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Syrian Refugees are Changing the Western World's Food Scene

posted on: Oct 1, 2020

Syrian Refugees are Changing the Western World's Food Scene

By: Clara Jude/Arab America Contributing Writer

In western countries such as Germany, Sweden, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America, Syrian food is thriving. This is due to their ongoing civil war.  As refugees flee and spread across the world, they took their cuisine with them.  

In many cases, women who have spent the majority of their lives being homemakers have to find ways to contribute financially to their family’s new, more expensive life. For most, what begins as a small food stall on the corner of a busy city street grows into a full grown restaurant. In the beginning, Westerners wanted to help these refugees by buying and consuming their food. Their attitude towards this cuisine quickly changed.

Syrian food became a booming business sector in which people travel from afar to try the flavorful dishes of the Middle East. Every refugee started small, whether it being a food cart on a busy city street or making food for family and friends who then encouraged them to take their food outside of their intimate circle.

Berlin, Germany

Syrian Refugees are Changing the Western World's Food Scene

Due to the influx of Syrian refugees in 2015, the street of Sonnenallee has become one of the busiest streets in Berlin. What was known as “Little Beirut” is now called “Arab Street”. All along the street, crowds of locals and visitors alike push past various carts of crafts and food.

There are several well known Syrian restaurants in this area of the city. One popular place called Alagami Restaurant is staffed entirely by Syrian refugees. Here, you will find dishes piled with popular foods such as tabbouleh, hummus and crunchy falafel. The menu is filled with classic Middle Eastern dishes and drinks. There is an essence of comfort here. This is present both for the newcomers and locals, who have developed a taste for Syrian cuisine over the years.

Malmö, Sweden

Syrian Refugees are Changing the Western World's Food Scene

In 2015, in the middle of the crisis in Syria, Sweden took in more Syrian refugees per capita than any other European country. Over 163,000 refugees entered Sweden in 2015 alone. Of these, 32,000 were granted asylum. Many of those chose to settle in Malmö. This is because there was already a significant Middle Eastern presence in the city.

The first Syrian restaurant in Malmö, named Shamiat, was founded on October 1, 2013. This restaurant will change your view of Syrian food. Shamiat is well-known for its innovative interpretations of several-hundred-year-old recipes from Syria. Lovers of Syrian food are celebrating this place. You will too, once you have a taste of one of their exquisite dishes.

Glasgow, Scotland

In 2015, the United Kingdom, Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s government created a vulnerable persons resettlement plan. This states their firm commitment to welcoming 20,000 Syrians by the year 2020. Nearly one-fifth of this group of Syrian refugees have found their new home in Scotland.

Glasgow, Scotland is a diverse city where you can find something for everyone. For displaced people, food is often a way to connect with both their home culture and their new one. It often builds a bridge between the two, acting as comfort and connection. The Middle Eastern street food eateries that have sprung up in Glasgow – including Shawarma King, the Southside’s Kurdish Street Food, the Syrian and Lebanese restaurant Lotus and Cessnock’s Shawarma Grill – reflect this blending of culinary cultures.

Toronto, Canada

Since late 2015, a refugee resettlement program in Canada brought more than 60,000 refugees into the country from war-torn Syria. Many of the immigrants that came to Toronto—whether as part of the refugee surge or before—found a home in the city’s diverse, exciting restaurant scene: small shops and food stalls made it an easy business to get into, with minimal English required. And, between the welcoming, food-loving population, and the growing Syrian community, there is plenty of appetite for the country’s specialties.

As each of these immigrant-owned restaurants makes its way in the competitive Toronto food scene, a startup in Kensington Market looks at another way to help refugees serve their food in their new home. The Livelihood Project is a tech non-profit aiming to help refugees train in transferrable skills. It also runs a café staffed by (mostly Syrian) refugees, serving their food so they can work as they build a sustainable life in Canada.

Southern California, United States

The United States has nearly closed its doors to Syrian refugees under the Trump administration. What was a cap of 110,000 under the Obama administration has been drastically cut to 30,000. This is the lowest number of refugees admitted since 1980. Five out of nine agencies who help these refugees in Los Angeles, California have closed. This is due to the lack of refugees needing help in the area.

Although there are a small number of Syrian refugees in the United States compared to other western countries, the people who are here have made their mark in the food industry. Southern California has seen a large growth of Syrian cuisine throughout the past few years. Kebab Halebi and the Kobee Factory are two of the most popular Syrian restaurants in this region.

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