Zeynep Bilgehan – ISTANBUL
Syrian migrants living in Istanbul have brought their rich food culture to the city, with many of them opening restaurants across the city over the past few years.
One Mecca for this burgeoning scene is Akşemsettin Street in the Fatih district of Istanbul, where a number of restaurants offer a “fusion” of Syrian and Turkish tastes.
Syrian restaurants and shops were initially centered around the Aksaray neighborhood and its Vatan Street, where many migrants are from Aleppo. Akşemsettin Street has over the past year begun to host many migrants from Damascus, who have opted to open restaurants.
These restaurants often add Turkish names to their brands as they adapt to Istanbul. For example, one dessert shop is called “Zairouneoğlu Tatlı,” which had originally been serving in Syria since 1975 under the name “Zaitoune.”
The restaurant now has four branches, but owner Abdurrahman Zaiotoune told daily Hürriyet that they still want to return to Syria after the war is over.
Next to Zaiotoune’s restaurant is another called “Buuzecedi,” which opened just one week ago. There, waiters dressed in traditional Syrian clothes greet customers, offering dishes made only of chickpeas and fava beans.
“We had a shop in Syria but we don’t know if it’s still there or not. We moved in here and started over. We want to introduce the traditional Damascus cuisine to Turks,” Muhammed Nur, the owner of the restaurant said.
Dalia Mortada, 29, has been carrying out a project called “Savoring Syria,” which aims to reveal the rich tastes of the country.
Mortada arrived in Istanbul in 2011 to escape from the protests, but was unable to return due to the war.
She said her project developed after she started tracking Syrian tastes and stories in Istanbul.
“At first I couldn’t find Arab-style bread anywhere. But Syrians started to produce it in Istanbul in 2014. This perhaps meant they had started to accept that they wouldn’t be able to return home anymore,” she told Hürriyet.
Mortada also noted that “when places change, recipes also change,” adding that Syrians often use chicken in place of beef as the price of chicken is cheaper.
“Vegetarian cuisine is also developing. There were at first only fast-food, hummus, falafel and kebabs being sold in Syrian restaurants in Istanbul, but they have started to serve homemade food,” she added.
Among the Syrian restaurants serving homemade food in Istanbul, perhaps the most famous is “Saruja” in Fatih.
“We change the menu a couple of times every month. Syrian bread and desert factories are now opened in İkitelli and Ümraniye, so the ingredients are fresh,” said Saruja’s manager Mohammed Eid.
Syrian products with Arabic labels can be found in an Istanbul store called “Şam Market” (Damascus Market), whose owner Samir Ahdab said food was entering Turkey illegally from Syria in the past.
“When the border gates were closed, the passage of food also stopped. That is when factories started to open here,” Ahdab said.