It is one year exactly since the Syrian revolution began and one year and a half since I last visited. I can no longer remember where Eskenderun is exactly and in fact, it is not exactly a diner. Simply a tiny place like many in Damascus where they serve a few mezze dishes and grilled meats (over charcoal of course) except that their food is better than even in very good upmarket restaurants. It was recommended by the wonderful Lina Sinjab although when I entered and saw what looked like a crummy take-away place with plastic sheets over the tablecloths — I have mine under! — I wondered if we really wanted to eat there. But I trusted Lina’s taste and we stayed. And boy, am I glad we did. If it wasn’t the best meal of my week there, it was definitely one of the best, made even more so by the element of surprise. As you can see from the picture we didn’t leave much on our plates. I just hope that we will soon be able to go back, after the duck and his acolytes have been booted out of the presidential palace and sent on their way to the Hague!
Breakfast is my favourite meal and I love eating it out when I am travelling, even when I am in London. When I lived in Paris, near the Trocadéro, I walked every morning to the place to have a grand crème and a croissant or tartine, normally at one of the cafés lining the place unless I wanted a little elegance, in which case I would go to Carette. When I am in Beirut, I go to el-Soussi for fatteh at least once and I alternate between different bakeries for manaqish. And of course, I go to Amal Bohsali for k’nafeh. And when I am in America (which was the case until yesterday) I make sure to try different places for pancakes, and I always go to Brown Sugar Kitchen for waffles. Theirs are the best. Really!
It is not the first time that I team up with the lovely Fuchsia Dunlop for an exotic multi-cultural feast. Last time we had combined Chinese, Gujarati and Lebanese while today it was mainly Chinese and Moroccan. Fuchsia prepared the starters, a magnificent selection of Spicy Sichuanese chicken (here’s her recipe for it), green soybeans with ‘snow vegetable’ (a Shanghainese pickle), edible chrysanthemum leaves with firm tofu, fish-fragrant aubergines, kohlrabi salad, spicy cucumber salad, Shanghai ‘smoked’ fish and pressed pig’s ear. The latter being a perfect masterpiece as you can see from the picture above.
So, you saw what the tripe looked like when I got it back from the butchers. It wasn’t pretty and it smelled bad! As a result, it took forever to clean. I rinsed it in what seemed like a hundred changes of cold water and every time I changed the water, I had to hold my breath. As the dirty water poured into the sink, the smell became more intense. But the stink eventually subsided and the tripe started to whiten and look clean — I also stripped the strips of fat and muck off and scraped the dirty fuzz. And in a final push to get rid of the smell, I added a little Ecover dishwahsing soap to the water and washed the tripe as if it were a piece of cloth. The interesting thing was that one stomach cleaned really well while the other didn’t. It didn’t really matter. One was enough.