Bessbuss greeting us from the window of her top room where she chops the parsley to keep the rest of her house clean.
I recently wrote a a short piece for the markets issue of Saveur on Souk el-Tanabel (souk of the lazy people) in Damascus where well-heeled women go to buy pre-prepared vegetables. A little like our supermarkets, except that it is a proper market with street stalls, lone farmers selling seasonal produce and shops of course.
The interesting thing about souk el-Tanabel is that the preparation is done by women, working in their own homes and each with her own speciality. One cores courgettes, another peels garlic, another prepares artichoke hearts, another chops parsley and so on. The shop owners send the vegetables over to the women in the evening. They work through the night and early in the morning then the same men who delivered return to pick up the prepared vegetables to have them in the shop for opening time.
Lamb testicles for sale in the souk in Damascus — these are a lot more veined than the norm; also it is not often that you find them hung like this. The butcher peels and discards the outer membrane before weighing and cutting them the way you want.
A few days ago, Serious Eats tweeted about yak testicles. I have never tried them but I love lamb testicles and have been eating them forever. Well, from when I could chew. They are considered a great delicacy in Lebanon and I find their soft, melting texture and subtle flavour irresistible. Of course, they need to be very fresh for that subtle, clean taste but this is not a problem in the Middle East where they slaughter lambs and sell the meat and offal the same day.
As you know, my friend Charles Perry guest posts here on a regular basis. When I recently asked him what he would like to write about, he suggested a post by a friend he had just met who’d sent him pictures from Azerbaijan together with a story about rose petals.
Now, I have a weakness for Azerbaijan because my nephew is married to a young woman from there and he invited the whole family to Baku for the wedding. It was a great trip, on a private plane chartered by my brother-in-law, which I expected to be luxurious but it turned out to be more like a charter flight on one of those cheap airlines. Still, the arrival into the VIP lounge, and the special treatment on the ground were fun.
Only two weeks in London and already my travels seem very far away, with the only vivid memory being a big hole in my leg where I banged my shin against one of those posts designed not only to stop cars from parking, but also to make pedestrians trip over! Still, I had many wonderful and memorable moments during my months in the Middle East including one on the way to Apamea, in Syria when I spotted a group of farmers burning frikeh (green wheat).
The last time I had seen frikeh being burned in the fields was back in 1982 in Qalb Lozeh, one of the dead Byzantine cities near Aleppo. The only difference between then and now, was the setting: totally magical and ancient in Qalb Lozeh, and rather modern and charmless in Qal’at al Mudiq where we had stopped. The building where the farmers lived was modern and unfinished like many of the buildings in the Syrian countryside, and their farm equipment was scattered everywhere, bulky and rusty. The farmers were great though, dressed in a funny mix of traditional garb with modern accessories like the women’s hats, and very jolly and welcoming.