As Syria Melts Down, Ice Cream Shop Sets Up In Jordan

May 4, 2013
Originally published on May 5, 2013 1:15 am

Bakdash is a landmark in the Syrian capital, serving the Arab world's most famous ice cream since 1895. Manually churned with wooden paddles, loaded with milk, sugar and a generous coating of pistachios, Bakdash ice cream is memorable treat for any visitor to Damascus.

But, when a branch opened this week in Amman, Jordan, it was seen as another casualty of the Syrian war.

"It means there is no sense of security and safety in Damascus," says journalist Fahd al Kheytaan, "which forced the company to move some of its operation to Jordan."

It also means that economic activity is quite slow, he adds. Syria's economy is estimated to have shrunk by more than half since the uprising began a little more than two years ago. And the owners of Bakdash recognize the customer base has moved, Kheytaan says.

"There is a significant Syrian population in Amman that will appreciate this shop," he says.

Jordan celebrated the opening with a traditional serenade of bagpipes and drums, as workers inside beat ice cream into a taffy-like consistency. Jordanian traffic police kept the large crowd from spilling onto the highway.

Jordan hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the region. More than a half-million Syrians have crossed the border, straining Jordan's resources, and more recently, the patience of the country's residents.

But all that was forgotten on opening night.

Jordanian customers introduced their children to the delights of traditional Arab ice cream. Syrian customers welcomed a small taste of home.

But even here, the war in Syria overshadowed the festivities. Our waiter, 20-year-old Nazir Idriss, said he had arrived in Amman just 10 days ago. He'd escaped from a neighborhood in the Damascus suburbs that's been hit daily by Syrian air force jets.

He was relieved to have landed a job so quickly and seemed to have made the transition from surviving the terrors of a war zone to delivering trays of ice cream to demanding customers.

"I'll go back when Bashar is gone," he added, referring to the Syrian president, Bashar Assad, as he rushed by with another full tray.

Judging by the crowds of customers, the traditions that Bakdash began more than a century ago will continue in Amman. But the future of the enterprise in Damascus is in question, as the war moves closer to the center of the Syrian capital.

The Jordanian manager of Bakdash comes by our table. "My name is Yarob," he says, and wants to be sure we enjoyed the opening.

He assures us that the historic shop is still open in Syria.

"They have more business now, because so many refugees have moved into Damascus," he explained. "But there is a problem with the supply chain: Getting raw materials is very difficult now."

It is another sign that the war is changing the Syrian capital. The basic ingredients for the famous ice cream — whole milk, sugar, rose water and gum Arabic — are produced outside of the embattled capital, in the farmlands of Syria that are now held by rebels. As for the Amman branch, Yarob tells us if Bakdash is a success here, he will consider donating some of the proceeds to support Syrian refugees.

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