Viva La Zaatar Croissant

Over the last week, the most reported story from Syria wasn't the hundreds of people killed by Assad gangs nor was it fighter jets bombing civilian homes in Aleppo. It was an alleged ban on eating croissant by a religious committee in rebel controlled Aleppo. 

Sounds ludicrous, doesn't it? It must be a joke.

Not according to the Time, CNN, Washington Post, Huffington Post and every other news paper in the four corners of the Earth who decided to jump on the bandwagon. The story usually starts with a factual statement such as "A fatwa has been issued by a religious court in Aleppo banning Muslims from croissant". Then the story gets more and more ludicrous when they get into news analysis of the French mandate colonial symbolism of croissant or its relation to Ottoman empire defeat at the gates of Budapest. 

But where did this story come from? All these article referred to a story published on Al-Arabiyah news network. Al-Arabiyah in turn referred the story to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. The latter didn't make any factual statements about croissant in their religious courts story. It was merely "reportedly" and "published on social networking sites".

Reportedly, the authority also recently issued a fatwa prohibiting eating croissants, a buttery bread roll, for their “colonial” implications. Copies of the fatwa were published on social networking sites with the official seal of Sheikh Abu Muhammad, a member of the authority.
So, where is this fatwa and what is this "official seal of Sheikh Abu Muhammed"?

Huffington Post was the only news paper out of all these major news networks who decided to bother with some "research" into the background of the story. They did a search on twitter and found a copy of the alleged fatwa published by a Thabet_UAE. Not the actual page of the Aleppo religious committee. Not the many Syrian opposition news networks. Not any of Aleppo LCCs. No, a random guy fro UAE! And what happened when somebody questioned this guys Croissant document? He stated receiving it from "a reliable news network". That line of the investigation is dead.

Since the start of the revolution in 2011, Syrian resorted to humour and satire to laugh their daily pain and sadness away. Of recent months one of the most popular pages has been Brother, Please!. Every few weeks they run with a joke that get replicated in many other copycat pages. And although they were not responsible for the croissant fatwa, they had their fare share of fake fatwas.

Due to security reasons, we ban the use of Mujahideen real names. If needed, refer to them by the word "Brazar" (brother). For example:

Barzar, please! Where did you hide Father Paolo?

They even made a joke of how common this joke has become. This one is the Arabic Facebook status update with the words " Insert anything that comes to your mind".

So what about the "official seal of Sheikh Abu Muhammed"? It doesn't take a CSI expert to discover that the Croissant Fatwa is Photoshop-ed into the same document with the exact same stamp and signature with the exact same ink smudging.  

I am not trying to defend Islamic Committee of Aleppo. They had their fair share of offensive fatwas and decrees that goes against the moderate Syrian social fabric. I was and I will always be against Sharia law and religious courts. However, I am fed up with lazy simplistic reporting about Syria. Googling few words and copying and pasting is not journalism. Sorry!

Now back to Croissants. Syrians love the stuff. They adapted them to local taste using local ingredients of Zaatar, olives and Kashkaval cheese. If you still have energy and would like to read my philosophical post on the morality of Zaatar Croissants then read my previous post about it.   

In the mean time if you want a taste of Syria, mix some Zaatar with olive oil to a thick paste and spread over a triangular shaped butter layered dough. There are a lot of recipes on the net. If you want to be lazy like me go for some puff pastry. Not as good but ... hey!

How not to make Shawerma!

When Yalla Yalla restaurant first opened in Soho it created a lot of buzz in the foodies quarters and it became an instant hit with the über crowd (I am so sorry for using that word but the option was the equally annoying in crowd). It had all the right ingredients to create a buzz; trendy location, no booking policy leading to long queue at lunch hour, small menu, communal tables and wooden benches, and the list goes on.

Despite wanting to go, mainly to try their pomegranate molasses chicken livers, I never got around to do it until last week. I had an hour or so to kill between work and a colleague leaving drinks. I was really in the mood for Shawerma so I was delighted when I discovered they have a pop-up branch in Shoreditch. A short bus ride from where I was.

I got there around five thirty in the evening to a fairly empty mini food court in what appears to be a converted building site.  The place was cleverly designed to fit in with the trendy nature of Shoreditch. Food is prepared and served from what looks like a converted burger van topped with an over sized sign with theatre style lights.  It wasn't particularly peak time so there was me and three Shoreditch-arty-type couples complete with the compulsory Pete Doherty hats.

I hesitated for a second when I ordered as I wanted to try their supposedly excellent mezze however I couldn't see chicken liver on the menu so I went for a lamb shawerma wrap and a Coke.

On the van display there were stacks of ready made Arabic bread wraps ready to be reheated in a sandwich press. I assumed these were the chicken shish and kafta sandwiches they have on the menu. All pre prepared since there was no sign of a charcoal grill or smoke indicating freshly grilled meat. 

P.S. I absolutely hate this recent trend of serving Lebanese food. Whoever popularised this style needs to be banned from the restaurant trade (see the equally mediocre Comptoir Libanais).

I felt sorry for the poor soles, knowing no better, who would end up eating pre-cooked reheated sandwiches. I, however, will enjoy a freshly made delicious Shawerma sandwich. After all the shawerma was being cooked on site. The meat looked nice a crispy on the rotating spit. 

Or that what I thought!

Not in a million year I would have imagined somebody would actually pre-prepare shawerma sandwiches and stack them on the display to be heated and served to paying costumers.

One of the best things about shawerma is the contrast between the meat and the other component of the sandwich. Crispy meat with smoky over caramelised edges against the cool tahini sauce and sharp pickles. Needless to say this was completely lost in Yalla Yalla crime against shawerma. meat was stodgy with uniform bland texture. Tomatoes were completely cooked. And to top it all up, cucumber pickles were hotter, much hotter, than the meat.

For the life of me I can't understand why they decided to serve shawerma this way. There is no excuse apart from laziness to explain it. The meat was there cooked and ready to go, the chef was hanging around doing something or the other, and I ended up eating such an awful sandwich made from meat cooked the morning or a week earlier. Who knows!

To give credit when credit is due, the Toum sauce served with the shawerma was great. Absulotely spot on.

For a place that describes itself as achingly hip (double cringe) it needs to do a lot better. London has some of the best street food in the world. Yalla Yalla doesn't need to look so far for clues. The fantastic Big Apple Hot Dogs is just up the street. Or may be pay a visit to White Cross Street market to see how its done. Hundreds of people descends on the food market at lunch hour. All happily fed freshly made food despite the queues going around the corner.

Yalla Yalla Shoreditch pop up restaurant doesn't belong to the vibrant London street food scene. It belongs to food court at Lakeside shopping centre.