But five years ago Manar and her family fled for their lives after their hometown of Daraa erupted into bloody civil war between government and rebel forces, a conflict that consumed all of Syria.
Today, they have a new home in New Glasgow, where some new friends of theirs helped them cook up mouth-watering Syrian delicacies such as baklava and home-made chicken shawarma at Culture Days on Saturday.
“A lot of people today,” said Almetheb. “I like it.”
Almetheb and her mother Ghada did a roaring trade in shawarma wraps and sfiha, a small, cheese-free pizza of ground beef and spices on crusty bread.
Baklava and other pastries also flew off the counters at The Syrian Kitchen, the Almethebs’ local catering business, which they started after moving to the area 14 months ago.
Across the hall at New Glasgow’s Farmers Market was the Alladin Syrian Canadian Restaurant from Pictou, running another stall.
“I think New Glasgow and the surrounding community has gotten really comfortable with Syrian food, it’s very popular each week here, usually a sell-out,” said Shirley MacIntosh, one of the Almetheb family’s community sponsors.
The Almethebs were joined by fellow émigré Tareq Hadhad, now a local celebrity thanks to Peace by Chocolate, whose hugely popular products even received a shout-out from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the United Nations last year.
“Every place in Nova Scotia is very open, very welcoming, very embracing and we will be very honoured actually to share whatever we can bring with from far off, 7,000 km (away) in the Middle East to this community,” said Hadhad.
Before war broke out in 2011 the Hadhad family owned a chocolate factory in Damascus, shipping sweet treats across the Middle East, but their plant was destroyed by a missile attack in 2013.
After they arrived in Canada as refugees, the family restarted the business in their new home of Antigonish, selling chocolates from a humble shed, but they rapidly grew popular with the locals and started expanding.
Peace by Chocolate’s success story has inspired both long-time locals and newcomers, including the 2,500 Syrian refugees that arrived in the province last year, according to figures released by the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia.
“It’s doing great,” said Hadhad. “It’s now at the level of a 10-year-old business.”
People attending Culture Days on Saturday enjoyed a variety of other cuisines including Indian food and British cuisine. Others browsed stalls selling everything from winter shawls to maple syrup.
Local strummer Pat Spaulding also set up outside the two main halls, entertaining guests with his guitar.
In the afternoon, Mayor Nancy Dicks welcomed guests at the town hall, where a new painting by local artist David MacIntosh was unveiled for Canada’s 150th birthday, the New Glasgow-built schooner James William.