It is not very often that I find foodstuffs that are completely new to me but two days ago, as I was walking through the market in Shanghai, I saw black chickens for sale. This wouldn’t have come as such a surprise if I had paid attention to my friend Elaine’s article which she wrote in 2007!
Just back from a wonderful trip to Iran where I had been in April, also once many years ago during the time of the Shah when I worked for Sotheby’s who then had an office there. While walking through the Tajrish bazaar last April, I was struck by the abundance of seasonal produce, some of which I was seeing for the first time. This time I went up to Rasht in Gilan province where they have a fabulous, bustling bazaar with an amazing live poultry section where you can buy your chickens, roosters and/or ducks live to take home and fatten up or you can have them killed and plucked there there and then before taking them home to cook. In the clip above, you can see how meticulous the lady is about choosing her chickens. She reminded me of the Chinese housekeeper of a friend who lived in Singapore. When I went to the market with her, I watched her turn over each and every vegetable and fruit before buying it to make sure it was perfect. But whereas the Chinese housekeeper was vociferous in how she made her choice, I could hardly hear what the Iranian lady was saying. They have a wonderful gentle culture in Iran and almost everyone speaks in whispers. My kind of place!
It’s not often these days that I come across a shop sign that I love but I saw a great one recently, while walking through the souks of Aleppo. It wasn’t your average enseigne but rather a beautiful young boy sitting on a stool by the entrance of a rather elegant shop, decked out in almost every single item of traditional Syrian clothing, from the sherwal (baggy trousers that have been translated for westerners at different times by great couturiers), to the embroidered cap, to the striped gilet and striped tunic. He sat there quite impassive, neither ushering people in nor doing or saying anything to encourage would-be buyers to go inside. I looked at him quite intrigued, wondering why he was dressed this way then it dawned on me that he must be advertising the clothes and fabrics inside the shop. And he was!
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.