Food has always been an universal language for Syrians. Every Syrian, regardless of age and ethnicity, has definitely witnessed the art of Syrian hospitality. Whether they were relatives you haven’t seen since you were 3, insisting so that you join them for dinner or strangers demanding you share at least a cup of cardamom-spiced coffee. For Syrians, to cook is to be at home, to share a meal is to seal a bond of friendship. As a result, “There must be bread and salt between us,” is constantly quoted by many Syrians.
The Syrian cuisine is famous for its spicy and greasy dishes. However, for me, one particular meal always brings out the history and warmth of a culture, that’s difficult to describe to foreigners: The Syrian breakfast. I may be biased, but there’s nothing more appetizing than waking up to a tabled filled with the mesmerizing scents of a full Syrian breakfast. So, here you go, a picture that’s worth a thousand words.
A Syrian breakfast differs from one family table to another, but some of the essentials are: Syrian bread, also known as pita and trays of mezza. The table must also have eggs, whether fried, hard-boiled, or both and most importantly, fresh vegetables. But perhaps the most integral part of any Syrian breakfast is the variety of cheeses and my personal favorite is the stretched cheese, which is also known as, string cheese (portrayed in the picture above) and it translates as “Tel Banir” in Armenian.
Be still, my heart. All hail the holy fatteh, a class of dishes popular in Syria and the greater Levant that comprises of bits of fried pita, garlic-yogurt-tahini sauce topped with toasted nuts and some hot oil or ghee. Chickpea fatteh is a classic Damascene breakfast.
Behold, a breakfast bowl of ful: creamy fava beans swimming in garlic-tahini yogurt doused with olive oil or melted ghee. A different version of this dish exists in each of the nations of the Levant.
Fatayer is basically salted dough, where you can spread anything from cheese, tangy thyme (Za’atar) to pepper paste and minced meat mix, before you throw it into an oven. Za’atar is very popular throughout the Levant, and although the mix itself varies, it’s founded on a combination of ground dried thyme, tangy sumac and sesame seeds.
While most people will associate Syria with the death and destruction that is in the news, neighborhoods reduced to rubble; delusional Islamic State fighters; babies bobbing lifeless in the sea: Syrians are so much more than this war. Food tells Syria’s history better than the volumes that chronicle rulers and wars. Syria’s land was part of the Fertile Crescent, where agriculture was born. It was fought over by the ancient Sumerians, Egyptians and Babylonians; it was ruled by Persians, Byzantines and Ottomans, and you can absolutely taste their influence.
To learn more about the Syrian cuisine, please visit one of my favorite websites: http://savoringsyria.com/
If you’re interested enough to taste some of the dishes, such as, Ful, Fatteh and Fatayer, you are more than welcome to visit the following restaurants, which are located in the Kentron district of Yerevan: Araks Restaurant & Zatar Pizza.
-Chougher Maria Doughramajian