Part II: The Sweet & Spicy Souks of Syria

Part II of our newest Contributor, Singapore-based, Hajar Ali’s series, continues to give us a taste of the Middle East with her take on Syria’s sweet and spicy souks.

A trip to the Souk Hammadiyeh isn’t complete without a trip to Bakdash, an ice cream store that’s virtually an institution in Damascus. It’s the place for family get-togethers, couples going on dates as well as a celebratory venue for engagement parties.

Bakdash sells only one type of ice-cream, a delicious white concoction with a generous coverage of pistachio.

The souks were a maze of stores and my disoriented mind was unable to distinguish between the various souks. I recall travelling through various aromas of soaps and spices, staying with the Italian ladies as they negotiated over the silver jewellery, going through stacks of table linens and deciding which jallabiyas to buy for female friends and family members back home. In reality, the souks were divided into the Souk Al Hamidiyeh, the most prominent and most popular amongst tourists, the Souk Midhat Pasha, the Souk al-Bzouriyeh (as the area where the soaps and spices are to be found) and the Souk al-Harir. It’s probably best to enlist the help of a good guide who’d be able to bring you to Ghraoui, the manufacturers of the best dried fruits and chocolates in the world, if Paris Salon du Chocolat Awards are anything to go by…

http://www.ghraouichocolate.com

Tony Stephan’s antiques store at No 156 is also renowned for having the finest quality at the best prices. With a range of textiles, mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, antique Bedouin jewellery, and intricate copper and brassware visitors have included dignitaries like Jimmy Carter and Nancy Kissinger. In addition, check out the ultra-chic Villa Moda, a boutique converted from a 17th century stable, stocking labels like Stella Mc Cartney and Azzedine Alaia.

The street food in Syria was amazing– a welcome departure from the mezze I’d been having for breakfast, lunch and dinner so far in Syria. Once, we’d stopped by a street stall to buy something resembling falafels and the store keeper had in turn plied us with slices of hot thin-crust pizza (so good we’d asked for the name, of which I can’t remember now) and vehemently refused our attempts to pay for the pizza. Travelling is one activity where you’d always gain more from your interaction with locals, the other travelers you meet along the way and the richness of experiences than what you’d be able to give in return, but Syria is one of the places where the feeling of taking more than what you give gets rather overwhelming.

Two days later, I temporarily parted ways with my travel companions- they were headed to the Krak des Chevaliers and I, having fallen under the spell of Zenobia, the Warrior Queen, was headed for Palmyra. We’d arranged to meet in Aleppo, staying at the Hotel Baron, which we’d all agreed would be an interesting choice of accommodation given the history behind it.

Hotel Baron, was, in its heyday, host to some of the most illustrious individuals of its time. Stepping off from the Istanbul-Aleppo train connection (which still runs today), were individuals like Agatha Christie, T.E. Lawrence and Charles Lindburgh

A fascinating jaunt into the past… and a welcome embrace to the future.

To be continued…

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