This post was originally published on the blog Migramundo and is being republished by Global Voices through a content-sharing agreement.
Syrian refugee Talal Al-Tinawi is a mechanical engineer, but since he arrived in Brazil at the end of 2013, he has found another vocation. After becoming distraught with the bureaucracy involved in validating his diploma in Brazil, he has found an alternative way to earn a living in cooking, spurred by the locals’ love for Syrian-Lebanese food (which they call “Arab cuisine”). Now, his new calling might take him to a higher level should his crowdfunding campaign work.
The story started at the end of 2014, when Talal welcomed in his home a group of friends and volunteers from Adus, an NGO that assists refugees in São Paulo, where Talal lives with his family. His dishes and snacks proved a success with the guests, and they suggested he use his talents to open his own business.
Thus was born Talal Syrian Cuisine, a food-on-demand delivery service he operates from his own home, providing food for parties and events in São Paulo—including São Paulo's traditional “Immigrant Party,” which this year had its 20th anniversary and served dinners for 400 people at Pari Mosque (the city's main mosque) during Ramadan. Talal has also been teaching culinary classes to fellow refugees at Adus. “Since that party, I haven't stopped cooking,” he told Migramundo.
Syrian and Lebanese migration to Brazil started at the end of the 19th century and by the 1930s the South American country had received more than 100,000 people, mostly Christians. Today, at least 6 million Brazilians trace their origins to the Levantine lands.
Talal says sfihahs (open-faced meat pies) and kibbehs (fried minced beef), which are known to Brazilians just as any other local snack, are still the most popular items. “But after I created a menu, people have been gradually showing interest in other dishes too.”
The growing interest in his food made Talal consider expanding his business and opening a restaurant. “With a fixed place, my products would become more known and I'd have a better structure to develop more complex dishes and diversify the menu,” he said.
With help from Adus volunteers, Talal launched a crowdfunding campaign online to raise 60,000 Brazilian Reais (about 15,000 USD). With the money he plans to buy the basic equipment for his enterprise: ovens, fridges, mixers, food processors, and other things needed to get a restaurant going.
So far, the campaign has raised a little less than 15,000 BRL (about 3,500 USD) and has until September 21 to reach its target. As in other crowfunding campaigns, donors will receive gifts such as lunches in the future restaurant or discount cards valid for a year. The campaign is ‘flexible,’ which means that in case the target isn't reached, the money won't be returned to the donor, but will be used towards part of Talal's expenses, and the donors will still be able be to use the gifts in the food delivery service Talal already operates.
Adus volunteers have also been helping Talal to deal with Brazilian bureaucracy to formalize his business—a problem that other small foreign entrepreneurs face in the country.
In the video below, Talal talks (in Portuguese) a bit more about his story and asks the fans of Syrian cuisine to help him reach his goal of opening a restaurant.
According to the Brazilian Committee for Refugees (Conare), Brazil currently shelters 7,700 refugees from 81 nationalities, with most coming from Syria (23%), followed by Colombia, Angola, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The number of asylum requests in Brazil has increased 2,131% in the past 5 years—from only 1,165 requests in 2010 to 25,996 last year. The country received the highest number of asylum requests in Latin America during the last year.