Syrian food flavoured with grace and gratitude

April 24, 2017

By Mia Stainsby, Vancouver Sun |

In Arabic, tayybeh means kind, generous, delicious. In Vancouver, Tayybeh is becoming better known as a regular pop-up Syrian feast cooked by women who’ve endured unimaginable hardships. It speaks powerfully about the emotional role of food and community.

To me, it’s sheer grace. The women are wounded and raw from the atrocities experienced in their homeland; some have been in Vancouver for mere months, struggling to adapt and survive. Yet they bring sunshine, life and tears of gratitude to these dinners. Syrian musicians help keep spirits high, I admit.

The all-you-can-eat dinners ($60) are full-out banquets (without alcohol). When I visited, there were platters piled high with 14 or 15 different Syrian dishes and just one pass was enough to bloat most attendees. The dinners, held in different locations about once a month (look for information on Facebook), offer uniquely Syrian dishes and you can taste the love. Many of them take several days to prepare in a commissary.

“As someone who’s lived in the Middle East, I’ve eaten in many of the countries, but in Syria, there are so many regional differences and the food is so rich and diverse,” says Tayybeh founder Nihal Elwan.

“There’s such a huge variety, I’m learning about so many dishes I’ve never heard of. Food is such an integral part of Syrian culture, they cook with so much love, and it’s food that’s rarely been commercialized outside of Syria. There’s been an embargo for so many years, cooks in Syria learned to work with what’s local. In the north, there’s lots of cherries. One of the cooks lived near the sea so she’s well versed in seafood.”

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