Since Syrians took to the streets in March 2011 to demand reform, news from Syria can be boiled down to montages of people angry, bloodied and afraid; bearded young men in military fatigues dodging behind crumbled buildings; the ominous black flags of the so-called Islamic State; children pulled from the rubble of bombed out buildings; masses of people crossing borders into neighboring countries or being saved from the sea.
That’s all the world knows about Syria. And while those images are real life for many Syrians, it shouldn’t define them. Food, however, does. It’s the lifeline of Syrian culture, easily defined by almost boundless generosity, as can be witnessed in the mounds of food piled high for any given guest. For Syrians, a friendship isn’t truly established until “bread and salt” are shared.
The Syrian Kitchen in Exile tells the stories of Syrian refugees scattered across the globe by using food as a way of understanding the deep impact of war and displacement. From the yearning for a taste of home to the efforts to preserve intangible yet crucial cultural heritage, these stories access the Syrian diaspora through the universal language of food.
Until recently, Syrians have largely lived inside Syria, in homes passed down through generations – much like their recipes. But in recent years the conflict has displaced half of Syria’s population, driving at least a quarter of its people from Syria itself, leading to the largest exodus of refugees since World War II. They have packed with them the bare minimum in terms of physical items – always a smart phone and an extra pair of socks, maybe some photos or the keys to their house in Syria. They carry with them in abundance their culture: their language, their arts and, crucially, their food.
With this project, we plan to bring stories from the Middle East, Europe, North America and beyond. We’ll profile centuries of dessert-making uprooted from the Syrian city of Hama and again from Aleppo, neighborhoods in Turkey transformed by new arrivals from Syria, women in Beirut who never imagined they would be cooking for a living – back home, it was just what they did to feed the people they love. We’ll learn what it’s like to be the only winemaker operating out of Syria, forced to oversee its operations from a distance in exile. We’ll meet families adjusting to a different alphabet and less potent ingredients and rules that can’t be worked around in Germany; families that never imagined stepping foot outside Syria just a few years ago. We’ll explore the struggle of trying to replicate that one dish – a lamb and quince stew (saffarjaliyya), perhaps, or a dessert of shredded dough, cream and cheese (knafeh) – in the American Midwest, where pomegranate syrup and rosewater are specialty items, not pantry staples.
Some of the stories you can listen to. Others, you’ll read. We’ll show you the people we befriend and the food they make in photos and sometimes video. And with these tales we’ll present to you recipes, so you can taste the flavors of Syria – the tastes Syrians want you to enjoy with them – right from home.