Syrian immigrants find success in Istanbul with juice and falafels

Four years have passed since the start of the Syrian civil war, and an end is not in sight. Inevitably, the war has devastated the country, and its consequences have spilled over into Turkey, where there are currently 1,761,486 registered Syrian refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many of the Syrians who have fled their homeland live in extremely different conditions in refugee camps in southeastern Anatolia, but there is an increasing influx of refugees into Istanbul. Like most foreigners in the megalopolis, many find themselves in the pulsating heart of the city that is the Beyoilu district. There are a lot of heart-breaking stories that make headlines in the Turkish media, and the Syrian story in Turkey is often a tragic one, whether it be children living outside in the cold or women prostituting themselves as second wives to men. Walking on istiklal Avenue, a pedestrian is faced with women and children begging on the street every few meters, a reminder of the grim picture in Syria. But then, there are places that give a more optimistic and pleasant picture of the mass Syrian migration to Turkey, like the juice bar, Ananas, for instance. Opened a year ago by Aleppo native Waseem Kharouf, Ananas Juice Bar sits on a side street just of south of istiklal Avenue, situated near the trendy Cihangir neighborhood. Itand’s a small, minimalist space and upon entering one is greeted with an overwhelming, sweet, citrusy aroma. Kharouf is a true businessman with a product he believes in, and what he is selling is healthy living. and”We try to make people change their eating habits by selling something gluten-free, sugar-free and completely vegan. And this is our message that we try to get across, to have something active for the body to detox the toxins,and” the 32-year-old business owner explained. and”We proudly like to say that we are the first people in Istanbul to do cold-pressed juices,and” he told Sundayand’s Zaman in an interview on Wednesday. He nonchalantly explained, and”I came from Syria three years ago because of the war,and” and quickly moved on to talk about his healthy living business, without going into any details of his past. and”I was interested in being in the food business because I am a good cook, I think, and I got into the idea of juicing [as a business] because I have been juicing for a while. Turkey has great quality fruits, and so I did a business study analysis and we noticed that nobody was offering this service of cold-pressed juices,and” he explains. He enthusiastically uses terms like andquotsuper foods,andquot which, he explains, are and”foods like chia seeds, which boost your immune system and give great benefits to your body.and” He doesnand’t seem interested in talking about the fate of his motherland, and only offers, and”Yeah, itand’s a sad story but itand’s the past [for me].and” He added, and”Itand’s happened everywhere in the world and now itand’s just Syriaand’s turn.and” Kharouf is ambitious and determined. and”The sky is the limit,and” he says, and does not waste time discussing matters he will not benefit from.
h2Syrian fried chickenh2 On the other side of istiklal, bordering the dodgy Tarlabaii neighborhood, lies another successful Syrian business, the Al-Zaim fast food restaurant. Customers of Al-Zaim are met with blaring Arab pop music and offensive florescent lighting. There is an assembly line of men at work behind the counter in red uniforms with a logo of an animated chicken wearing a sheriffand’s cowboy hat. The restaurant serves what can be considered authentic Syrian food, with a selection of hummus, shawarmas and falafels that can make taste buds dance. Their logo is also a reference to their famed fried chicken. Their delicious cuisine attracts all types of crowds: local Turks, Syrians and, surprisingly, many tourists. There is only one employee who is not in the tacky uniform instead, he wears a white-collar shirt with a black coat and his hair gelled back, with a pen and notepad in hand. In all the chaos of the cramped restaurant, he acts as the ringleader. He speaks in broken English, and even more broken Turkish. His name is Mohammad Alshami he is 21 years old and came to Istanbul eight months ago, when the restaurant opened, from Lebanon. Sundayand’s Zaman spoke with Alshami amid all the madness of the busy restaurant. The young man left his family in Damascus, the city where all his co-workers originate from, and first fled to Beirut and finally to Istanbul. When asked why he left Syria, he explained that he was avoiding conscription, and, of course, the war, although he says that the countryand’s capital is in better condition than other regions of Syria. Although there is only one Al-Zaim in Istanbul now, he shared that he believes that the owner, Kamal Alaswad, will be opening more restaurants in other locations. Itand’s no surprise, considering the obvious success of the business and the ongoing upsurge of similar falafel establishments in Istanbul. In fact, Al-Zaim resembles the adored, dingy Mexican burrito and taco eateries of the US, or the prevalent Turkish kebab stands of Germany, both of which are the products of local immigrant cultures that have become integral in the fabric of the respective countries. Al-Zaim is a window of what can be expected in Turkey in the next 10 years, and the potential immigrant Syrian minority culture that has already begun to establish itself in Turkey.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman