Until recently, Syrian cuisine hardly existed in Toronto. With just a few hundred families, the Syrian population was too small to support a restaurant scene. But over the past two years, following the high-profile resettlement of more than 50,000 refugees in Canada, the Toronto area — where over 11,000 of them live — is experiencing the green shoots of a Syrian-food boom.
The entrepreneurs behind these ventures display the striking diversity of Syria’s refugee population. They are as young as 17 and as old as 70, urban professors as well as illiterate farmers. Some worked in food businesses back home. Others never cooked in their lives.
In a city whose culinary landscape is proudly defined by its immigrant foods (more than half of all Torontonians are foreign-born), the emergence of Syrian cooking illuminates an immigrant community’s integration into the broader population, and the bridge that food can build to a new life.
No Syrian food businesses has felt the spotlight more acutely than Newcomer Kitchen, a nonprofit group of women who come together each Wednesday to cook a traditional Syrian meal in a small cafe and food business incubator called the Depanneur.