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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Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years
Updated 11 sec ago

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years

Half a million strike in UK’s largest walkout in 12 years
LONDON: Half a million workers went on strike in Britain on Wednesday, calling for higher wages in the largest such walkout in over a decade, closing schools and severely disrupting transport.
As Europe battles a cost-of-living crisis, Britain’s umbrella labor organization the Trades Union Congress (TUC) called it the “biggest day of strike action since 2011.”
The latest strikes come a day after more than 1.27 million took to the streets in France, increasing pressure on the French government over pension reform plans.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has called for pay rises to be “reasonable” and affordable” warning that big pay rises would jeopardize attempts to tame inflation.
But unions have accused millionaire Sunak of being out of touch with the challenges faced by ordinary working people struggling to make ends meet in the face of low paid, insecure work and spiralling costs.
Teachers and train drivers were among the latest groups to act, as well as border force workers at UK air and seaports.
“The workload is always bigger and bigger and with the inflation our salary is lower and lower,” London teacher Nigel Adams, 57, told AFP as he joined thousands of teachers marching through central London.
“We’re exhausted. We’re paying the price and so are the children,” he added as protesters held up placards reading “Pay Up” and “We can’t put your kids first if you put their teachers last.”
Britain has witnessed months of strikes by tens of thousands of workers — including postal staff, lawyers, nurses and employees in the retail sector — as UK inflation raced above 11 percent, the highest level in more than 40 years.
Job center worker and union representative, Graham, who preferred not to give his last name said workers had no choice but to strike faced with soaring costs.
“Some of our members, even though they are working, still have to make visits to food banks,” he said.
“Not only are wages not keeping up, but things like fares, council tax and rents are going up. Anything we get is eaten away,” he added.
At London’s King’s Cross rail station, Kate Lewis, a 50-year-old charity worker, said she sympathized with the strikers despite her train being delayed.
“I understand. We are all in the same boat. All impacted by inflation,” she said.
Another major commuter hub in the capital, London Bridge station, was completely closed.
One train driver who gave his name as Tony, 61, said the sort of pay rises on offer were insulting, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
“We worked all through Covid. We were being praised as key workers and then there is this slap in the face,” he said.
“I was leaving (home) at 3 am to go to work. People were having barbecues, you could hear the bottles. I think we deserve a pay increase that keeps up with inflation.”
Government and company bosses are standing firm over wage demands.
With thousands of schools closed for the day, Education Minister Gillian Keegan told Times Radio she was “disappointed” teachers had walked out.
But union boss Mark Serwotka said the government’s position was “unsustainable.”
“It’s not feasible that they can sit back with this unprecedented amount of industrial action growing, because it’s half a million today,” he told Sky News.
“Next week, we have paramedics, and we have nurses, then will then be the firefighters,” he added, warning that unions were prepared to strike throughout the summer.
Prime Minister Sunak on Wednesday told parliament the government had given teachers the “highest pay rise in 30 years” including nine percent for newly qualified teachers.
He urged opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to say “that the strikes are wrong and we should be backing our school children“
The latest official data shows 1.6 million working days were lost from June-November last year because of strikes — the highest six-month total in more than three decades — according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
A total of 467,000 working days were lost to walkouts in November alone, the highest level since 2011, the ONS added.
Alongside the strikes, unions are also staging rallies across the country against the Conservative government’s plans to legislate against public sector strike action.
Sunak has introduced a draft law requiring some frontline workers to maintain a minimum level of service during walkouts.

In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival

In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival
Updated 55 min 40 sec ago

In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival

In rural Indonesia, women join climate action in fight for survival
  • Nearly half of coastal cities, districts in Indonesia are at risk of tidal flooding by 2050
  • Indonesia is one of the most vulnerable countries in terms of risks posed by climate change

JAKARTA: For the past few years, Rania has been constantly living in fear of the day she and her family would have to abandon their home when everything they own falls into the ocean. 

Life and livelihood in Rania’s village, Pondok Kelapa in Bengkulu province on the western coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, have been increasingly affected by erosion. 

Environmentalists estimate that seawater has already entered 30 m into the mainland since 2011 and the pace at which it reclaims more is increasing. 

The village has been also losing its main source of livelihood, fisheries, as tidal waves destroy marine vegetation and fish habitats, leaving many men jobless and trapping the whole community in a poverty cycle. 

“Where we live is being eroded by the waves. Tidal floods are greatly affecting our lives,” Rania, 47, told Arab News. 

“We are trying our best, but some children don’t go to school. Some of them have had to leave because there’s simply not enough money.” 

Pondok Kelapa is not the only place affected, as coastal erosion and tidal flooding are threatening many more communities in the archipelagic nation of 270 million. 

A recent study by Indonesia’s biggest daily, Kompas, showed that nearly 200 out of about 500 coastal cities and districts are at risk of being submerged by 2050, as the country is one of the most vulnerable in terms of risks posed by the changing climate.

In Rania’s village of 4,300 people, women have decided to fight back. 

In 2020, she and over 20 other village women formed a group to advocate for government climate resilience assistance to build a seawall and help the community adapt to the rapidly changing conditions with proper infrastructure. 

“Because of climate change, seawater has increasingly eroded our place in Pondok Kelapa,” she said. 

“Now the women are stepping up and trying to confront this issue. Who knows, maybe the government will respond to us ladies.” 

Action is urgently needed not only in Pondok Kelapa but along the coast of the whole Bengkulu province, according to the Indonesian Forum for the Environment, a non-governmental organization, which is part of the Friends of the Earth International network. 

“A number of villages are in danger of sinking because of coastal erosion and tidal flooding…These tidal floods in Bengkulu province are very hard to predict, and they have impacted the earnings of fishermen and subsequently affected their livelihood,” Dodi Faisal, who heads the forum’s advocacy in the province, told Arab News. 

“It’s very worrying. The provincial and local governments have yet to take any concrete action.” 

Masmarawati, another member of Rania’s group, said she hopes action will come soon.

“We can still survive in the village for now,” she said. 

“But what about next year? In five years? What’s going to happen to our children and grandchildren?” 


Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut
Updated 01 February 2023

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut

Ukrainian police rescue six-year-old girl from besieged Bakhmut
  • They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year

BAKHMUT: Ukrainian police staged a risky rescue mission in the besieged eastern city of Bakhmut this week to evacuate a six-year-old girl who had become separated from her pregnant mother.
Young Arina was found living with her grandparents in a run-down apartment building in Bakhmut, which has been pummelled by Russian forces in heavy fighting.
After trudging through snow to reach Arina, with artillery fire echoing in the distance, policeman Pavlo Dyachenko and two colleagues in combat gear drove Arina to the nearby city of Sloviansk to be reunited with her mother, Halyna Danylchenko.
“A shell exploded in our yard!” Arina, clutching a large white teddy bear, told her mother after they hugged.
“I heard that a shell exploded in your yard, that’s why I got so worried,” said Danylchenko, who is 24 and eight months pregnant.

They are among millions of people who have been displaced since Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 last year.
Dyachenko said there were still about 200 children living in Bakhmut. The city was home to about 70,000 people before the war but officials say only a few thousand residents now remain.
“We’re meeting the families that are still there and talk to them, trying to convince them to agree to be evacuated, either the whole family or the children. Because children must live in a peaceful environment,” he told Reuters.
He had to gently coax Arina into leaving Bakhmut, calmly explaining the dangers of remaining.
“Are there any other children you can play with here?” Dyachenko asked the young girl after finder her in Bakhmut.

“No,” she replied, and started to cry.
“You’re supposed to be in a safe place. Do you understand?,” another officer said. “Do they shoot and shell a lot here?“
Arina nodded in reply.
One of the officers then put a bright orange helmet on her head, explaining: “This is for when we go outside, so that nothing can hit your head.”
They left the building to the sound of shelling, got into a waiting van and left for safety.


Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
Updated 01 February 2023

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist

Italian police arrest 3 Tunisians linked to slain Berlin terrorist
  • Anis Amri killed 12 people in German Christmas market during 2016 truck rampage

LONDON: Three Tunisians linked to a terrorist who killed a dozen people in Germany in 2016 have been arrested by Italian police for facilitating illegal immigration, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The trio were arrested during nationwide raids in Italy on more than 40 premises linked to a transnational gang enabling illegal immigration.

Two of the men were subsequently placed in pre-trial detention, while the third was ordered into house arrest.

Police tied the three to Anis Amri, a Tunisian who plowed into Christmas market crowds in Berlin using a truck seven years ago, killing 12 people and injuring dozens.

After going on the run following the attack, Amri was killed in a shootout with Milan police four days later.

Authorities carried out raids on the illegal immigration gang in Ancona, Fermo, Ferrara, Catanzaro, Modena, Macerata, Siracusa and Verona.  


Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
Updated 01 February 2023

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report

Ukrainian authorities search house of ex-interior minister — report
  • The head of Ukraine’s ruling party confirm Avakov’s home had been searched

KYIV: Former Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov said his home was searched by security officials on Wednesday as part of an investigation into a purchase of Airbus helicopters, the Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported.
An Airbus helicopter crashed on Jan. 18, killing 14 people including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi and other top ministry officials.
The State Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) did not immediately reply to a request for comment about the Ukrainska Pravda report.
A top governing party official confirmed on Wednesday that security officials had raided the homes of one of Ukraine’s richest men and a former interior minister, and said the country would change during the war with Russia.
Ukrainska Pravda quoted Avakov as saying the search was related to the helicopter crash.
“They looked at Airbus contracts from six years ago,” it quoted Avakov as saying.
Avakov, 59, resigned as Ukraine’s interior minister, in July 2021. Prior to his resignation he was one of the country’s most powerful officials, serving as the interior minister for over seven years.
David Arakhamia, head of the Servant of the People party’s parliamentary faction, said there were also searches at Ukraine’s Tax Office and that the management team of the Customs Service would be dismissed.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” he wrote on the Telegram messaging in app.