
Apart from the arrival of the Brazilians, Shames watched as the economy of his country changed over the last few years, as a result of the opening process and of oil exports.
"It is developing right now, and fast," he asserted. "I hope that this (development) is built on solid foundations. But things are better now, thank God," he added.
Besides the Ghazala, the family's other restaurants are Sheraa and Athar. The latter is located in one of the city's most spectacular places, next to the Arch of Marcus Aurelius, a Roman ruin dating back to 1,860 years ago and located in the medina, i.e. Tripoli's old center. How did they manage to obtain such a privileged location? "We were lucky, it happens sometimes," said the high-spirited Shames.
Fish is among the most ordered dishes at the restaurants, and in 2004 the group won a prize for the Mediterranean's best fish soup at the "Festival Internazionale del Brodetto e della Zuppa di pesce," in Fano, Italy.
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