Yesterday on Syria News Wire Sasa wrote a post about four articles published in The Times travel pages this weekend about Syria. I was really happy as it shows time is changing and Syria is coming back on to the front of tourists' distentions where it deserves to be. It shows that western tourists can see beyond the American State Department propaganda.
So, I was reading happily on my fourth article till this sentence came a long "Food in Syria is tasty and cheap but monotonous. By day five you’ve had enough of flatbread and hoummos". Well, first I was offended and I my thoughts went something like this: "what an ignorant and ill-informed statement", "Did I really expect anything good to come out of The Times", " Why would anybody think like this?"..... " Does she have a point?"
It got me thinking. And like all life mysteries all you need to do is google it. And That what I did. I googled Syrian Food and I discovered that the "awful, right wing Times" are not alone. Something along the line "what Syrian food lakes in diversity, It makes it up in taste" is written on some ecotourism website. And then this nice article on Food and Wine website. The writer spent two years in Syria reporting for the New York Times. She thought at the time, as her words go, "the food as rather dull. Hummus and platters of the grilled chicken dish shish tawuk seemed to be on every restaurant menu".
I always pride myself with the diversity of our cuisine. There is so much to choose between from simple Falafel sandwich on a street stall to a complex Kibbeh dish that will take the best of two days to prepare. We use all kind of fresh vegetables cooked with or without meat. There is rice dishes, Bulgar dishes, tomato based stews, stuffed vegetables, yogurt dishes ... and the list goes on and on. So where did this monotonous idea come from?
The food we eat in restaurants have very little to do with what we eat at home or what is our cuisine all about. The vast majority of restaurant serves the usual Mezzeh and Grills combo but this is a very small part of the cuisine. Tiny part in fact. This is not only a Syrian problem. Same applies to Lebanese restaurant in and outside Lebanon. You can hardly find one or two interesting dishes in any of these restaurants.
I am not sure why there is this split in the Levantine cuisine. I always thought that the fact we all live in flats is to blame. I am not sure if this theory is true or not but I know that having BBQ in Damascus is almost impossible outside a restaurant. Getting smoke coming out of your sixth floor balcony is totally unacceptable. So when you go out for a meal every once in a while you wouldn't mind, actually you would love some smokey meat with some Hommus on the side. But if you are a foreigner and you have to eat it every single day things get dull indeed.
Going back to my New York Times lady, she discovered after few days with Anissa Helou between Damascus and Aleppo preparing for her culinary tour that there is so much to Syrian food beyond bread and hommus. All you need to do is to look a bit beyond what is directly in front of your eyes.
I am going to stop here. I must have bored your heads off by now . I will make it up for you all with a nice recipe this weekend. I promise.