The news revolving around Syria for the last number of years has been grim and shows no sign of stopping. Living in Erbil, in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, we have come to know many people who have been affected by these events. Almost all of them have lost something: their house; their career; their education; and, for far too many, their family members killed by the conflict.
But Syria has so much to offer in the form of its rich culture and outstanding food. In fact one of the bi-products of the conflict is the multitude of amazing Syrian restaurants opening up in the neighbouring countries, owing to the displacement.
Over time, we got to know Rami and his family, originally from Damascus, who fled to Erbil following the outbreak of war. His mother, Um Rami, taught us about what life was like growing up as a girl in her home country “In Syria every girl needs to learn how to cook before she gets married.” She learned it from watching her mum cooking, and her mum from her grandmother, and so on. Um Rami didn’t have a daughter so I guess she was passing her Kibbeh recipe on to us!
Kibbeh is a dish enjoyed across the Middle East and North Africa Region. However, its origins are uncertain. It is said that during WWII, the British soldiers referred to the dish as “Syrian torpedoes.” Following the turbulent events of the 19th and 20th centuries, Arab immigrants also introduced the dish to the American continent.
Kibbeh is a collective effort: time-consuming, labour-intensive, and requiring many hands. We were told that this social aspect, combined with the slow process provided a good opportunity to exchange gossip, and that many potential marriages had been discussed by the matriarchs of respective families, over a bowl of kibbeh dough.
In late 2016, Rami and his family were accepted on a refugee resettlement programme to Australia. Before they left, we organized a social kibbeh-making/gossip afternoon with a group of friends to learn Um Rami’s tricks and to raise some money to help the family settle in to their new home. The photos and recipe contained in this post are from that day.