With Syria and the ongoing refugee crisis in the news, Metro Jacksonville turns to the history and impact of Jacksonville’s Syrian and Arab community. The River City boasts the country’s fifth-largest Syrian population, and the tenth largest overall Arab American community. From politics to business to the culinary arts, Arabs have been making their mark in all areas of life in Jacksonville for 125 years.
A camel rider from Jacksonville chain The Sheik
Perhaps the Arab community’s most conspicuous contribution has been the city’s ubiquitous Middle Eastern restaurants, delis, sandwich shops, and bars found in nearly every neighborhood.
These restaurants have given Jacksonville its most distinctive food product, the camel rider. Also called the desert rider or simply rider, it was created here in the 1960s. A quick, flavorful lunchtime dish for working people, a traditional rider consists of ham, salami, bologna and sandwich fixings stuffed into a pita, and comes with a side of tabbouleh and a cherry limeade. Today over 50 local restaurants serve riders, and they’ve spread to a few other cities.
Syrians and other Arab Americans have contributed much to Jacksonville, and the city has benefited immensely by creating a welcoming environment for them. This is a tradition worth preserving: a Jacksonville without riders would be no Jacksonville at all.
Article by Bill Delaney