Very soon I will be back in London and it will be the end of my lovely Italian meals unless I decide to recreate cacciucco alla Livornese in my own kitchen which I doubt somehow. Not so much because I cannot get the different fish and seafood that I need for this amazing fish stew (or soup depending on who describes it) but really because the pleasure of eating it in my kitchen, however lovely it is, will never equal that of enjoying it while looking out at the fabulous sunset that evening.
I drove into Damascus on the second day of Eid el Adha (the feast of the sacrifice and the big Muslim holiday marking the beginning of their new year). The streets were empty. Hardly any cars, most of the shops closed, and no street vendors except for the occasional one squatting on the roadside by a stack of bloodied sheep skins. This was a new sight for me. Then it occurred to me that the skins must be from the lambs that are freshly slaughtered for the feast of the sacrifice — each family slaughters a lamb to prepare their own feast, and to distribute meat to those who can’t afford it. I was too slow to ask my taxi driver to stop for me to take a picture but I came across an even more gory sight the next day as we were leaving the city to drive to Aleppo. It was on a regular corner in a non-descript quartier and still in the city. Two men had just rigged a butcher rack right on the street, with two skinned carcasses hanging from hooks and a small flock of sheep herded on the opposite corner, waiting for their life to end and for their coats to be sheared. In fact, some had most of their coat already off — the skins are sold to tanners who treat them then sell them as rugs or lining for winter coats.
I tend to have an obsessive personality. If I like a shirt, I will buy half a dozen and not necessarily in different colours! If I enjoy a new dish, I will eat it again and again until I get bored with it. And if I want to taste something that is not so commonly available, I will think about it again and again until I find a way to try it.
Recently, I was invited to a feast in Al Ain, near Abu Dhabi. As is the custom here, I was relegated to the women’s quarters. I didn’t mind this. The host’s wife was gorgeous and totally charming; and I enjoyed talking to her about how she and her mother prepare various Emirati dishes. And when the time came for us to have lunch, I was thrilled to finally try camel meat cooked their way — as you know from a previous post, I have only had it minced and grilled on the street in Syria. Later, when all the male guests at the feast left, I joined the men of the house and as we talked about the feast, I realised that us women had been deprived of the camel hump. This was understandable. The choice cut is always served to the guest of honour and that day, this guest was sadly not me.