If there is any downside to travel, it's that I find myself feeling increasingly haunted by ghosts.
Not ghosts of people long gone, but of dishes long digested. Full sensory hallucinations of treats prepared in a very specific way in lands far far away. I -- pale, wild-haired, gaunt (ok fine, not gaunt) -- cut off from their delicious realms, call out into the dark trying to channel them: "Manoooooooolo Fernandez pooooooollo... Zemmmmmmmaciai pork rib boooorrrrrrscht... Gelateria del Teatrooooo watermelon granitaaaaaaaa..."
And now add to that list Beit Sissi's hummus with grilled lamb chunks and toasted pine nuts, thanks to a quick visit this past September. Creamy. Smoky. Juicy. And maddeningly far away in Aleppo in Syria, tucked into a discreet alleyway in the city's charming and labyrinthian Al-Jdeida neighbourhood.
Once you're through the multiple arches and the door, however, the restored 17th century Arab-style mansion-turned-restaurant throws open a double-storey sundrenched dining room, complete with resident violinist.
Babs and I opened with a mess of mezzes: the hummus as mentioned above, a slightly tart but refreshing eggplant rattatouille, and a dish of silky mallow leaves. All mopped up with a lot of pita bread and even more gusto.
Just as we were feeling pleasantly and sensibly full (as is always the case when we go to Middle Eastern eateries) the main meat dishes arrive.
Cherry kebab -- cooked in a lurid purple cherry sauce and garnished with yet more toasted pine nuts -- is the signature dish of this region. For me anyway, the celebrity cherry sauce tasted too tart, and messed too much with -- rather than complemented or lifted -- the natural taste of the meat.
The house-style kebabs, however, unadorned except for a flap of pita soaking in kebab juice, were gorgeous in the nude and voluptuous in flavour. Beautiful like Botticelli's Venus. Another strong candidate for the haunting list. Wooooooooooo......
Beit Sissi (aka Sissi House)
Sharia as-Sissi, Al-Jdeida
+963 21 212 4362