Tag Archives: Syria

The importance of the immigrant experience to American food

For a large part, Eating the World is a site is dedicated to exploring the vibrant food cultures made possible primarily by immigrants to the US. Though this is not a political site, recent egregious events related to immigration in the US have made it impossible for me to not speak out and take a stance. To be frank, without immigrants, food culture in the US would be much more limited (no pasta, no sushi, no falafel, no tacos, etc.). Unless you are 100% Native American, we are all descended from immigrants (whether in the distant or recent past) and through these immigrants, American culture (and food) has grown richer. Sharing food forms bonds within and across communities and is a celebration of culture that is easily enjoyed by all. So today I’d like to shine a spotlight on a recent Syrian immigrant, Yassin Terou, who has woven himself and his family into the fabric of Knoxville, TN through food. ETW will always be a place that celebrates immigrants from every country!

yassin

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Syrian Food in Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil)

syriabrazilThere 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.

Kibbe

Kibbe at Al-Kuwait in Rio

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.

Casas Pedro in Rio

Casas Pedro in Rio

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Middle-Eastern Food in Brazil: Al Kuwait

Al Kuwait
Av. Treze de Maio, 23 – Centro
Rio de Janeiro

KuwaitbrazilsyrialebanonRio de Janeiro is full of middle-Eastern restaurants, ranging from
four-star white-tablecloth places to corner botecos, owing to the large Arab Brazilian population. Al Kuwait falls into the latter category, and does a brisk lunch trade selling Middle Eastern dishes, salgados and juices. Moreover, we figured we had to try this place since Al Kuwait claims to have some of the best kibbe in Rio.

Kibbe

Kibbe at Al Kuwait

Kibbe is extremely popular in Brazil, and is found in almost all snack bars, Middle Eastern or not. A kibbe in Brazil is basically a miniature football-shaped meatball (again, sounds like something Ron Swanson would appreciate, right?) composed of ground meat, bulgur and other fillings, which are then fried. For lunch we each ordered a kibbe and an esfiha (one cheese and one meat), another iconic Middle Eastern salgado. Now, we always eat at Middle Eastern restaurants in Chicago and we have never encountered esfihas there. However, in Brazil they are nearly as ubiquitous as kibbe (you can even get them on the beach). Esfihas are savory triangle pastries filled with meat or cheese, which are prefect to eat on the go.

Esfiha

Esfiha at Al Kuwait

However, Al Kuwait had a nice outdoor seating area, so we took a seat to enjoy our snacks. The kibbe was much larger than we expected, but true to advertising, was excellent and had a great texture and flavor. The esfihas were also oversized, but not as memorable as the kibbe. We also enjoyed that we could wash down our somewhat-heavy meal with some fresh juice (Mango, Passion fruit and Pineapple were on order). There is also a full menu of entree-sized middle-eastern specialties if you would like something a bit more substantial, including hummus, baba ghanouj, kebabs and Brazilian specialties like picanha sandwiches. Al Kuwait is a great place for lunch, especially if you want a taste of typical Arab-Brazilian cuisine in a laid-back setting.

Al Kuwait

Dining Al Fresco at Al Kuwait

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Assyria: Sahara Kabob [closed]

800px-FlagofAssyria.svg Sahara Kabob
6649 N Clark
Chicago, IL

The 3.3 million Assyrians alive today have not had a country of their own in over 2,000 years; and even if it still existed, the Assyrian Empire is not exactly near the Sahara. Nevertheless, an Assyrian family founded Sahara Kabob on North Clark Street in Chicago, and while we still do not understand the name (though it is better than the previous name, “Big Buns and Pita”), we cannot argue with the seemingly endless amounts of really cheap, really tasty food.

IL00001We should have realized what we were in for when the reviews on Yelp said “humongous portions.” Not heeding their advice and logically thinking two dinner portions would be just enough for two hungry people, we set about making our menu choices. It was a busy night, so we opted for carry-out. The Combo Plate seemed like a good option, with helpings of chicken and kefta (ground beef and lamb) kabob and chicken shawirma served on white rice (my choice over couscous) with small sides of grilled and pickled veggies. Turns out it also comes with a soup – I picked douckua, a thick concoction of meat and barley in yogurt sauce. L went with the vegetarian route, picking the falafel plate (it comes with eight pieces) over couscous with lentil soup on the side. We added in a small appetizer of boorek, meaty egg rolls with chili dipping sauce, and figured we had enough for dinner.

When we arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes later (note the quick turnaround time on our order) we were greeted by simple, no-frills décor with enough artifacts to lend an air of Assyrian authenticity to the place. It helped that the only other customers were speaking a Middle Eastern language we did not understand – always a good sign when orderingIL00002 non-American food. When our food came out, we were shocked by how much we were getting. Two completely full take-out boxes, two full bowls of soup, plus the bowl of couscous, the boorek, and a small assortment of complimentary dipping sauces. All for $20. As she wrapped up our order, the server asked if we liked baklava. We gave a hesitant yes, thinking she would push us to buy some, but were surprised when she plopped a free serving right into our bag. At this point, we knew we had ordered way too much food. But was it way too much good food?

Yes. We started with the boorek, a really interesting marriage of an egg roll with a spiced meat filling and a dipping sauce that tasted like Sriracha. The lentil soup was excellent as well, flavorful and light (though not as good as the reigning favorite from Taste of Lebanon). The douckua I ordered cannot really be classified as a soup – think of it more as a meat salad with a strong, flavorful yogurt sauce laced with special seasonings and barley. L did not much care for it, but I thought it was interesting and new, and definitely worth a try. L’s couscous was a litIL00003tle disappointing, tinged with almost a Ms. Grass-like flavor, but the rest of the meal was a home run. My combo plate was solid all the way around from shawirma to the kabobs, with solid cuts of beef, lamb, and chicken all grilled to perfection. L’s falafel was solid as well, easily compared to other excellent falafels we have had in the past.

Good as the food was, if there is one reason to order from Sahara Kabob, it is that you can easily double the value of your money over similar places. Our $20 gave us both two days worth of solid meals – on the first night, I was barely able to put a dent in my combo plate after eating the boorek and the douckua. Add on to that the satisfaction of supporting a family-run, locally-owned business and you have the makings of a great north side take-out (or dine-in) stop.

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