British Columbia

Syrian pop-up dinners help refugee women and share delicious food

A group of women in Vancouver who fled the civil war in Syria has found meaningful work in Canada thanks to their country’s cuisine.

Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine, provides opportunity for refugee women facing barriers

Women of Tayybeh and their families help prepare a pop-up dinner. The group provides catering as well as near-monthly pop-up dinners at roving locations. (Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine/Facebook)

A group of Syrian refugee women living in Vancouver has found meaningful work in Canada thanks to their country's cuisine.

They work for Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine, offering catering services and a pop-up dinner every month or so.

They serve up mutabbal (a creamy smoked eggplant dip), muhammara (a red-pepper dip with walnuts and pomegranate molasses), makloubet bazalia (upside-down rice with slow-cooked beef and toasted nuts), lentil and bulgur pilaf, hummus, stuffed vine leaves and more.

On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson says Tayybeh has been important for the women behind it because language and cultural barriers hold many back from finding employment.

"Initially, [project founder Nihal Elwan] thought it would be a nice idea to have some of those women put on a small dinner for friends and neighbours just so people could to get a sense of what Syrian food was all about," Johnson told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"At that first dinner late last year, people kept asking when the next one would be. They've gone on to prepare these pop-ups every four to six weeks since.

"I had the chance to go the group's most recent dinner this past Friday night. I was fortunate to get a seat: it sold out in 14 minutes."

Guests of Tayybeh prepare to tuck into a buffet at a pop-up dinner. (Tayybeh: A Celebration of Syrian Cuisine/Facebook)

Johnson says Friday's meal was the group's most ambitious dinner to date. It was called Shades of Green Festival to celebrate the greenness of Syrian cuisine during harvest season.

"After dinner, Elwan introduces the chefs and their families individually. She encourages each one to say a few words to the guests in order to practise their English," she said.

"The women's husbands and children play a role in the dinners too, helping out behind the scenes. What a shift from their home country, where the women were housewives. Most have never worked outside the home. Here, women are front and centre."

Tayybeh will be at Eastside Flea this coming weekend selling some of their signature Syrian desserts, spices and pickled produce.

They will also be at the Indian Summer Festival, July 6, at the Roundhouse Community Centre.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast