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'In Middle Eastern culture, food and hospitality are a love language'

Syrian-American Ahmad Alzahabi has turned the skills he learnt helping his mum make family dinners into recipes that followers can use to discover their own palette 

More than five million people follow popular food content creator Ahmad Alzahabi on TikTok, eagerly awaiting the next food recipe to drop on his page.

Also known as "The Golden Balance", the first-generation Syrian-American has brought together a world-wide community of food lovers and aspiring cooks online through his wholesome and easy-to-follow recipes.

Born and raised in Michigan, the 25-year-old content creator continuously draws inspiration from his mother's cooking, heavily influenced by Middle Eastern cuisine, after growing up helping and observing in the kitchen.

Food, he explains, was always the epicentre of his life, and from an early age. With his mother's encouragement, he mastered multiple cuisines and continues experimenting and creating his own mouth-watering dishes.

"My relationship with food has always been different throughout my life. I grew up with an avid love for eating as a kid. I always had a big appetite and ate more than my father and mother combined. My mom would invite me into the kitchen to help her make meals or prepare for dinner parties, and that is when my interest peaked in cooking," explains Ahmad.

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Many of the ingredients and flavours he uses in his cooking are inspired by the fragrance, colours and scents of Syria and other Middle Estern countries. "What I grew up eating has definitely influenced my palette," he says. "So whether it's Syrian comfort food or Mandi from Yemen, my identity has always played a role in my cooking and my passion for sharing it with the world."

In an industry that tends to produce more of the same, Ahmad posts his own unique healthy twists to daily pasta and curry recipes and has a section on his page dedicated to 60-second videos. He moves with intention as he notes measurements accurately and explains why such ingredients and cooking methods are better used in addition to providing alternative methods.

The whole vibe says "yeah, I can whip up a gourmet meal, and so can you." It's approachable and encouraging, just like Ahmad himself.

Moreover, Ahmad is conscious of always framing recipes as his personal take on a classic, rather than the only way a dish should be served.

"I encourage my fans to explore the kitchen and add flavours and ingredients that suit their tastes. You will often hear me say 'add whatever seasonings or toppings you prefer; this is what I like…', or I will provide suggestions of what could be added to the dish."

Despite the talent he clearly displays and time he has spent perfecting these fragrant dishes, Ahmad does not identify himself as a chef, nor does he aspire to be one.

"I simply see myself as an average joe who likes food. My audience enjoys my genuine and honest character. Personality is everything in the world of content creation, and I am unapologetically myself," Ahmad says. "I let my fans know that this is a learning process for me as well, so it is okay to make mistakes as we learn together."

​​"My recipe development is continuous," he adds. "I often find myself at all hours of the day documenting different recipes to test, and sometimes it can be influenced by what I'm craving as well."

Palestinian's culture and heritage is the best weapon against the Occupation - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

Palestinian's culture and heritage is the best weapon against the Occupation – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

While he has over 1,000 videos under his belt now, it was his signature sendoff, "Now Bismillah", that catapulted him into the international spotlight.

The catchphrase, he said, became his closing line after a fan asked why he doesn't say it in his video as he would naturally while eating.

"I asked myself the same question," he acknowledges. "And thereafter, seamlessly began integrating the phrase in my videos. Bismillah is not reserved for any specific faith; rather, it is shared amongst all Arabic speakers. The phrase simply means 'In the name of God'."

As a Muslim, he explained, the phrase is intended to seek and welcome blessings from God to make things easy and good.

Many of Ahmad's recipes derive from a place of family, love, history and acceptance. For instance, eating dinners together as a family was a non-negotiable and an opportunity for his parents to pass on stories and Islamic traditions related to the food they were eating.

"In Middle Eastern culture," he explains, "you will often find food and hospitality to be a love language and a custom, so whether you invite friends over or it's just your household, we come together to share a meal."

"My father also played a big role and emphasised the importance of all family members being present for dinner at 5pm every day. I wasn't aware that may be abnormal for other households until I grew older, allowing me to recognise the importance and emphasis placed on family and food, both in faith and culture."

His handle, the Golden Balance, is inspired by his last name, Alzahabi, which translates to "golden", and represents the ultimate goal his faith encourages its followers to apply in all aspects of their lives; balance.

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Though Ahmad finds inspiration everywhere in different cuisines, his audience has the largest impact through their feedback.

A surreal moment for the young food content creator was when he began receiving recognition and support from leading figures in the food industry he grew up admiring.

Ahmad is keen to keep growing and innovating healthier experiences for his audience.

"My craft has been perfected over the years, but my focus for the long term is to encourage a healthy lifestyle balance when it comes to food," he concludes. "My online presence will continue to encourage love through food, breaking boundaries in the kitchen, and inspiring my fans to be the best version of themselves, and it all starts with food!"

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Asia & AmericasInterviewsMiddle EastSyriaUS
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