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.
I was fascinated by the whole concept and asked the guys in one shop if they would take me to one of the women. As it happened, they were about to deliver a whole lot of parsley to a lady who they affectionately called Bessbuss who chops it for them. I waited while they loaded the huge bags of parsley onto their pick-up van then I hopped in front, sitting dangerously close to one of them. Luckily, it wasn’t long before we arrived and here are a few pictures of Bessbuss at work with a video clip at the end. One day I will learn how to edit my videos. Until then, you will have to forgive the longueurs. Oh, and this one is pre my flip camera, so, the quality is not so great.
Bessbuss piles 10 bunches of parsley (far more than I or any other chef would want to handle in one go) on her table, trims off the bottom stalks, then with a very quick up and down action, she slices through the parsley with her modest but very sharp knife, chopping hundreds of bunches every day.
From the blurry knife, you can imagine how fast she was chopping. The bandage on her left hand is to protect her from cutting herself and the glove on her right hand is to protect her skin from staining.
Here she is showing me another way of chopping the parsley. Most of the other women who chop parsley do it that way but she says it is not fast enough. She prefers her way.
One of her knives. She has several. They are not smart but supremely sharp.
As you can see, she really is a champion parsley chopper. My mother would approve of the thin slivers! By the way, the souk eel-Tanabel people send some of their pre-prepared vegetables to the elegant shops of Beirut, although not the chopped parsley.
And here is the clip of her in action. To think that she does this for hours, day after day; and during Ramadan, she works even longer hours. I will pay her a visit next time I am in Damascus but I will not expect her to offer me tabbuleh. I asked if she ever made it for her two lovely sons, and she said never!