How South Americans with Middle Eastern roots are transforming Arabic cuisine

Special A new generation of Arabs in Latin America are seeking to expand the possibilities of their culinary traditions. (Supplied)
A new generation of Arabs in Latin America are seeking to expand the possibilities of their culinary traditions. (Supplied)
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Updated 23 July 2022

How South Americans with Middle Eastern roots are transforming Arabic cuisine

How South Americans with Middle Eastern roots are transforming Arabic cuisine
  • A new generation is seeking to expand the concepts and possibilities of their culinary traditions
  • The expansion of Arabic food in Latin America is partly a result of the influx of Syrian refugees

SAO PAULO, Brazil: In a region where the first Arab immigrants arrived in the 19th century and an estimated 18 million people have Middle Eastern roots, Arabic food has become an integral part of the local cuisine in several Latin American countries. A new generation of Arabs on the continent is now seeking to expand the concepts and possibilities of their culinary traditions.

In Brazil, where researchers estimate that at least 10 million people are of Syrian or Lebanese descent, kibbeh and sfiha have become so popular that many people have forgotten their Levantine origin. “Sfiha was mainly brought to Brazil by Armenians from Aleppo,” Lebanese-born chef Georges Barakat told Arab News.

When he arrived in the city of Sao Paulo in 2004, he realized that Brazilians were very interested in Arabic food. Since he opened his restaurant Shahiya in 2012, he has been reinventing Lebanese dishes, giving them contemporary attributes without making them lose their roots.

“As with any other cuisine, the Arabic one can be transformed, but always keeping its essence,” he said.

“I try to offer my clients nostalgic recipes that remind them of the food they used to eat with their grandmothers, but with a modern touch.”




Georges Barakat’s Lebaneseinspired cuisine. (Supplied)

Both in Shahiya, located in an upscale area of Sao Paulo, and in his work as a culinary consultant at the Mount Lebanon Club — one of the most traditional institutions of the Lebanese community in the city — Barakat offers high-level food presentation and a sumptuous atmosphere.

His experiments include grape-leaf rolls stuffed with Portuguese cod, a fusion of the traditional Lebanese dish with a popular filling in Brazil. “I want to please different tastes. Nobody will lose anything with that effort,” he said.

Brazilians have transformed sfiha into their own dish, and now make sausage and even chocolate versions. In Mexico, the historical presence of Arab immigrants has also generated a curious synthesis with the local cuisine. The most notorious example is the taco arabe, a fusion between the Arabic shawarma and the Mexican taco.

It was a creation of Assyrian-Chaldean immigrants who settled in the city of Puebla at the beginning of the 1920s.




On the left: Shahiya's mijadra; on the right: Shahiya's kibbeh nayeh. (Supplied)

“My grandfather and his brother realized that it wasn’t easy to find pita bread, so they began using tortillas,” Zacarias Galiana, the heir of Tacos Bagdad — the pioneering restaurant in the production of tacos arabes — told Arab News.

“They also replaced the yogurt with chipotle sauce, and the preferred meat became pork.”

Galiana, who manufactures the chipotle sauce that his grandfather created, also serves a more Arabized version of the taco, using a tortilla more similar to pita bread and traditional shawarma fillings such as yogurt and onions. “We’re totally connected, and fusion food is a natural consequence,” he said.

In Chile, where at least 600,000 Palestinians form their largest community outside the Middle East, the new generation seems to be eager to innovate.

Jad Alarja, a 33-year-old Palestinian-born chef in the capital Santiago, is a culinary instructor at the online platform Ochomil.cl, and has been teaching viewers how to make traditional Arabic dishes. He is not afraid of experimenting with new flavors and textures.




Syrian refugee Haneen Nasser and her husband, the Argentinian of Lebanese origin Besim Assad. They cook and sell Arab food in Santa Rosa, La Pampa province, using the commercial name Arabian. (Supplied)

“The new generations are willing to have new food experiences, but we Arabs tend to be stuck with the same old ways of doing things,” he told Arab News. Alarja’s classes have been shared on social media by Chile’s Palestinian community. At times, he receives negative feedback.

“Once I taught how I prepare tabbouleh and a person said, ‘I come from a family with five generations of cooks, and that isn’t how tabbouleh should be done’,” he said.

“Why do people prefer to compete over who makes things more traditionally instead of creating new things?”

Alarja said during the COVID-19 pandemic, many Arab Chileans began cooking and selling food, something that may contribute to expanding the reach of Arabic cuisine in the country.

The expansion of Arabic food in Latin America is also a result of the influx of Syrian refugees, who have been coming to the region for the last 10 years due to humanitarian visas distributed by countries such as Brazil and Argentina.




Arabs in Latin America strive to preserve the traditional cuisines of their homelands, but sometimes, as in the case of the taco arabe, fusion creates new culinary phenomena. (Supplied)

Some of them opened restaurants and have been serving the food they used to prepare in Syria, which can at times surprise Latin Americans used to a specific Arabic cuisine.

Haneen Nasser, a 30-year-old Syrian who came to Argentina six years ago, married a Lebanese Argentinian and settled in Santa Rosa, a small city in La Pampa province.

There, they began cooking in 2018 and soon caused some surprise among their clients. “The city doesn’t have a large Lebanese community like Buenos Aires and Cordoba, but people have their established ideas about Arabic food. At times we impact them,” she told Arab News.

That was the case with the mint and cheese sfiha, a traditional dish in her hometown Latakia but until then unknown in Argentina.




 Zayas Galeana Antar, an Assyrian-Chaldean immigrant in Puebla, Mexico, in the 1930s, in front of Taquería Bagdad. (Supplied)

“Even my Lebanese mother-in-law didn’t know it. Now it’s a success, especially among vegetarians and kids,” Nasser said.

A graduate in English studies, she never cooked professionally in Syria but fell in love with the idea in Argentina. At time, she asks for help from her mother and aunt in Syria with some recipes.

“We’re now starting a small restaurant with the idea of not only serving food, but also presenting our culture to the people,” Nasser said. “It’s our life project for the future.”

Barakat said: “Many Arab chefs go to Europe for training and end up becoming chefs of foreign food. I’m the opposite: I want to be an ambassador of Lebanese — and Arabic — food all over the world.”

 

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Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them
Updated 17 sec ago

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

Assange lawyers sue CIA for spying on them

WASHINGTON: Lawyers for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sued the US Central Intelligence Agency and its former director Mike Pompeo on Monday, alleging it recorded their conversations and copied data from their phones and computers.
The attorneys, along with two journalists joining the suit, are Americans and allege that the CIA violated their US constitutional protections for confidential discussions with Assange, who is Australian.
They said the CIA worked with a security firm contracted by the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where Assange was living at the time, to spy on the WikiLeaks founder, his lawyers, journalists and others he met with.
Assange is facing extradition from Britain to the US, where he is charged with violating the US Espionage Act by publishing US military and diplomatic files in 2010 related to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Robert Boyle, a New York attorney representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said the alleged spying on Assange’s attorneys means the WikiLeaks founder’s right to a fair trial has “now been tainted, if not destroyed.”
“The recording of meetings with friends, with lawyers and the copying of his attorneys’ and friends’ digital information taints the criminal prosecution because now the government knows the contents of those communications,” Boyle told reporters.
“There should be sanctions, even up to dismissal of those charges, or withdrawal of an extradition request in response to these blatantly unconstitutional activities,” he said.
The suit was filed by attorneys Margaret Ratner Kunstler and Deborah Hrbek, and journalists Charles Glass and John Goetz.
They all visited Assange while he was living inside the Ecuadoran embassy in London under political asylum, since withdrawn.
The suit named the CIA, former CIA director and former US secretary of state Pompeo, and the security firm Undercover Global and its chief executive David Morales Guillen.
It said Undercover Global, which had a security contract with the embassy, swept information on their electronic devices, including communications with Assange, and provided it to the CIA.
In addition it placed microphones around the embassy and sent recordings, as well as footage from security cameras, to the CIA, the suit alleges.
This, the attorneys said, violated privacy protections for US citizens.
Assange is awaiting a ruling on his appeal of the British extradition order to the United States.
The charges he faces could bring a sentence of up to 175 years in prison.
The suit said that Spain-based Undercover Global was recruited to work with the CIA in 2017 by officials from the Las Vegas Sands casino group.
Las Vegas Sands was at the time controlled by the late tycoon Sheldon Adelson, a powerful conservative backer of the Republican Party who, the suit said, “had cooperated with the CIA on similar matters in the past.”
The suit said that while Undercover Global controlled security at the embassy, each visitor had to leave their electronic devices with a guard before seeing Assange.
“The information contained on the plaintiff’s devices was copied and, ultimately, given to the CIA,” they said.
“Defendant Pompeo was aware of and approved the copying of information contained on plaintiffs’ mobile electronic devices and the surreptitious audio monitoring of their meetings with Assange,” the suit alleged.
It said the defendants became aware of the spying only when the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported in September 2019 that Morales and Undercover Global were under criminal investigation in Spain.
El Pais revealed information on the London operations that had previously been sealed in the case.


Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
Updated 15 August 2022

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico

Father and son linked to murders of Muslims in New Mexico
  • Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62

NEW MEXICO: Police in New Mexico have found evidence that appears to tie a father and son to the killings of Muslim men in New Mexico, federal prosecutors said on Monday.
Both Muhammad Syed, 51, and his son Shaheen Syed were in the same area of Albuquerque shortly after an Aug. 5 murder took place, based on cellphone data, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Agents believe Shaheen Syed observed Aug. 5 murder victim Naeem Hussain attending a funeral service that day for two other Muslim men who were murdered, based on FBI analysis of cell tower data.
Shaheen Syed then followed Hussain to the location where he was gunned down, prosecutors said in documents for a Monday detention hearing.
“Telephone calls between Muhammad Atif Syed and the defendant would be consistent with quick surveillance calls, both before and after the shooting,” federal prosecutors said, citing an FBI analysis of cell tower data.
The reference to the defendant is Shaheen Syed, who was arrested last week on federal firearms charges for providing a false address.
An attorney representing Shaheen Syed described the latest allegations as “exceedingly thin and speculative.”
In a court filing, lawyer John Anderson said federal prosecutors provided no evidence as to the size of the “general area” the father and son’s phones were both in shortly after the Aug. 5 murder.
Muhammad Syed was formally charged with killing Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26 and Muhammed Afzaal Hussain, 27, on Aug. 1.
Police have said they are working with prosecutors on potential charges for the murders of Naeem Hussain, 25, as well as Mohammad Ahmadi, 62, who was shot dead on Nov. 7, 2021.

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PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
Updated 15 August 2022

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years

PM Modi pledges to make India developed country in 25 years
  • Premier says India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance to reach its goal
  • Corruption, nepotism are barriers to growth, Modi warns in independence day address

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on Monday to turn India into a developed country in the next 25 years, and vowed to fight against corruption and nepotism, as the nation celebrated its independence day.  

India gained independence on Aug. 15, 1947 after more than 200 years of British rule, when the subcontinent was divided into the states of India and Pakistan.

Wearing a turban printed with small stripes that matched the Indian flag, Modi addressed the nation from the 17th-century Red Fort in New Delhi to mark 75 years of independence.

“For the next 25 years, we need to focus on the ‘Panch Pran’ (five pledges). The first is making India a developed country,” he said.

“It is a big pledge and we should work toward this goal with all our might.”

Other pledges include removing any trace of the colonial mindset, strengthening unity, taking pride in India’s legacy, and for everyone to fulfill their duties as citizens.

India is categorized as a lower middle-income economy by the World Bank, a distinction meant for countries with a gross national income per capita of between $1,086 and $4,255. High-income countries, such as the US, have a per capita income of $13,025 or more.

Modi said that India will be guided by ideals of self-reliance, as well as the spirit of international partnership, in order to achieve its development goals. He also identified corruption and nepotism as barriers to growth.

“Corruption is hollowing the country like termites. I want to fight it and seek your support,” he said.

But the premier’s ambitions for a developed India failed to take into account the country’s regression when it comes to minorities, writer Bhagwandas Morwal told Arab News.

“Modi’s speech is without vision, and India cannot become a developed nation by going astray from the path of secularism and pluralism,” Morwal said.

The South Asian nation has witnessed increasing violence targeting its Muslim minority, which makes up about 13 percent of the 1.35 billion population. Many attacks have been carried out by Hindu nationalists emboldened by Modi’s silence about such incidents since taking office in 2014.

“India has slid in its standing among a comity of nations, and in the last eight years of Modi rule it has gone astray from its constitutional commitment to minorities.”

Historian Aditya Mukherjee told Arab News that he is “extremely worried” about the nation’s trajectory.

“We are moving in the opposite direction that the country was set by our freedom fighters,” Mukherjee said.

Mukherjee, director of the Institute of Advanced Study at the New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-author of “India’s Struggle for Independence,” said that “fundamental ideas,” such as democracy, secularism, sovereignty and pro-poor orientation, “are being completely abandoned.”

“The question is not whether we can become a developed nation after 25 years,” he said. “The question is, will we remain as a nation (considering) the manner in which the divisive agenda is promoted?”

 


UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
Updated 15 August 2022

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees

UK govt under fire over treatment of Afghan refugees
  • Ministers should ‘hang their heads in shame,’ says former NATO chief in Afghanistan

The UK government is facing criticism over its failure to safeguard Afghan refugees who worked with coalition forces during the war in Afghanistan, The Guardian reported on Monday.

About 6,200 people along with their families are eligible for relocation under the Afghan Relocations and Assistance Policy (ARAP).

The ARAP scheme has brought more than 10,000 Afghans to the UK, and the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme (ACRS) will allow up to 20,000 to settle in the country.

However, as Western allies mark the one-year anniversary of NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK faces accusations of abandoning many Afghans to persecution at the hands of Taliban.

Ret. Gen. Sir John McColl, who served as first head of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, told BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” that Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and other ministers should “hang their heads in shame.”

McColl described the UK’s evacuation of Afghans as “random,” and at times prioritizing animals over people.

“The system was broken when we withdrew from Kabul last year and it remains broken. It was a source of shame then and it continues to be a source of shame,” McColl said.

Those eligible for ARAP include people still in Afghanistan and those who have fled, most often to Pakistan, but also Iran, where strained relations between London and Tehran have hindered the scheme’s ability to assist people.

Earlier this month, nine expert groups on Afghanistan criticized the government’s resettlement schemes as “unjustifiably restrictive.”

They also expressed deep concern over the government’s failure to provide a safe route for Afghan women, girls and oppressed minority groups.

According to sources at the Ministry of Defense, about 1,050 people evacuated out of Afghanistan under ARAP are living in hotels in Pakistan while awaiting processing and transportation to the UK or another destination.

However, the ministry expressed frustration that many Afghans who are brought to the UK end up, as one highly placed source put it, “stuck in hotels.”

The ministry source attributed this to the government’s failure to put adequate plans in place.

With only 7,000 Afghans having been rehoused, the UK government is still providing hotel accommodation to 9,500 people who sought refuge in the UK, The Guardian reported.

The news outlet also said that thousands of Afghan refugees were told by the Home Office to search for housing on the websites Rightmove and Zoopla.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the UK intends to welcome up to 20,000 people in need via ACRS.

“Already we are proud this country has provided homes for more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees, but there is a shortage of local housing accommodation for all,” they said.

“While hotels do not provide a long-term solution, they do offer safe, secure and clean accommodation. We will continue to bring down the number of people in bridging hotels, moving people into more sustainable accommodation as quickly as possible.”

The Home Office has said that local authorities will receive £20,520 ($24,770) per person over a three-year period to support the resettlement of Afghan families, with flexibility to use the funds in various ways.


Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
Updated 15 August 2022

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown

Location of first ship to leave Ukraine carrying grain unknown
  • Razoni was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed
  • The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed

BEIRUT: The first grain ship to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal has had its cargo resold several times and there is now no information about its location and cargo destination, the Ukrainian embassy in Beirut said Monday.
The Sierra Leone-flagged ship Razoni, which left Odesa on Aug. 1, and moved through the Black Sea carrying Ukrainian corn, later passed inspection in Turkey. It was initially heading for Lebanon with 26,000 metric tons of corn for chicken feed. The corn’s buyer in Lebanon later refused to accept the cargo, since it was delivered much later than agreed.
The Razoni hasn’t had its tracker on for the last three days and it appeared off the east coast of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at last transmission.
It was not clear if the Razoni had its tracker off because it was heading to a port in Syria, a strong ally of Russia that Ukraine had accused of importing grain stolen from Ukraine.
Syria is also under Western sanctions because of the 11-year conflict there that has killed hundreds of thousands. Syrian port officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done,” Ukraine’s embassy in Beirut said in a statement in English, adding that to date, 16 vessels have left Ukraine carrying more than 450,000 tons of agricultural products since a breakthrough agreement was brokered by Turkey and the United Nations with Russia and Ukraine.
The embassy said the Razoni was the first vessel that left Ukraine under the agreement and later successfully passed inspection in Istanbul before moving toward its destination.
“We don’t have any information about (the) position of the vessel and cargo destination,” it said. “We have also information that cargo has been resold a few times after that.”
The embassy said: “We are not responsible for (the) vessel and cargo, especially when it left Ukraine, moreover after vessel’s departure from foreign port.”
The Black Sea region is dubbed the world’s breadbasket, with Ukraine and Russia key global suppliers of wheat, corn, barley and sunflower oil that millions of impoverished people in Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia rely on for survival.
An estimated 20 million tons of grain — most of it said to be destined for livestock — has been stuck in Ukraine since the start of the 6-month-old war.