Survival of Syria's best ice cream: A scoop of Bakdash's Amman-reincarnate
The Levant's famous Bakdash ice cream parlour opened its Amman branch in May and has been attracting Syrians, Jordanians, and their cars, in masses.
The original Bakdash is a Syrian stalwart that’s stood in Damascus’ Al Hamidiyah Souk since 1895. With the escalating conflict in Syria and the substantial flight of refugees to its southern neighbor, a Jordanian businessman saw an opportunity to set up a franchise in Amman, along the capital's heaving Medina street.
There are nearly 400,000 refugees registered with the United Nations in Jordan and a further 83,000 going through the process. The majority of Syrians live outside the sprawling desert Zaatari camp, with a large proportion residing in Amman.
“Most of the workers are Syrians and more than 50 percent of the customers too,” said Yarob, the manager of the Amman shop.
“It reminds the Syrian people of their country. I’ve seen old women cry because it brings back memories of Damascus,” he added. “They miss their country and this place offers a taste of Syria.”
It’s not just Syrians that visit the latest addition to Amman’s café scene.
Before the national uprising escalated into a bloody proxy regional war, Jordanians regularly made the trip to Damascus. A mere 175 km from Amman, many were lured to Syria’s ancient capital by the shopping, fine dining and famous atmosphere.
“The whole family used to visit Syria at least once a month and we would go there for summer vacation too,” said Abdil-Mahdi, as he and his three daughters tucked into heaped bowls of sticky ice cream. They had driven up from Madaba, south of the capital, just to visit the new Bakdash branch.
“We loved going to the Bakdash in Damascus. It was so vivid and the atmosphere was so vivid and colourful. I hope we will get to go back there but I’m worried it will be a long time. But we’ll be back here next week, for sure”
The Syrian staff is doing its best to recreate a carnival vibe in Amman. Twenty-four-year-old Hamad was sent to work in the Amman branch from the Damascus shop, where he had worked since he was a teenager. Gripping a gigantic wooden mallet, he crushes the frozen ice cream in a stainless steel vat, with a tribal rhythm that draws a crowd of intrigued children to his corner of the shop.
“I have to beat the ice cream, so I like to do it with a traditional beat” he says, tossing the now-soft gummy ice cream onto a bed of pistachios.
Business is good for now, but the owner, Yarob, knows that could easily change depending on the situation in Syria. The product is made in Damascus and transported to Jordan by road.
“We have to make orders weeks in advance and even then it’s difficult to know when the ice cream is coming,” Yarob said. “The business is relying on a calm situation in Syria.”
Judging by recent events on the ground and in the international community, this could be as calm as it gets for a while.