Home Vs. Restaurant

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.


tamimat said...

I guess you are right. When I went to Syria to the restaurants the food is not to be compared to the food we eat at home. The tabuleh is not really good. I don't understand why there isn't somebody out there to open a restaurant and to change it.

Maysaloon said...

I have heard people make the distinction that Syrian home cooking is better than in Lebanon but that our restaurant industry does not reflect this. Sometimes I think there is a point to that. By the way, I am a silent follower of your blog and a lover of our wonderful cuisine. Would you mind writing us a post about how to make Hura2 bi 2isba3o? It's simple I know, but I would love to make it sometime.

Kano said...

To Tamim:
There is actually one restaurant now in Damascus that is doing exactly that. Narenj in Medhat Bashsa St (Street Called Straight) is a fantastic restaurant. My favorite in Syria actually. It cooks proper Syrian cuisine that covers all of Syria. Even their mezzeh and grill is special. You can till I am a big fan. You should try it next time you are in Syria if you havn't already.

To Maysaloon:
Thank you for following my blog. Hara2 2isba3o is on my list of dishes to cover here. I will try to cook it soon so I can take some decent photographs. Expect it soon.

Tammam Aloudat said...


This is absolutely true, restaurants in Syria have that sort of monotonous grill and mezzeh and that is all people I know who were to Syria know. To my surprise, the Syrian restaurant in Shephard's bush was quite versatile when I went there in 2005. I cannot remember it's name now.

Why don't you review that?

By the way, I am really impressed with the following of your very young blog. The only point is it seems most of your devout followers are Syrians abroad. Something should be done to introduce more non-Syrians to the treasures of our cuisine and your writing on them!

Kano said...

Hi Tammam

It is called Abu Zaad. It is on my to do list to review this one and another one in East London called Damas Bite.

There is some non-Syrian readers to my blog. I am a memeber of the UK food blogger association and I get visitors from other UK food bloggers. It is a difficult task to get a wide range readers as our cuisine is very poorly represented and advertised as you know.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kano
I've just found your blog

I went to Syria about 10 years ago - and I liked the food but it was a little monotonous - and I got tired of flat bread in polythene bags in hotel restaurants

We also had some lovely food - especially in the North round Aleppo and Palmyra, and on the sea where we could have grilled fish

But the average tourist/travel writer eating in fairly large restaurants and hotels probably would do better in Lebanon (where I went a couple of years later)

Love the blog (which I found while looking for the difference between mutabal and baba ghanoush) - I appreciate the p-value!

Kano said...

Welcome to my blog I am glad you like it. And I am happy that you know the difference between Mutabal and Baba Ghanouch (scientifically proven with a p-value!)

I totally agree with you that eating in restaurants in Syria could prove a monotonous affair but thing are luckily changing. More restaurant are serving an innovative and interesting menus. Narenj is the best example http://dailyepicurean.blogspot.com/2009/07/naranj-old-damascus.html

And if you look a little bit harder you will find interesting local food http://syrianfoodie.blogspot.com/2009/07/eat-and-drink-in-damascus-what-lonely.html

If you have been to Syria 10 years ago it is time for another visit. The place changed so much in the last few years. Most changes are for the best but unfortunately some changes are purely touristic.

shayma said...

you have not bored our heads off at all. i find this to be very true. my syrian friends always get very annoyed when this sort of statement is made, and even more annoyed when they talk about a dish and people say, but that is Lebanese...it is true that what one sees in restaurants is not necessarily the whole range of cuisine which is served in a syrian person's home. being pakistani-afghan, i find the same problem- people think afghan food is all about kebabs and naan and pakistani food=Indian food. this thing called tarka dahl- what is it? tarka just means infusing a dish with oil, it is not a noun, but it has become a proper noun now, 'tarka dahl'. i think it's wonderful that you are bringing up these issues and bringing people's attention to it. we need to share with others, the 'real cuisine' of our respective countries. it's a pity when someone from The Times writes such dross bec people tend to believe what they read in print. best wishes, shayma

Kano said...

Hi Shayma

You must have loads of Syrian friends. From your comments and how you write Syrian words in English I was sure you are Syrian. You got the Syrian psychie spot on.

Thank yopu for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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