If you’ve ever strolled through Montreal’s iconic Jean Talon Market, you’ve probably been struck by a charming booth with pretty Syrian tiling and a Syrian white, green and red colour palette. The booth belongs to Les Filles Fattoush, a Syrian-owned company that’s providing Syrian women refugees with meaningful work opportunities and bringing delicious Syrian flavours and ingredients to Canada. Their popular roster of products include essential Syrian flavours like za’atar, mild Aleppo pepper, pomegranate molasses, dry mint, and their custom shawarma and shish tawouk spice blends.
Started by co-founders Adelle Tarzibachi and Josette Gauthier, the business was a result of the Syrian refugee crisis. Adelle, a Syrian immigrant herself, was volunteering with the Red Cross in 2017 and met a steady stream of Syrian women refugees, many of whom were expressing the need to find work. Adelle recognized it wasn’t easy for these women to find jobs and feel independent, especially given their language barrier. Together, Adelle and Josette developed the mission behind Les Filles Fattoush: bringing authentic Syrian flavours to Canadians by providing Syrian women refugees with work opportunities to help them prosper in Canada. “We want to let people discover the richness of Syrian kitchens, the perfumes and ingredients of our authentic food,” Adelle explains.
The business originally started as a catering company: the idea was that Syrian women could cook dishes from their home country alongside other women in their community – giving them the opportunity to not only earn a wage, but also to make friends, learn to speak French, and feel a sense of home by cooking flavours from their native country. “We didn’t ask for any experience. Ladies who cooked in their kitchens at home were automatically accepted,” says Adelle. “Our main goal was to give them work experience in Canada that they could put on their CV. In some cases, the women we hired went on to find other work or go back to school, and some of the women continue to work with us and grow within the company.”
The business bloomed: they catered many major events across Montreal, and were able to expand their roster of staff. And then, COVID-19 happened. Event catering came to an abrupt halt as events were immediately put on pause, and Les Filles Fattoush needed a backup plan, fast. And thus the idea of pantry products was born: while they couldn’t cook hot meals for events, they could still provide customers with the signature flavours and ingredients that made their dishes so popular.
It proved to be a recipe for success: the brand’s products were picked up by major Quebec retailer Simons, Adelle wrote a cookbook featuring their recipes, and they recently received the Company of the Year Award from the Lauriers Gastronomie du Quebec. “It was extraordinary to win that award” says Adelle. “What makes it especially exceptional is that this award is from Quebecers themselves, they saw Les Filles Fattoush as a good service for the gastronomy of Quebec. It was a huge honour.”
Today, Les Filles Fattoush employees a team of 12 Syrian women working across their kitchen and offices, including a Syrian Roots Coordinator. While their Jean Talon Market location is closed for the winter, they’ll be popping up at the Atwater Market throughout the winter to meet the demand of local customers and familiarize even more Montrealers with their products.
For a taste of Les Filles Fattoush in your own kitchen, you can purchase their products Canada-wide from their website. Adelle recommends starting with their pomegranate molasses, imported directly from the Middle East: “It’s often on grocery store shelves next to molasses, but it’s actually more vinegar than molasses. It isn’t for baking the way you might use molasses, it’s more for salads and chicken and other savoury dishes.” Another essential to add to cart? “Aleppo spices” says Adelle, also known as the seven spices of Aleppo. “It’s one of our most popular products – you can use it on meat, for sandwiches, for rice. It’s also nice to have in your pantry so that you can experiment adding it to your own recipes.”
Looking for a pomegranate molasses recipe to get you started? Try this 20-Minute Pomegranate Molasses Glazed Salmon.