There are two athletes from Syria on the Refugee Olympic Team, and two others on the team who currently train in Brazil. However, the connection between Syria and Brazil is not new. When we were in Brazil, we were pleasantly surprised at the number of Middle Eastern restaurants, from high-end fine dining to humble corner shops. We love traditional Brazilian food, but we like to try something different every once in a while, and we often turned to Syrian or Lebanese food for a change of pace. This is not just a cuisine trend in the country, there has been a large Syrian population in Brazil for over 100 years, and they are one of the most deeply established immigrant communities in Brazil. Now, there is a newer wave of immigrants fleeing the current conflict in Syria. One of the ways that this new wave of Syrians is contributing to Brazilian culture is through their food enterprises, such as Ahmad Ryad Hamada’s Syrian snack cart and Anas Rjab’s catering service, Simsim.
Even before the newest Syrian arrivals, you could find foods that are traditionally Levantine all over Rio de Janeiro, as well as other places in Brazil, especially São Paulo. The first time we had the national food of Syria – kibbeh – was actually in Brazil! You will find kibbe and esfiha (small triangle shaped filled dough) at snack shops throughout Brazil, whether or not they have primarily Middle Eastern menus, showing how much Brazilians have adopted Syrian dishes as their own. Syrian influence can also be seen in that pita-like bread is called Pão Sirio (Syrian Bread) in Brazil. There are tons of great places to get Levantine food and spices in Rio, but here are some of our favorites: Al-Kuwait for Kibbe and Esfiha, Quiosque Arab for ambiance and Casas Pedro for spices and Pão Sirio.