The menu at Salima Specialties in Skyway phone calls by itself Pan-Asian, seemingly that includes Malaysian roti canai, Vietnamese banh mi, and Indian lassi beverages. But the dishes seriously all appear from a one lifestyle, Cham, a generally Muslim Indigenous men and women from Southeast Asia. When Nurhaliza Mohamath, who goes by Liza, opened the restaurant in March 2022 with her moms and dads, Salima and Asari, she found herself pushing the family to feel about what Cham cuisine is. After a life time of curiosity about her personal identity, she now confidently describes the foodstuff at her cafe as Cham. “It’s Cham due to the fact our people manufactured it our own, we have our own twist to it,” she suggests.

Cham foodstuff fluidly crisscrosses borders, occasionally hunting like that of Vietnam, exactly where all three Mohamaths have been born, or Malaysia, the country whose delicacies Salima learned to cook dinner doing work at her oldest sister’s restaurant in the village she grew up in. Other times, it borrows from about the Muslim entire world, bringing in flavors from North Africa or the Middle East.

A spread of food from Salima Specialites, with chicken skewers on a banana leaf, thin-cut fried potato on a banana leaf, a bowl of dark red stew, a Vietnamese baguette on a white plate, and blue and mango-colored drinks in plastic cups on a wood surface.

Some of the dishes and beverages at Salima Specialites in Skyway, including the rotato (spiral-minimize fried potato), the chicken satay, and the oxtail soup.
Chona Kasinger/Eater Seattle

In 2005, the Mohamaths opened Salima Cafe on MLK Jr. Boulevard, exactly where Salima cooked a big menu of Southeast Asian halal delicacies her peanut sauce from that restaurant attained a popularity that perseveres to this working day. The spot also turned a gathering point for Seattle’s Cham local community and Muslims from all about who relished the unusual prospect to eat halal versions of pork-hefty local favorites, like Vietnamese meals.

However, in 2009, the combination of several years of mild rail construction closing down the road in entrance of the cafe and the 2008 fiscal economic downturn set the cafe out of business enterprise. “It was a large reduction for my household, for the neighborhood,” says Liza.

Soon right after, the pair began functioning at the Asian Counseling and Referral Assistance, wherever they continue to operate — Asari managing routine maintenance and Salima as the chef (all three Mohamaths nevertheless do the job their comprehensive-time work in addition to managing the cafe). But in the much more than a ten years because closing their cafe, Salima and Asari never stopped dreaming of opening a further one.

A woman wearing a head covering stands with her arms crossed in front of a sign that reads, “first, we eat.”

Salima Mohamath is a person of the proprietors and the namesake Salima Specialties in Skyway.
Chona Kasinger/Eater Seattle

Last yr, Liza graduated from school and joined her moms and dads in dreaming of a restaurant, wanting at more casual concepts that could enchantment to young generations. When Salima a short while ago identified out the former Catfish Corner room was readily available, she understood it was time to act. In just 3 times of making contact with the landlord and explaining the prepare, the Mohamaths signed a lease on the place.

They cautiously chose economical menu products for individuals on tighter budgets but also bundled pricier solutions that showcase Salima’s skills, like the tender oxtail soup. Salima’s popular peanut sauce and rooster satay skewers returned, together with moderate dishes for tiny small children, brightly colored drinks and snack foodstuff for teens, and classic Cham flavors for the elders. “There’s intention at the rear of everything,” Liza claims.

For beverages, Salima Specialties serves classic Malaysian teh tarik (pulled tea) and bandung (a rose syrup drink) but also Liza’s personal matcha cookie beverage creation, impressed by Oreo drinks and Hello there Panda cookies. The banh mi and pho may seem familiar to Seattleites versed in Vietnamese meals, but here, almost everything is halal, so there is no pork, a necessity that led to the Mohamaths generating all the meats — chicken ham, vegan ham, and beef meatballs — in-property. They simply call their huge stuffed steamed buns that fill the deli scenario in the front “Cham bao,” a engage in on humbow (the identify that most of Seattle arrived to use for Chinese-model stuffed, stuffed buns), but designed devoid of pork. Rather, the fluffy dough wraps about shrimp, jicama, wooden ear mushrooms, carrots, and a quail egg, cooked in the one particular component Liza names as quintessentially Cham: toasted coconut milk. Sweet and smoky, it brings the flavors in the bao together in a way exceptional to Cham lifestyle.

Milky green, yellow, and blue drinks in plastic boba tea-style cups.

From still left to proper, the matcha cookie, mango lassi, and blue butterfly (produced with pea bouquets) drinks at Salima Specialties.
Chona Kasinger/ Eater Seattle

A block of pudding with coconut flakes inside and another mango-colored block with a leaf on top of it, both laid out on banana leaves.

The coconut and mango pudding at Salima Specialties.
Chona Kasinger/Eater Seattle

In the previous restaurant, Liza recounts, Salima felt like she was working in the dim as a the latest immigrant, that she and her spouse had been by itself, just them with every thing on their shoulders. At Salima Specialties, the opposite is accurate. “Now, she has neighborhood on her aspect,” Liza states.

Liza estimates about 50 % their company is Cham men and women. South Seattle and King County have a big Cham populace, and Liza describes the mobile household parks guiding Skyway’s gas stations as “literally Cham villages.” However entry to Cham delicacies has faded in the pandemic, says Liza. “A large amount of our elders who have historically cooked and bought food out of their kitchens — that is what we have been elevated on — individuals people have retired or passed on.” Salima Specialties, the reincarnation of her parents’ desire, hopes to bring it again. “Cham people can come listed here and experience very pleased,” Liza states. “You can suggest this restaurant you can style Cham food here.”

A man leans against the wooden service counter of his restaurant with a sign reading “but first we eat” behind him.

Asari Mohamath is a single of the entrepreneurs of Salima Specialties in Skyway
Chona Kasinger/Eater Seattle

Liza was in elementary faculty when they experienced the first restaurant and fondly remembers her father hand-offering her lunches of rooster with rice and fish sauce. But if she stated she was from Vietnam, classmates would request why her family did not take in pork, why they wore headscarves, why she was different from every person. It fed into Liza’s own struggle to comprehend her identification and wherever they came from. But Salima’s cooking combatted those inquiries for Liza: the food items her relatives ate, what they served in their cafe and to their very own local community, represented her cultural prosperity, as it experienced for generations. “Our family truly values realizing the cuisine.”

It is quick for people today to say that their food is not Cham due to the fact it’s Malaysian, or Vietnamese, Liza observes, but she shuts that criticism down. “I’m definitely passionate about reclaiming what our tradition implies,” states Liza. “It’s Cham mainly because we made it.”

By Taba