Well, there had to be a redeeming feature. The boutique hotel we had just arrived in in Gaziantep was awful, a little like an Ottoman Adams house. Everything had an abandoned and dusty feel, even the dug up lane leading to it. Still, there was one advantage. I had spotted a qataifi (or sha’r in Arabic, meaning hair) maker right opposite. So, we decided to escape and go there to see how the pastry was made.
Back from Gaziantep and already missing its colourful bazaars and all the delicious food we ate there. Too much of it mind you, but there is one thing we all agreed on, and this was that we couldn’t have too much of Ozgüler’s ice cream.
Turkish, as well as Syrian and Lebanese ice cream is very different from regular gelato or western ice cream. For one thing, it never has any eggs in it. Instead, it is thickened with salep, a powder ground from dried orchis tubers that not only thickens the ice cream (and a milk drink called salep or sahlab in Arabic) but also makes it stretchy and chewy. A strange texture that I love but that some people simply don’t care for.
Finally back in London and already missing the bustling Arab markets with their abundance of seasonal produce and where I can taste anything I want without any of the vendors being offended as they would be in Europe.
This year, I was lucky to be in the Middle East during fresh chickpeas season, my favourite snack as a child. My mother used to buy us large bunches from street vendors and we would sit on our balcony, popping pod after pod – unlike peas or fava beans, chickpeas come each in its own pod, except for the occasional twin chickpeas in the single pod – to munch on juicy and tender chickpeas.
Another great trip to Syria with a wonderful group. We had great fun despite being driven by possibly the most stubborn and moronic driver ever. He and his uncomfortable bus (supposedly VIP) were the low point of an otherwise lovely trip.
As usual, the food was delicious with one of the great hits being breakfast at my favourite fawwal (ful medammes specialist) where lovely Hajj Abdo makes the best ever ful medammes. Like Hanna, Hajj Abdo is a wonderful old man who’s been making ful medammes for over fifty years; and he is still personally in charge of the making and serving of his speciality. Here he is in action. What you see him doing in this clip is what he does, almost non-stop, from 7 am to 3 pm every day.