A handful of food trucks share a gravel lot on Olympia’s funky Fourth Avenue — Latin American sandwiches, tacos, a fusion truck offering a grass-fed burger, with an espresso bar occupying the old corner filling station. Nineveh, the blue and gold truck with the mythical winged lamassu guardian painted on the side, belongs to brother-
sister pair Lisa and Jacob David.
“When I moved to Olympia 20 years ago, you couldn’t get a decent falafel,” Lisa says, “so I had to make my own.”
Nineveh, named after the ancient Assyrian city — the one the Biblical Jonah is sent to — is another take on Middle Eastern fare. Born to an Ashkenazi Jewish mother and an Iraqi father of Assyrian Christian descent, Lisa and Jacob wanted to share the food their dad cooked for them as kids. They eat matzoh ball soup on Passover alongside biryani, a rice dish flavored with spices brought along the Silk Road.
“We’re Semitic hybrids,” jokes Lisa. “When people ask me what an Assyrian is,” Jacob says, “I say they’re looking at one.”
At its peak (about 700 BCE), the Assyrian Empire encompassed parts of modern-day Syria, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt. Falafel, stuffed grape leaves, and sabich (eggplant, hummus, hardboiled egg, pickled mangoes, and fresh vegetables wrapped in pita), all on the menu at Nineveh, have long been staples of the region. Later, the Persian Empire (550-330 BCE) occupied a similar footprint, and the Silk Road, with its spice trade, crisscrossed the territory. This sprawling geography and repeated diaspora of the region’s peoples have created cuisine with disputed roots and complex flavors.
The menu features modern versions of Assyrian-style dishes. “It’s not like we’re using recipes off stone tablets,” Jacob says, “but the dishes are based in ancient traditions.” For instance, the Davids attribute the use of sesame — the basis of tahini — to Assyria, and an Assyrian creation legend claims that the gods were drinking sesame wine before they set out to make the world.
If you want more than grab-and-go Assyrian food, Nineveh also runs a catering business. And good news, there’s a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Nineveh’s future. “It’s in the design phase,” Lisa says, “but it’s coming. We’ll be able to serve dishes that need more preparation, and we plan to bake our own bread.”
Don’t wait, though, because the truck is a delicious appetizer of what’s to come.
728 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia