By Fatoun a-Sheikh
AMMAN: Noor, 35, came to Jordan with her family three years ago from Damascus.
As one of Jordan’s roughly 1.3 million refugees, life can be hard, but recently Noor has started helping her family with an innovative idea: selling Syrian cuisine to her Jordanian hosts.
Noor transformed her home kitchen into a bakery where she makes traditional Syrian sweets and snacks to sell to locals. Her husband markets the business to Jordanians, and their project makes enough money to cover their basic needs.
Noor is one of many Syrian women who produce and sell traditional Syrian cuisine in Jordan, a burgeoning industry that is both supported by aid organizations and regulated by the Jordanian government, local aid organizations tell the Syrian Voice.
In some cases, selling home-cooked Syrian goods alone can provide the necessities for a Syrian family, refugees and aid workers tell the Syrian Voice.
Maisa al-Homsi, a widowed mother-of-three from Homs, came to Jordan four years ago. She opened a restaurant in a-Zarqa where she sells Syrian food to her neighbors.
On average, she makes about $120 a month, which helps her provide for her kids. She also secures extra work in kitchens via local aid organizations in Zarqa, which helps her earn more, she tells the Syrian Voice.
Samia Abu Ghosh works with Irada, a Jordanian civil society organization that seeks to “promote a culture of entrepreneurship among women”. Irada provides trainings and consultation to women looking to start businesses, and supports numerous projects like Maisa’s.
Startup kitchens in Jordan must meet specific health and safety standards, explains Abu Ghosh. Idara walks women through the process, ensuring that their products can pass inspections and their businesses meet legal standards.
Idara also assists with marketing and setting prices, Abu Ghosh tells the Syrian Voice. Syria and Jordan used to enjoy open trade, but since the border between the two countries closed in 2015, the demand for Syrian goods in Jordan has increased, says Abu Ghosh.
Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine are often referred to as “Bilad a-Sham”, an Arabic word loosely equating to “Greater Syria”. The four countries have similar cultures, dialects, and cuisines, but with marked differences. Syrian sweets enjoy a special reputation in the Arab world for their uniqueness and taste.
“Syrian women make more distinguished flavors,” says Kawthar al-Khlaifat, the director of the Center for Family Counseling and Awareness in Zarqa. “They bring more diverse things to the table than others.”
The Center for Family Counseling and Awareness, along with other aid organizations, also aims to strengthen the ties between Jordanians and Syrians says Eman al-Abadi, the director of the center’s kitchen.
According to al-Abadi, the Jordanian government’s effort to regulate the home cooking industry has boosted confidence between Syrian chefs and their Jordanian customers, as well as demand.
Translated by Justin Clark