Ahh the food, the food- Syria, Lebanon and Jordan

Breakfast at Beit Akbik, Damascus
UPDATE: This post was penned in the Spring of 2011 following our visit to Syria in March. We had no idea the direction the conflict would take. When we planned our trip Syria had been undergoing an opening up to tourism. Yes, there were protests while we were there but it seemed like the beginning of an Arab Spring. We naively hoped it might be a positive transformation rather than a descent into chaos.

When I think of our trip through Syria, Lebanon and Jordan  I'll certainly think of the history, the early Umayyad mosques, the Roman ruins and crusader castles, the crossroad of cultures along the  silk road and the contemporary diversity of the region. But my visceral memory is of the food, we may have gone for the history but we'll return for so much more; for the kebab in sour cherry sauce, the kibbeh, labneh and the vivid and various mezzes.
The olives were ubiquitous and fabulous!
Fresh and varied, we loved the food we encountered. We feasted on breakfasts of fruit, fresh pita bread, a thick strained yoghurt called labneh, a salty stringy cheese, humous, olives,  honey, nuts and dried dates. In Aleppo we tried a sweet semolina flavored with cinnamon and honey, and topped with crushed pistachios so famous throughout the region.

Breakfast at Beit Salahieh, Aleppo
On the street we passed bakeries selling small meat pastries which we stopped and sampled, we saw olive sellers, a butcher with a ghoulish dead camel's head outside, and innumerable vegetable markets, where we noticed they sold ready roasted aubergines to take home.As we walked we could smell kebabs being grilled, and outside the main mosque in Aleppo a large cart contained a vat of boiling oil, just waiting for falafels to be dropped in one-by-one. As we walked we stopped for fresh fruit juices made to order, pomegranate, blood orange and various concoctions of strawberry, banana and orange.

Fabulous fresh juices in Bosra
We were tempted by the rich pastries dripping with honey and nuts, rolled, layered and irresistible in their sticky sweetness. Sold by the kilo, pastries are taken very seriously in this part of the world and many of the best bakeries proudly proclaim they have been open for centuries.
Sweetmakers in Aleppo
At lunch we drank mint lemonades and sampled salads dressed with tart lemon juice. I kept ordering fattoush, a salad of chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, topped with crispy fried pita strips flavored with sumac and mint. Over and over we ate labneh, humous, varieties of baba gannoush and lightly pickled aubergine stuffed with nuts.

A modest lunch at Apamea!
At Lake Assad, on the way to Palmyra, we ate freshly grilled fish, salted and served simply with lemon. At the Baghdad Cafe, in the desert between Palmyra and Damascus, we ate M'Jedrah - a lentil and bulgar wheat concoction ordered in advance by Abdul. Overall, the food was fresh, seasonal and predominantly vegetarian. Chicken and lamb were accompaniments, always balanced by the side dishes, mezze and salads. 


Greetings from the Baghdad Cafe!

Lunch at Lake Assad

In Aleppo we ate kebab in sour cherry sauce one night, and in a sesame sauce another. We tried varieties of kibbeh; one made from raw  lamb, and another that combined minced lamb with bulgur to form small fried balls, fragrant and delicious.

In Damascus we ate at two superb restaurants, Naranj and Al Khawali. They were very different but both are highly recommended. Al Khawali is a traditional restaurant in an old atmospheric building. They have a cylindrical oven where they made the flattened breads right before they're brought to the table, it's is a nice touch. They don't serve alcohol but we had great mint lemonades with our lunch. Naranj was our favorite restaurant on the trip and somewhere we went back to. It has a modern stylish interior and is certainly a place to see and be seen. One of the things that's important to know about eating out in Syria is that helpings are huge, you can easily share a main course and a couple of salads to start. However, everything is so cheap you're tempted to order things just to try them, which result in huge quantities of food appearing at your table. In addition to everything you order many restaurants send out a complimentary dessert, we had everything from fruit and ice cream to the enormous dual platter of fruit and sweets provided by Naranj.

Go and enjoy!

Dessert, compliments of the house at Naranj, Damascus


Chucky said…
The vegetarian dishes shown are screaming "Health!" Thanks for sharing this part of the world with us.
Thanks Chucky!

The food was soooo good. The bulgar and lentil dish was fabulous and we felt so good to be eating so well.
Unknown said…
i enjoy every post of your blog, and while browsing some old reports, i found this page on syria food. I was fortunate to have been twice in Syria where Damascus is my favorite ME city. What a shame and above all disaster for all syrians, who are extremely friendly, the current situation. thanks for sharing how beautiful was syria , and Aleppo which is by now definitely wipped out
Bertrand - We were indeed lucky to have seen Syria when we did. Thank you so much for your kind comments. It's so encouraging to read that someone has enjoyed reading the blog. I agree Syria was a magnificent place. I agree we were equally struck by the charm and warmth of the Syrian people. We were there right as everything began in March 2011 and when I read blogpost it shows we anticipated returning sooner rather than later. What a tragedy for the region