Zaaki food truck to be a regular in Burrton

Ayman Al-Barakat dishes some butter chicken onto a helping of rice in the new food truck operation he's started with the help of Roberto Simmons, right. They plan to have the food truck in Burrton about twice a month.

By Jared Janzen

BURRTON—Ayman Al-Barakat is working on turning Burrton into a regional destination for delicious Middle Eastern food.

The Jordanian American has been cooking lunch specials a couple times a month at The Barn for the past two years. Now he’s serving cuisine like butter chicken and shawarma out of a food truck, as well.

“We add twists to them,” Al-Barakat said. “People will be like, ‘Hey, what’s that?’ Whenever they have hesitancy, they’ll try it and say, ‘Oh, that’s so good.’”

Al-Barakat calls his new business Zaaki, which is Arabic for “delicious.”

“It’s a catchy name, but it has expression to it,” he said.

Al-Barakat credited Robert Simmons with making Zaaki a reality. Simmons has been the kitchen manager at The Barn since May and that’s where the two men met.

“He was very generous and wanted to help expose me to a broader population,” Al-Barakat said.

Ayman Al-Barakat adds the finishing touches to a plate of food. His menu offers Arabic dishes like kofta shawarma, kofta balls, butter chicken, musakhan and fattoush.

Simmons is in his fifth year of owning a food truck, so it was just a matter of inviting Al-Barakat in and sharing the space. Their first adventure together was in Hutchinson about a month-and-a-half ago. They’ve also done events in Great Bend and Wichita that have been well received.

Last Sunday was the second time Zaaki has been stationed in Burrton. They park in The Barn’s parking lot since the restaurant is closed on Sundays.

“They were also very generous to us,” Al-Barakat said. “This is the perfect location.”

He said it’s usually hard to find restaurants willing to help each other, but that’s not the case in Burrton with its small town feeling and everyone helping everyone else.

Even though Simmons goes with Al-Barakat each time, the former lets most of their menu offerings be Al-Barakat’s to give him the exposure. Simmons may offer just one option like tacos.

“Sometimes I’ll cook a dish, sometimes I won’t,” Simmons said. “The experiment is just to create international flavors, make it a food-centric gathering where people can try different flavors.”

Al-Barakat said Simmons’s food is amazing.

“He uses high-quality ingredients and the same thing for me,” Al-Barakat said.

Al-Barakat himself spends about three hours the night before prepping his food and marinating his meat in a commercial kitchen in Wichita. The day of, it takes another three hours to finish cooking.

“Is it worth it?” he asked with a laugh. “But yeah, it’s fun. I think for both of us when you see the expression on people’s faces.”

Kofta balls are made with seasoned beef in tomato-based sauce on top of jasmine rice with roasted almonds.

He said his butter chicken is a very popular dish. He also makes three kinds of shawarma, including a new vegetable shawarma, plus a few other dishes.

He said his food is of restaurant quality because it’s not worth it to cut corners. He tries to get the best ingredients and his two sisters who also live in the U.S. help him stay stocked up on spices since the ones purchased locally don’t taste the same as ones from Jordan, he said. He’ll be making his own trip to Jordan this fall and plans to bring back a suitcase full of spices.

The food truck is only a weekend gig for Al-Barakat and Simmons. Al-Barakat also works full time as the manager of Dollar General in Burrton.

“It makes it kind of hard to juggle,” he said.

Zaaki is growing in popularity. The food received a positive review from area food blogger Wichita by E.B., which Al-Barakat said made people from Wichita and Newton interested in trying his food.

A board member from the Wichita Asian Festival also reached out to him about serving his food at their event on Oct. 15. He expects most of the other food vendors will serve Eastern or Southeast Asian food, so he’ll be one of the few serving Middle Eastern dishes. Simmons plans to go with Al-Barakat and make falafel.

They also hope to have the food truck at Burrton’s Fourth of July Festival next year.

Al-Barakat is also still cooking Middle Eastern specials at The Barn once every two weeks, which he said is going well.

He said the food truck is a good experience to help him figure out if he wants to open his own restaurant someday. He’s determining the potential and whether it would be worthwhile to sacrifice his other career.

Al-Barakat and Simmons expect to have the food truck set up in Burrton one or two Sundays a month until the weather gets too cold. They’ll serve lunch hours from 11-2. This weekend they planned to take the truck to Canton, but the following weekend they thought they’d be back in Burrton.

To keep track of where Al-Barakat is each weekend, follow Zaaki on Facebook. You can also follow Simmons on Facebook at Personal Chef Roberto.

“Food brings people together,” Al-Barakat said. “You forget who’s this and where’s he from and what’s the dish called?’ If it tastes good and high quality, then they will like it, no matter what the origin.”

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