A Recipe for Understanding: How Food Entrepreneurship and Gastrodiplomacy are Bringing Syrian Refugees and Turks Closer

From Consortium Member The William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan

An entrepreneur in São Paulo seeks to refine palates by introducing unfamiliar Syrian dishes to the city and showing the uniqueness of his country’s cuisine – differentiating it from common and broadly labeled “Middle Eastern” food. In Toronto, a restaurant offers traditional Syrian dishes with a contemporary twist, such as manaeesh flatbread topped with avocado. In Washington, D.C., a chef from Damascus serves up his family recipes through a food delivery business for emerging immigrant chefs. These are just a handful out of thousands of stories of Syrian refugees starting food businesses in host countries and shaping those host communities’ perceptions of their culture through food.

In Istanbul, Mohamad Bakkar, a Syrian refugee and now food entrepreneur, (pictured right) produces his own special Syrian cheeses and yogurt. About three and a half years ago, Bakkar fled the civil war in Syria, where he was an electrical engineer. As a refugee in a new place, life was not easy. To improve his family’s situation, Bakkar opened his own food business in Istanbul. 

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