Jump to content


Welcome to the eG Forums!

These forums are a service of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to advancement of the culinary arts. Anyone can read the forums, however if you would like to participate in active discussions please join the society.

Photo

Anissa Helou Syrian Food Tour


  • Please log in to reply
4 replies to this topic

#1 zora

zora
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 235 posts
  • Location:Astoria, NYC

Posted 07 July 2009 - 09:31 PM

Just realized I've been a little delinquent in reporting on this tour (though I know melamed, who originally asked, has seen my blog posts already), which I took back in May, and now all the details are a little hazy. If someone has specific questions, please ask--it might help trigger my memory!

In short, great time and great food. The only real drawback was my personal frame of mind--I'd been approaching this as a major vacation, but the travel (and eating) schedule was very busy. And I'd never really been on a group tour before, so had to wrap my brain around that (I have to be at the bus _when_?!).

The real highlights of the trip for me were:

1) a cooking demo at a woman chef's house in Aleppo, which was very down-to-earth and practical, to balance out a lot of the fancier dinners we had

2) a visit to the kitchens at a pastry shop, which was totally mind-blowing and Willy Wonka-ish.

Oh, and 3) a passionate lecture from a man who insisted seasonal eating is the only healthy way to live...and don't get him started on artificial fertilization of plants!

Best meals were probably at Zmorod, a new restaurant in Aleppo, and at the Club d'Alep (sorry, you regular travelers--it's private!), though it's hard to pick...

The trip confirmed my suspicions that Aleppo is where it's at when it comes to food--everyone there just seems to care a wee bit more (which takes them often into crazy-passionate territory). I ate some good things in Damascus, but they were fewer and farther between.

I'd also never really heard the theories before that Syrian food--especially in Aleppo--is influenced by Chinese, what with the sweet-sour and fruit-meat combos, and the spicy heat. Intriguing, and helped me pinpoint a little better what distinguishes Syrian food from Lebanese or Turkish.

Also interesting: the woman chef we visited talked about how different things are used as souring agents depending on the season--lemon juice, verjuice, pomegranate syrup...as well as the perennially reliable citric acid. I knew these things were all used, but never quite grasped why/when you'd use one or the other. Citric acid, apparently, is often used in restaurant cooking because the flavor is stable and consistent over a day in a way that lemon juice is not. I also noticed that the "lemon juice" served with the fuul in the (very traditional, very beloved) Aleppo joint we stopped at was actually citric-acid water. Not in a bad way. (In fact, since coming home, I've bought my own bag of citric acid--goes very nicely in iced tea.)

We ate desert truffles, which were satisfying in a richer-than-a-potato way. They were apparently all imported from Morocco this spring, because it had been a bad year in Syria--but this was lucky for me, because ordinarily they would've been out of season in mid-May.

We saw akub (gundelia), which melamed asked about on another thread, but never got to eat any. Anyone have any recipes? I am intrigued by anything artichoke-like...

It was also the season for rose-petal jam, served with salty string cheese. Yum.

Oh, and now I can clearly say that Syrian sweets are the best. Why? They're just not very sweet--so your baqlawa and what-have-you are more a nut-and-butter experience, with a hint of sugar. Remarkable restraint. And maybe they're also better because I got to see them being made by giant burly men and a small army of 14-year-old apprentices!

I packed my bag home with Aleppo pepper paste and pomegranate molasses, both semi-homemade (bought at the produce market), plus a bottle of mulberry syrup, which unfortunately is now all gone.

This was my third trip to Syria...and instead of making me feel like I "did" Syria, now I just feel like there's so much more try. A nagging problem!

Oh: photos and a couple of videos from the trip are here and here (pastry kitchen).
Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

#2 prasantrin

prasantrin
  • legacy participant
  • 5,468 posts

Posted 08 July 2009 - 03:31 AM

I am sooooo jealous! Your pictures make me want to hop on a plane tomorrow!

Syrian baqlawa has always been my favourite, but I never knew if it was just the one particular Syrian restaurant that made good baqlawa, or if it was all Syrian baqlawa that would be good. Your explanation of why it's good describes my feelings exactly. One of the reasons I never cared for baqlawa/baklava was because it was too sweet, but the Syrian version is perfect for me.

Now I'm going to have to find a way to go on a Syrian food tour, too!

May I ask if you speak Arabic? I'm wondering how easy it would be to get around without a tour guide. Is it easy to go to markets and restaurants even without Arabic?

#3 zora

zora
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 235 posts
  • Location:Astoria, NYC

Posted 08 July 2009 - 09:55 AM

I am sooooo jealous!  Your pictures make me want to hop on a plane tomorrow!

Syrian baqlawa has always been my favourite, but I never knew if it was just the one particular Syrian restaurant that made good baqlawa, or if it was all Syrian baqlawa that would be good.  Your explanation of why it's good describes my feelings exactly.  One of the reasons I never cared for baqlawa/baklava was because it was too sweet, but the Syrian version is perfect for me.

Now I'm going to have to find a way to go on a Syrian food tour, too!

May I ask if you speak Arabic?  I'm wondering how easy it would be to get around without a tour guide.  Is it easy to go to markets and restaurants even without Arabic?

View Post


I do speak Arabic, but kind of badly. When I first went to Syria in 1999, very few people spoke English, but now there has been a noticeable increase. And Syrians are incredibly helpful. I think you'd be able to get around pretty well, especially in restaurants, where you can always point! (And most restaurant menus I saw were translated.)
Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome

#4 battleofthebulge

battleofthebulge
  • participating member
  • 238 posts
  • Location:London

Posted 05 October 2009 - 03:21 AM

Hi Zora,

We're off to Syria at the beginning of May.
Great to hear you had such good food - I'm so looking forward to it!
Do you have an address for Zmorod?

Many thanks
Sarah
Sarah

#5 zora

zora
  • eGullet Society staff emeritus
  • 235 posts
  • Location:Astoria, NYC

Posted 09 October 2009 - 07:05 AM

Hey Sarah--

Zmorod is in the Armenian quarter, kind of on the northwest side (I think, if I have the whole area laid out right in my head). If you're in the main plaza in the Armenian quarter, walk off the corner with the antiques store on the second floor, and I think make the first turn to your right. The street leading off the plaza has shops selling almost nothing but ridiculous handbags.

And if all that doesn't work, pretty much any hotel in the area will known how to get you there.

Have a great trip! I'm so envious! Would love to hear more about your Zmorod meal (and anything else) when you're back!
Zora O’Neill aka "Zora"

Roving Gastronome