Mortadella: my first attempt

Mortadella is not something you would normally associate with Middle Eastern Cuisine. Firstly it is pork. Secondly it is Italian. So how come it featured on my Syrian food blog?

Well first things first, our mortadella is not pork although the pork variety is available in Christian areas in Damascus and Aleppo. Secondly our mortadella has very little to do with the Italian variety. Mortadella along with other clod meats has been introduced to the Syrian cuisine by the Armenian population mainly based in Aleppo with smaller communities in Damascus and other cities.

Syria has an estimated 300000 (although numbers vary a lot with some authors put the number at 800000) ethnic Armenians. This is the largest Armenian community outside Armenia and Russia.

Armenians were present within or around the northern borders of Syria since ancient times. The ancient Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia occupied the north western parts of greater Syria. This kingdom was part of the region historical and political landscape. It was involved in all the major events of the area from Mongols, Crusaders, Turks and Ayyobid wars. The Armenians established few towns in Greater Syria like Urfa and Aintab. These towns are in modern day Turkey and with virtually no Armeniains left. The kingdom finally fell under the control of Mamluks rule and the Armenian population numbers in Syria dwindled gradually as most of them either immigrated to Cyprus or lived under Ottman Turkey north of the Syrian border. The only town in modern Syria with an original Armenian population is Kassab in the north west of the country, with an Armenian presence estimated to be a 1000 years old.

Most of the current Armenians in Syria today came during the Armenian genocide at the turn of the twentieth century. Tens of thousands of Armenians were forced out of there villages by the Ottmans and taken to the edge of the Syrian desert near Deir Az'Zor were they were killed and buried in mass graves. Armenians who fled the genocide came to Aleppo and other cities in northern Syria where they were given refuge and protected from the slaughter. From there they spread to The rest of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece.

Although Armenians protected their identity, language and culture over the last century they are fully integrated within the Syrian community. This integration is reflected in the Syrian Armenian cuisine. Their food has influenced and been influenced by the wider Syrian food. These influences are most felt in Aleppo were Armenian specialities like pasterma and sujuk are an important part of the city cuisine.

Cold meats are another Armenian speciality. Different flavoured mortadella and sliced cold roasts can be bought from Armenian sandwich shops in Damascus. Hagop in Sha'alan and Syrob in Salhiyah are two famous Armenian take-aways that existed since the dawn of time and serve some of the best sandwiches in Damascus.

I had a go on making mortadella myself but unfortunately it was not that successful so I will not put a recipe. The flavour was very good but the texture was grainy (as you can see in photo) and the motadella didn't hold shape very well so I couldn't slice it thinly and above that it came out white coloured instead of a nice light pink.

I used chicken breast meat and eggs as a binding agent. I think this is where I got it wrong. Possibly in the future I will use an extra binding agent like corn flour or gelatin and I will add meat from the legs as the higher collagen content in will add extra binding and give smoother texture.

I will try again in the future and when I get a recipe I am happy with I promise I will publish it. Meanwhile, if anybody reading this have a recipe that works well please let me know.


Zora said...

Interrresting. I made mortadella a few months ago, from a recipe in the Hippocrene cookbook A Taste of Syria (maybe available only here in the US). It was tasty, but since I've never had any mortadella in Syria, I wasn't sure what I was going for. The recipe I made was lamb, with pistachios mixed in. It wasn't particularly smooth, and there wasn't any binding agent like you describe. It was just the meat and spices (lots of garlic, allspice, etc) ground fine, rolled up and simmered.

So...interesting to read that you can make it with chicken too. What seasonings did you put in with the chicken?

Sasa said...

A long time ago I never knew about Mortadella's association with pork. So once, in an Italian restaurant in London I happily ordered mortadella. When they presented me with the pork dish i protested loudly. An argument ensued, with me telling an Italian about mortadella.

He gave me a replacement dish - out of pity probably. And I walked out thinking he was an idiot!! Oops!

Unknown said...

i just love how learning about food means learning about history! I look forward to your perfection of this recipe and then I may try it myself!

Unknown said...

he i know,and i am sure mortadella is "HORSE SALAMI"!!So no pork meat

Kano said...

My mum used to make something similar to what you described. I wasn't so keen about that one either as it didn't taste or feel like mortadella.
For my version I used Salt, allspice, very little garlic, and white wine vinegar.

same will happen to you if you order it in Egypt, they call the pork variety "mortadella" and the halal variety "luncheon".
In Syria we call the pork variety mortadella telyani (Italian mortadella).

I will publish it when I am happy with it.

Welcome to my blog!
I will have to disagree with you on this one. Mortadella is large pork sausage according to the Italians, not hoarse as far as I know.

Laylakaf said...

Hello Doctor!

First, let me tell you something about me and computers: I am a geek in SOME things, and a total ignoramus in others, pertaining to blogs etc. Many times I notice my postings do not see the light of day, unless I write something like I hope this posting makes it because my postings on this site usually don't ... You catch my drift.. But how can something make it and then disappear? My guess is that may be I posted in the wrong place? and since I can't find a search window (please note that I said I can't find and not there isn't .. Aaah ... chemo brain! It does so exist!)

Yesterday, I laboured over writing a recipe for Mortadella, along with a little story in reference to its origin as I heard it on a TV show by the World renowned Lorenza DeMedici! Well, the posting made it, and,I was soooo proud of myself. LOL.. So where did it go today? Where did I put it? Is the devil sitting on it? How do I answer the need of all these people who were looking for a recipe, that turned out great actually (just had some, and as usual, it tasted better the day after). And that in fact is what triggered my wanting to check on my posting of yesterday. So kindly Dr. Kano, if you have time, and I KNOW how busy surgeons can be, so between cutting up people and cutting up a piece of edible meat, please tell me what I did or did not do wrong, please direct me to the product of my attempt to enter the world of published authors. Is it possible it was so good that it is on its way to win the Noble Prize now? LOL

Thanks very much.


Kano said...


You actually posted your comment in the wrong place. It showed after my "technical problem" post.

I just finished replying to you. You can check you comment and my reply on this link

Jillian said...

"Mortadella is not something you would normally associate with Middle Eastern Cuisine."

And yet, hilariously, I do! See, it's not that popular in the U.S., at least not by the name "mortadella" (I think we call it "olive loaf" - no joke). So when I saw its popularity in Morocco, I sort of assumed it was just...well, Moroccan. Of course I realized by the name that it was of Italian origin, but to me, it will always be associated with Moroccan food.

Kano said...


Welcome to my blog. This is the first time you leave a comment and I didn't reply for all this time. How rude of me (Iwas on Holiday actually).

I never tried Moroccan Mortadella before. It will be interesting to see what spices do they use and how "Moroccanised" is it.

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