The food, the food in Syria

     No introduction, let’s get down to it. Food.
     I thought the Hungarians thought of everything to do with cherries, but by itself the kebab karaz (cherry kebab, $4.00) in Aleppo might be worth making the trip to Syria. Fantastic rich taste. This was my first sit-down meal in two weeks of traveling here. I’m just like that.
     Last month the New York Times travel section did a story on how happening Damascus is and they profiled the Grape Leaves Cafe in the old city. I ate there twice. It’s a shoebox-sized place with five tiny tables. The power went off, which made for this great photo of these two fantastic dishes: frikeh (bulgur wheat with meat and nuts–$3.00) and harraq b’ushu’o (lentils with pasta, lemon and olive oil served with coriander, garlic and pita croutons–$1.10)
     The second time I went I threw up half an hour later, but I don’t necessarily blame that on its food.
     I passed by a third time. I met the owner and did a deep Japanese bow in a show of respect and he said I had it backward and he (less deeply) bowed to me as an honorable customer.

     I like this photo since it shows Syrians’ impatience with queueing (it’s spelled correctly—the only word with five straight vowels?) and for the delectable kanafeh, the shredded-wheat looking pastry on top of the warm soft cheese and syrupy stuff. Not a diet food.

     Another culinary find is za’atar, an herb mixture high in antioxidants, it has been claimed. It’s big on pizzas (the row along the bottom; does za’atar in pizza form negate all of its benefits?) and as a filling for pastries. I love it. ($0.20)

     Mouhamara, a roasted red pepper dip that might have walnut and pomegranate mixed in. $1.10.

     A sideways picture of a camel carcass outside a butchers in Palymra. I don’t see the meat much (but would I recognize it?) Apparently it is quite a delicacy.

     This is from Bakdash, a legendary ice cream shop in the old city. They use a kind of semolina filler to give it legs, but much less elasticity (finally I can utilize my economics degree!) than the dondurma in Turkey. With pistachios, $1.10.

     This big fatty is approaching the Holy Grail of giant shawarmas that I saw in Amman, Jordan and wrote about last month.
     Something has always nagged me about shawarma. Can someone explain how the meat on the inside doesn’t spoil, especially on a big fatty like this? And on a hot summer’s day? It’s too thick. I don’t get it. I wish I knew more about the science of shawarma.
     It’s a man very confident in himself to wear a white uniform at a job like this. I salute you.

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The food, the food in Syria — 6 Comments

  1. Kent thanks for this site! My partner and I are planning our overseas escapades starting in a month, and we’re using your site for all of its awesome information!

    We just hosted a Couchsurfer here in Seattle who had traveled to Syria, and he had great things to say about it also. Serendipitous that we found your page (whilst you are in Syria) just after he left. Keep up the good work, we’ll hopefully meet on the road someday!

  2. I came across this blog while looking for a recipe for the harraq b’Ishou’o that I ate at Grape Leaves – delicious! Very coincidental that we likely ate at the restaurant only a few days apart since I just got back from a trip to Syria and Lebanon a week ago.

    If your blog hasn’t already inspired people to travel to this part of the world, I will add my two cents: to anyone thinking about visiting the Middle East – GO, even if for nothing else but the food. The only phrase I know in Arabic? “I like desserts”! Any place where there are bottles of sugar syrup right on the table is alright in my book!

    Happy traveling!

  3. A Google search for “harraq” and “lentils” turns your site up first. Go figure, eh?

    No English-based searches turned up potential recipes, but my sister who speaks Arabic has found me a recipe that I think I can work with. Hopefully I will be once again dining on harraq b’Ishou’o very soon!

    If you’re still in the Middle East – eat something SUPER SWEET for me. Happy traveling!

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