Q & A with Bedouin Deli & Café

Owner Rachel Irvine gives us the story of how she brought labneh to Woodstock.

24 Oct 2013
Bedouin Cafe and Deli, Woodstock

After visiting Bedouin Deli & Café and hearing Rachel tell her story about bringing labneh to the hipster streets of Woodstock, we had to ask her a few more questions.... after ordering some freshly made flatbread of course.

1.  What inspired you to open up the Bedouin Deli & Café

It sounds cliché but Bedouin owes its existence, if not to a secret recipe, then to a very special recipe.

One intrepid South African woman lived among a Bedouin tribe on the Syria and Iraq border for a number of years and learnt their ways as well as their unique and damn tasty methods of making food.

Fate intervened and our paths crossed with this special lady who although quite old now, still has a vivid memory of how the Bedouin make a number of dishes – principal among them labneh which is a spectacularly delicious Middle Eastern cream cheese. 

We were so intrigued by her life and by her story and asked her to pass on the Bedouin recipes. 

Before we knew it we were in love with the Bedouin style and Bedouin food and more than a little evangelical about the virtues of labneh. One slightly tipsy evening later a sentence that began... “Wouldn’t it be fun if...”and the Bedouin Café and Deli was born.

2.  Why a restaurant based around labneh?

Have you not tasted labneh? Seriously though, it was because labneh, as we see it, is something which is fairly obscure to South Africans.

It’s exotic, but in essence being a traditional cream cheese substitute, it also isn’t too out-there for more conservative taste-buds.

Its health properties such as being lighter in calories when compared with traditional cream-cheeses and being entirely free of preservatives but not yet another boring cardboard-flavoured “health food,” also made it a great ingredient for the deli.

And the fact that it is so versatile made it a perfect choice with which to base a Middle-Eastern inspired, yet varied, menu around.

3.  If a patron off the street walked into Bedouin Deli & Café without knowing anything about it, what would they notice first?

I think it would have to be the atmosphere we’ve created in the deli. We want the deli to not just be a place you popped into, had your lunch and then walked out of again, but a place where you could linger enjoying the summer sun after a meal, log onto the web using our free wifi, while enjoying a cup of our delicious Kamili coffee. And there’re a number of small-ish ways which when put together create this atmosphere.

Not to toot our own horn too much, but I am a more than a little bit in love with our décor.

We’re the “Bedouin Café & Deli” so of course we wanted to have a nod to the origins of our signature ingredient. But at the same time we didn’t want to be another hackneyed rehashing of décor stereotypes about the middle-east.

From the get-go we chose to steer clear of that whole cushions in deep burgundies, burnt oranges, and purples scattered all over the place look and go for a more modern interpretation of Bedouin.

We feel the materials we’ve chosen in the décor – lime washed oak and marble table tops, concrete floors, and the arresting ceiling-to-floor draping to evoke that sense of billowing tents, achieves this.

But key to our atmosphere is that the deli was created as another place between the office and home where anyone can come together and enjoy a sense of community.

Just look at our tables. They encourage a sense of community where, should you wish, striking up a conversation with your neighbour isn’t out of place. And seeing how people have interacted around those tables, it’s pretty clear to us that the whole “Cape Town is cliquey” trope is nothing more than a myth.

4.   Where can you find the product if you don't have time to eat the cafe but still want fresh labneh?

We’re putting the finishing touches to our e-commerce portal at www.bedouinfoods.co.za  so we’re super excited about that. There’s been a lot of calls for that over on our Facebook page, so finally we’ll be able to spread the word and gospel of  labneh.

We also supply restaurants and delis. In fact one of Cape Town’s top restaurants Bizerca on Heritage Square has included our labneh into their new summer menu.

And if anyone countrywide would like to stock labneh in their deli or shop they should contact Diletto Distribution http://distribution.diletto.co.za/

5.  What are 3 tips on using labneh? ..... spreads, dips, dishes?

1.    Chilli labneh makes a kick-ass pizza topping or alternative dumpling for soup.
2.    Pepper labneh is great as a spread on the humble bagel as it is for bringing out the flavours in a dish such as pork belly.
3.    Mint labneh is as good with a summer salad as it is with a shwarma.

Bedouin Cafe and Deli

Read more on: woodstock  |  cheese

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