I can’t remember when my mother moved to Balluneh. I wasn’t happy because I loved our huge appartment in Beirut in a 1920’s building but it had been squatted during the civil war and even though my mother had gotten rid of the squatters (who were neighbours), she no longer felt safe there. So, she bought in Balluneh, away from the chaos of Beirut and close to her brother. I didn’t like the place at first but I do now, for all kinds of reasons including Qal’at el-Rumiyeh in neighbouring Qley’at where they rear their own lambs to serve the best nayeh ever — the only better nayeh is up north in places like Ehden where they make it with goat meat. They also have the most amazing view as you can see from the picture above. And whenever I visit, my mother knows that lunch at Rumiyeh is the first thing I want to do. It was no different this time except that we were joined by my sister and her husband, a rare couple who are still mad about each other nearly 40 years, 3 children and 2 grandchildren later!
Very soon it will be the month of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset, not letting even a drop of water go through their lips. After hard days’ fast come nights of feasting and socialising when people visit each other, bearing gifts and sweets. And if there is a sweet that symbolises this month in the Middle East, it is qatayef (pancakes similar to Scottish muffins but thinner).
You can have them plain, topped with qashtah (clotted cream), pinched half-closed to make them look like cones and drizzled with sugar syrup (in the fancy sweet shops they’ll be garnished with orange blossom jam). Or you can have them filled with cream, walnuts or unsalted cheese, then fried and dipped in sugar syrup. I love them fried, especially if I am having them at my friends, the aptly named Ramadan brothers, whose stall is at top of souk Madhat Pasha on Straight Street in Damascus.
One of my all time favourite fruit. Looks like a pine cone but inside the rough skin are soft, creamy fleshy kernels enveloping shiny black seeds. The flesh is perfectly exquisite and the texture incredibly sexy. Totally irresistible except for one minor detail, the price which is fairly exorbitant in England. In Beirut, I could afford to eat one or two a day (my figure less) but here in London, custard apples will have to be an occasional treat. Still, not to be missed when in season which is now and until round about Christmas.