A full Eid ul-Fitr late, no doubt, but still quite fresh in our memories! (It's true. Time flies when you're having fun)
Through some half-baked planning and a touch of luck, Babs and I found ourselves in paradise for Eid. By that I mean Damascus, Syria. Legend has it that when the prophet Muhamed gazed upon Damascus from a nearby mountain, he refused to descend, proclaiming that man should enter the gates of paradise only once, and he would save his entrance for the paradise above.
I'm beginning to wonder if that was partly why the biblical Saul of Tarsus was struck blind on his way to Damascus. Would he have been too distracted by the bright lights, big city of that era to find Ananais on the Roman (and still existing) Straight Street and meet his destiny as St Paul otherwise?
But I digress.
Eid ul-Fitr, the festival at the end of the Muslims' month-long fast, is traditionally an affair celebrated with new outfits, with family at home. Even though Shamsuddin seems to be a popular family name in these parts, Babs and I didn't have any family to visit here. Nonetheless, we decided on a whim that we would haggle ourselves a new traditional Syrian outfit each (right), and roam the old city in them to mark the festival day.
Many of the city's businesses were shut for the day, as we expected. But many of the city's festive feeders, bless them, were up and about doing a roaring trade of making sure that today's feasting would outdo a month of iftars (the break-fast meal at the end of each fasting day).
For brunch, we joined a queue of boys at this schwarma stall, all dressed in their dandy Eid best and determined to spend their Eedis (small cash gifts given to children during Eid) as quickly as possibly.
We're more used to Turkish-style doner kebabs, where the slivers of meat are stuffed -- or sometimes dramatically overstuffed, as in Berlin -- into a pita or fluffy baguette envelope. But these Damascene schwarmas were demurely and tightly rolled up, and nowhere near as drippy with garlicy yoghurt as a London-style doner kebab. Well. Less risk of messing up our new frocks I suppose.
Next, on a tip from a reliably fabulous foodie friend Goz (thanks Goz!), I dash into legendary local ice-cream parlour Bakdash in the Al-Hamidiyah Souq for some of their signature pistachio-covered booza. The perfectly colour coordinated accessory for my Syrian dress!
Bakdash, said to be established circa 1885, makes a curiously chewy and melt-resistant ice-cream by hand. The booza mixture, held in vats, is pounded and stretched by giant bats by the Bakdash boys, and then hand-churned and stretched some before rolling the stuff around in trays of pistachios.
The secret ingredients in the recipe include mastic and salep. Mastic is the resin obtained from the Mediterranean Mastic tree. Its popular name is arabic gum, and one of its first culinary uses was as a chewing gum (hence the English word 'masticate'). Salep is the flour ground from the dried tubers of a species of orchid. Its popular name is fox-testicles in Arabic, or dog stones in English -- a graphic description of orchid tubers.
I'm now wondering if this cheery chappie was really posing for me or just laughing at me.
Well. Onwards into the back alleys of Old Damascus. After a couple of hours I wonder if we're walking in circles. Maybe I'm just seeing circles.
We come across one man churning out palm-sized pides...
... and another slapping and spinning naans in and out of a tandoori like the best of DJs at a turntable.
And this just takes the cake.
I'll stop my meanderings here for now. May your days ahead be sweet, and may all the nuts that cross your path be tasty ones!