Ni­hal El­wan

Cre­ator, Tayy­beh, Van­cou­ver

Western Living - - FOOD - Anicka Quin

It started as a ca­sual con­ver­sa­tion. De­vel­op­ment con­sul­tant Ni­hal El­wan was shar­ing her love for Syr­ian cui­sine with a neigh­bour—grow­ing up in nearby Cairo, she knew Mid­dle Eastern­ers of­ten trav­elled to Aleppo as a culi­nary desti­na­tion—when it oc­curred to her she could help re­cently ar­rived refugees with a fundraiser. “I thought, okay, let’s ar­range it,” she says. “Some Syr­ian fam­i­lies can cook a neigh­bour­hood din­ner.”

A Face­book post later, the din­ner for 50 sold out in min­utes. It was the start of Tayy­beh: A Cel­e­bra­tion of Syr­ian Cui­sine ( tayy

beh means “kind” in Ara­bic and “de­li­cious” in the Le­van­tine di­alect), a se­ries of pop-up din­ners run by Syr­ian women. The din­ners have de­vel­oped a cult fol­low­ing, with each suc­ces­sively larger event—the lat­est hosted 150—rapidly sell­ing out. For the Van­cou­verites who at­tend, the im­pact is more than just culi­nary dis­cov­ery and char­i­ta­ble sup­port, says El­wan. “We’re re­al­iz­ing that eat­ing has be­come a lonely, al­most soli­tary ex­pe­ri­ence,” she says. “Peo­ple of­ten eat on their own or in twos—but the ex­pe­ri­ence of din­ing with that large a num­ber of peo­ple, it’s some­thing they don’t of­ten ex­pe­ri­ence here. We’re try­ing to repli­cate ex­pe­ri­ences in the Mid­dle East, where large num­bers of peo­ple get to­gether from their neigh­bour­hood.”

The din­ners con­tinue, a cater­ing busi­ness is de­vel­op­ing and, un­der El­wan’s guid­ance, the women of Tayy­beh have started to test-mar­ket some of their pas­tries at var­i­ous farm­ers’ mar­kets around town to de­velop a larger food busi­ness. Most im­por­tantly, all of this puts money in the hands of these women, most of whom have never been able to earn their own wages.

“One of them told me, ‘I’m mak­ing my own money, and I’m not sleep­ing think­ing about this I’m so ex­cited,’” says El­wan. “It’s the money, but it’s also their sense of con­fi­dence. This is re­ally at the heart at what I’ve al­ways loved do­ing.”—

“I thought If I had the chance to do some­thIng, I wanted to do It.” — Ni­hal El­waN The Women of Tayy­beh Left to right: Rawaa Ma­houk, Heba Na­jib, Hasna Shekh Omar, Leena Alah­mad with daugh­ter Loubana, Ni­hal El­wan, Raghda Has­san with daugh­ter So­lar. Taken at Shaugh­nessy United Church, Jan­uary 30, 2017.

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