He is not the only restaurateur in Edinburgh to try and popularise food from the Middle East and beyond but, with four restaurants, he is possibly the most successful.
What makes Jamal’s story remarkable is that it starts in the Middle East at a time when the news from that region was as desperate as it is now.
There are not many happy headlines coming from that part of the world at the moment. You could argue that it has been that way for a number of decades.
However, bad beginnings can have happy outcomes. Like Jamal’s story.
From Halabja to Auld Reekie
Have you heard of the Kurdish city of Halabja? You may remember that Halabja suddenly gained unwelcome, world-wide prominence after Saddam Hussein gassed it in 1988.
Halabja was Jamal’s home. For a number of reasons, it was not a safe place. He left in 1999 and, eventually, he wound up in Edinburgh.
Stints as a bus driver and kitchen porter followed before Jamal managed to open Hanam’s on Johnston Terrace in 2006. People liked what Jamal did at Hanam’s. It proved popular.
Hanam’s was followed by Pomegranate on Antigua and then Laila’s Mediterranean Bistro on Cockburn Street.
Souq – Moroccan flavours in Southside
More recently, Jamal launched Souq on South Clerk Street. It started life last year as a café and shop, or souq, selling Moroccan lamps, fabrics and pottery.
After a recent refurb, it re-launched this month as a 110 cover restaurant with live belly dancing every Saturday.
Hung with brightly coloured lamps and vibrant wall hangings, Souq certainly feels far from the Newington postcode it inhabits.
Open from 11.30am to 11pm, seven days a week, you could start your Souq visit by exploring the all day breakfast menu. Items on offer include shakshouka, the rather fashionable, baked egg dish.
As you might expect, hot and cold mezze take up a good proportion of the menu. These range from Egyptian malfouf – hot stuffed cabbage leaves – to Moroccan meatballs and the ever popular baba ghanoush, a roast aubergine purée.
There is a selection of Lebanese fatayar -a sort of flatbread pizza – and fatoush, the classic Lebanese chopped salad.
The Moroccan flavours are perhaps most prominent in the range of tagines. Morocco’s take on slow-cooked casseroles, these are available as chicken, lamb and veggie versions.
Eat the food, buy the decor
If you like the ambience at Souq then you can recreate it in your own home by going shopping for lamps, soft furnishings and even ingredients in the Souq market place.
This blogger interviewed Jamal for a newspaper a few years back. He was one of the most cheery and optimistic people you could hope to meet.
We hope that Souq does as well as his existing restaurants.