Toronto Suddenly Has a New Craving: Syrian Food

“There is such a positive attitude toward new businesses that newcomers have been starting here,” said Jala Alsoufi, 23.

In August, Ms. Alsoufi opened Soufi’s, one of about a half-dozen Syrian food businesses to appear around Toronto in recent years, with her parents, Shahnaz and Husam, and her brother Alaa, 26. (A younger brother, Ayham, is still in high school.)

Though originally from Damascus, the family lived for two decades in Saudi Arabia, where Husam worked as a civil engineer and Shahnaz as a social worker. Unlike the majority of recent Syrian arrivals, who came as refugees, Jala moved here first in 2012 to study at the University of Toronto, and her family followed three years later. Because Canada did not recognize Husam’s engineering qualifications, and the family quickly learned about the scarcity of Syrian food in Toronto, they decided to open a restaurant.

“We wanted to highlight Syrian cuisine, which had gotten lost in the shadows of Middle Eastern cuisine,” Jala said, noting how Lebanese and other Arabic restaurants had cloaked their restaurants in a generic “Mediterranean” label, for broader appeal.

Photo

At Soufi’s, Anthony Daher, left, a regular customer, chats wth Odai Nakawa, an employee.

Credit
Ian Willms for The New York Times

Soufi’s is defiantly branded as a Syrian restaurant. Shahnaz, speaking in Arabic as her daughter translated, said the family wanted to demonstrate that Syrians were “more than just victims.”

“We wanted to consciously be light and airy,” Jala added, “because even though the situation in Syria is very unfortunate, it is important to show Syrian culture, music and art.”

The Alsoufi family has purposefully struck a balance between traditional Syrian flavors and contemporary Canadian tastes. Soufi’s employees are exclusively young, Syrian refugees. Some…

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