he ancient city of Aleppo (Halab – Alep) prides itself on the best cuisine in the Middle East. Such a reputation often intrigues travelling gourmands so before departing on our trip to Syria, I consulted Aleppian people in the know and collated a list of food and drink they considered to be a speciality.
The food of the Levant is rich and diverse. Variations on a dish exist between Middle Eastern countries that line up the eastern Mediterranean sea. It’s not uncommon for one country to own a dish and have it adopted by its neighbour. With Aleppo‘s proximity to Turkey and sharing a border with Lebanon, many dishes have mixed origins, much like the Armenian influences which have punctuated the city’s cuisine.
This comprehensive guide is divided into three sections: Food, Drink and Sweets with dishes listed in alphabetical order. Some references are made to the origin of the dish but as I was told during my travels in Syria and Lebanon, when it comes to food, barriers begin to crumble.
This section is subdivided into Mezze, which is a selection of small dishes that are eaten as appetisers or first courses followed by Main Dishes, though the division can get a little blurry at times.
Baba Ghanouj – also known as mtabbal, this is a popular chargrilled eggplant dip made with Tahini and lemon juice.
Basturma – air-dried cured beef surrounded with chaman, a pungent spice. Armenian in origin. Well worth the resultant bad breath. Also known as bastirma, basturma, pastirma.
Fattoush – a tangy salad that includes tomatoes, cucumber, purslane, toasted pieces of Arabic bread and seasoned with sumac.
Foul Medammas – After a very late night out, head out at 5 am to a fawwal, an eatery that serves foul medaddas for breakfast, cooked fava beans in olive oil, lemon juice onion, garlic and cumin. Very popular dish in Egypt.
Hommos – a popular dip found in other parts of the Levant, made with chickpeas, Tahini and lemon juice.
Jibneh mshallaleh – also known as Syrian String Cheese
Labneh – a plain yoghurt style dip, drizzled with olive oil and eaten with Arabic bread
Lsanat – Lamb tongue stuffed with pistachio and cooked with water and vinegar
Mhammara – a dip made with red peppers, walnuts and pomegranate molasses (called dibs romman), cumin, olive oil and bread crumbs.
Mortadella Halabiya – very fine ground beef called Habra mixed with spices, garlic, pine nuts, peeled pistachios then rolled into a thick sausage shape. The meat is smoothed by hand then boiled in water and vinegar. Cut into rounds and served cold. (see photo)
Shanklish – a type of cow or sheep milk cheese, rolled into a ball and covered with spices. Served crumbled with olive oil added. Eaten with Arabic bread.
Toum – a potent garlic dip, so light in texture and strong on taste that it will get you addicted. A dip I often associate with the food of Lebanon rather than Syria.