Moving Up My Travel List: Syria

photo from syraac.com

I’ve never been to Syria, and I can’t say I’ve always wanted to visit.  For years, I’ve heard of the political situation, and understood this was not a place for me .  However recently, I’ve come to view Syria as a culinary Shangri-La.  I’ll give you the three signs that caused me to revaluate Syria, and you can see if you agree with me:

  1. It started when I was in B-School and taking an international marketing class.  Talk about a new perspective; if I did not learn to erase my preconceived notions, I’d be in trouble.  In particular, one student (from Syria) who worked at the World Bank awed me with her insights, and the lively discussions that ensued in class.  I regret I never told her, so she’ll probably never know that I learned a lot from her and admire her tremendously.
  2. I read a facinating article from the Saudi Armaco World magazine about Syrian chocolate maker, Ghraoui, and was immediately intrigued.  They won the 2005 Paris Salon du Chocolat‘s prize for “best foreign chocolate” – now that’s no slouch!  (Exhibit A: dates filled with dark chocolate coated almonds)
  3. In researching a post on cheeses, I discovered that Syria is itself a serious cheese producer – of sheep milk cheese, no less.

Now for some people, that last fact alone might be sufficent to sway them, but it took the three signal to focus my attentions, really, fascinating people + chocolate + cheese = intriguing possibilities.  What’s not to like with that equation? So I elected to do a bit of research on the culinary and cultural side of Syria:

Syria

image from intute.ac.uk

Syria borders Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel and Palestine to the southwest.  So as you might imagine, its been heavily influenced by its neighbors in the arts and specifically culinary department.  In fact, not just the neighbors, but the visitors and conquerors this country has seen for several millennia.

Syria once comprised the entire Levant, and is considered part of the “cradle of civilization”.  For several thousands of years, Syria has seen civilizations ebb and flow across its lands, all leaving some sort of imprint as a reminder of their visit.

A Snippet of History

During the second millennium BC, Syria was successively occupied by Canaanites, Phoenicians, and Arameans.   Egyptians, Sumerians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Hittites perhaps sensing they were missing out, added to the list of occupiers, often with only marsh land separating their various empires.  Eventually, the Persians added Syria to their hegemony of Southwest Asia, only to surrender it to the ancient Macedonians after Alexander the Great’s conquests.  This history just reads like something out of a Hollywood movie.

Syria also plays a significant role in the history of Christianity  – Saul of Tarsus was converted on the Road to Damascus.  Christians might know him better as the Apostle Paul, and he went on to establish the first organized Christian church it Antioch in ancient Syria.

Islamic era

By AD 640, Syria was conquered by the Rashidun army  with the consequence that it became part of the Islamic empire.  In the mid-7th century, the Umayyad dynasty, then rulers of the empire, made Damascus the capital.  Syria was divided into four districts:

  1. Damascus
  2. Hims
  3. Palestine
  4. Jordan

The Islamic empire stretched from Spain and Morocco to India and into Central Asia, allowing Syria to prosper as its capital region.  Early Ummayad rulers constructed splendid palaces and mosques throughout Syria.  Christians in this era were tolerated, and several held governmental posts. The country’s power dramatically declined during later Ummayad period due to the corruption of the empire’s rulers.  Their dynasty was then overthrown by the Abbasid in 750, who moved the capital to Baghdad.  Arabic became the dominant language.

Sections of Syria’s coastline were briefly held during the Crusades of the 12th century, and were known as the Crusader state of “the Principality of Antioch”.  Shi’a extremists known as Assassins (Hashshashin) also caused mischief in this area.  In 1260, the Mongols with an army 100,000 strong, destroyed cities and irrigation works. Aleppo fell in January 1260, and Damascus just three months later.  About this time the Mongol leader had to return home to China, breaking off his attacks to attend a pesky succession dispute issue.  The Mongol leader left in charge, Kitbugha, proved not nearly as formidable, and in only a few months, they were defeated by the Egyptian Mamluks.  The Mamluk leader, created two capitals in Cairo and Damascus, linked by a mail service that traveled by both horses and carrier pigeons.

A short time later, an emir Sunqur al-Ashqar, attempted to declare himself ruler of Damascus, but he was defeated.  Al-Ashqar, who had shrewdly married a Mongol woman, appealed for help from the Mongols, and they returned with an army of 50,000 Mongols, plus over 30,000 additional enforcements.  The Mongols retook the city, but Qalawun, the Mamluk leader persuaded Al-Ashqar to switch allegiances, and they fought the Mongols (the Second Battle of Homs) in a close battle finally won by the Mamluks.  How’s that for a story of love and treachery?

photo from

By the end of the 15th century, the discovery of a sea route from Europe to the Far East ended the need for an overland trade route through Syria.  Devastated by the Mongols, Syria was easily absorbed into the Ottoman Empire from the 16th through 20th centuries, and largely removed from world affairs.

The Ottoman Empire

Because the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany during World War I, the Entente powers were determined to dissolve this great Ottoman territory – the allied diplomats secretly agreed on splitting this territory into several zones of influence. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 sealed the fate of modern Southwest Asia for the coming century; providing France with the northern zone (Syria and what is now Lebanon), and the United Kingdom with the southern one (Jordan, Iraq and Palestine).

The French Mandate

In 1920, an independent Arab Kingdom of Syria was established under Faisal I, who later became the King of Iraq.  However, his rule over Syria ended after only a few months, as a result of a clash with French forces who occupied Syria until the League of Nations placed Syria under a French mandate.  In 1925 Sultan Pasha al-Atrash led a revolt and is considered one of the most important revolutions against the French mandate, as it encompassed all of Syria.  Al-Atrash won several battles against the French at the beginning of revolution, which resulted in France sending thousands of troops to Syria, and regained many cities.  Syria and France negotiated independence in September 1936.  However, the treaty never came into force because the French Legislature refused to ratify it.   Syria proclaimed its independence again in 1941 but it wasn’t until 1944 that it was recognised as an independent republic.

So that’s a very brief recap of Syrian history, although alternatively  I could have summed this history up as the Académie Syrienne de la Gastronomie did, and saved a lot of space: “A lot of travelers, artists, poets and archeologists visited Syria and liked it.”  They stayed, and stamped the culture with some of their own, but the details were too fascinating for me to ignore.

____________________________________________________________________________
The capital Damascus is the largest city in Syria, and the metropolitan area is a governorate on its own.  Aleppo in northern Syria, the second largest city, is also a major center; its old town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Latakia and Tartus are Syria’s main ports on the Mediterranean sea.

Geography, People and Culture

Syria is mostly arid plateau, with dry hot summers and mild winters.  The northwest part of the country bordering the Mediterranean is fairly green. The Northeast of the country “Al Jazira” and the South “Hawran” are important agricultural areas.   The Euphrates, Syria’s most important river, crosses the country in the east, and is considered one of the fifteen states comprising the “Cradle of Civilization”.   Given that name, it is no surprise that Philip Hitti (professor of Arabic studies) wrote, “the scholars consider Syria as the teacher for the human characteristics,” and Andrea Parrout (archeologist and Louvre curator) claimed, “each civilized person in the world should admit that he has two home countries: the one he was born in, and Syria.”

Living Arrangements

Traditional houses in Damascus, Aleppo and the other large cities are preserved and traditionally the living quarters are arranged around one or more courtyards, typically with a fountain in the middle supplied by spring water, and decorated with citrus trees, grape vines, and flowers.   Outside of the larger city areas residential areas are often clustered in smaller villages.  The buildings are passed down through the generations.

Music

Damascus, has long been one of the Arab world’s centers for cultural and artistic innovation, especially classical Arab music.  Aleppo is known for its muwashshah, a form of Andalous sung poetry popularized by Sabri Moudallal.  Finally, Syria was one of the earliest centers of Christian hymnody, in a repertory known as Syrian chant, which continues to be the liturgical music of some Syrian Christians.

Damascus

If you are a history buff, look no further than Damascus, considered one of the oldest, if not the oldest, continuously inhabited city in the world.  Rivaled by, hmm – Aleppo (another Syrian town that may sound familiar given that a favorite pepper is named after it).

The Great Mosque - photo from britannica.com

Located in southwestern Syria, Damascus is the center of a large metropolitan area of roughly four million people.  Besides being the capital of Syria, it is also its largest city.  Nestled in the eastern foothills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range about fifty miles inland from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea.  In addition to being widely known as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, Damascus is a major cultural and religious center of the Levant.  The Great Mosque which tells the story of the different stages of the city’s history is at the top of the list for most pilgrims and is one of the most sacred places in Islam.

Syrian Cuisine

Syrian food mostly consists of Southern Mediterranean, Greek, and Southwest Asian dishes, with Turkish and French cooking thrown in for good measure.  In Syrian foods, presentation is everything. Individual hor d’oeurves (meze) are often stuffed with vegetables, or vegetables are stuffed with meats. Even the most basic dishes are garnished. A typical Syrian meal begins with mezze, a spread of salads and appetizers, and an assortment of nuts and pickles.  The main meals include some protein with a vegetable, salad and rice dish.  A typical Syrian meal is followed by tea of coffee, platters of fruit and homemade pastries.

Syrian dishes

Note:  I compiled this list from multiple sources and discovered some spelling variations.  If I saw something spelled more frequently one way, that was the spelling I choice, or if two versions seemed equally popular I listed both.  I suspect there might be some regional differences not accounted for in my summary, hence the variations.  This is a mere sampling of the incredible foods I found  – some very familiar, but I did not necessarily associate with Syrian cooking, but it was interesting to see popular dishes show up and the imprint that Syrian cooks added to the recipe.

Typical Syrian breakfast photo from wapedia

Baba ghanouj – a dip made up of grilled eggplants, chopped tomatoes, chopped parsley, chopped mint, garlic, onion, chopped green pepper, pomegranate molasses, and decorated with pomegranate arils, and olive oil.

Batata harra – literally “spicy potatoes”

Fattoush – a ‘peasant’ salad of toasted pita bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, chickweed, and mint

Falafel – small deep-fried patties made of highly-spiced ground chick-peas

Fuul (Vicia faba) or Ful Halabi (after Aleppo) – mashed brown beans (fava) and red lentils drizzled with lemon olive oil and cumin.  This dish looks like it came via Sudan where they do not appear to add the lentils.  It is also popular in Egyptian cooking as well.

Hummus – dip or spread made of blended chickpeas, sesame tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, and typically eaten with pita bread

Jibbneh mashallale – string cheese make of curd cheese and is pulled and twisted together, like Italian mozzarella

Kibbeh – if a single dish could be called a national dish, this is it and it consists of a shell made from bulghur wheat and flour that is shaped into a hollow torpedo and filled with a protein and vegetables.  Once prepared, the kibbe is fried and served with lemon that is dripped onto the meat once it is bitten. Kibbeh is probably the most difficult Syrian food when prepared by hand and today few women can duplicate the efforts of their female ancestors. Now when kibbeh is made, modern conveniences such as the Kitchenaid mixer are brought in to help.

Kabab – minced meat and spices that can be baked or charcoal-grilled on skewers.

Kousa Mahshi– squash stuffed with meat, tomatoes, rice and other spices

Labneh– strained yogurt, garnished with olive oil and sea salt.

Lahm bil ajĩn – a pastry covered with minced meat, onions, and nuts. Think pizza.  It has a special flavor that it gets from tamarind paste or temerhindy.

Makdous – stuffed eggplant in olive oil

Manaeesh – mini pizzas traditionally garnished with cheese, Za’atar, or minced meat and onions. some bakeries allow you to bring your own toppings and build your own or buy the ones they sell there. This dish is also very popular in Lebanon.

Mujaddara – lentils cooked with wheat or rice, garnished with sauteed onions.

Mutabbel – an eggplant salad similar to baba ghannouj, said to be its spicier cousin.  It contains grilled eggplant, tahini, yogurt garlic and topped with olive oil.

Pastirma or Bastirma – cured dried meats

Shanklish – a cheese commonly formed in the shape of a ball, and often covered with herbs and spices

Shish taouk– grilled chicken skewers (white meat only), marinated in olive oil, lemon, parsley, and sumac

Tabbouleh – diced parsley salad with burghul, tomato and mint

Yabraq (yabra’) – grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice.  They are small and slender.

Za’atar – a spice mix of dried thyme and sumac that differs by region, and even family as each cook imparts their own stamp on it.

Sweets

Fiy ma’adaty khalwah la yamluha illa al-halwah.” Translated: “There is an empty place in my stomach which only sweets can fill.”  Now that’s a Syrian saying, I can use at home.

Each city or region has its own specialties, Aleppo is the origin of many sweets and pastries, often characterized by a generous use of ghee (clarified butter) and sugar. Damascus is known for its ice cream and candied fruits.

Mr. Sama’an, or multiple pastry shops in Damascus explains that basically the pastries fall into three catagories:

    1. baklawa, consists of 12 paper-thin layers of flaky crust
    2. jatayir, with only two sandwiched layers of the same flour, sugar and egg batter
    3. kanafe, which resembles shredded wheat

These three types and their numerous variations are all deep-fried until brown in a heavy sheep-fat butter called semni. A fourth type exists that is baked in an oven, like a western biscuit or cookie.  [source: Saudi Aramco World]

Sweets galore photo from igougo.com

Baklava or baklawa – a dessert of layered pastry filled with nuts and steeped in Atar syrup, usually cut in a triangular or diamond shape.  If its cut into smaller round pieces like tiny roses, this same pastry is called kul washkur or “eat and thank.” Cut in triangular shapes which curl up at the points to resemble blossoms, the pastry is called wardat (flowers).  Filled with sweet cream it becomes nammoura or “delicious”; shaped into thin rolls filled with pine nuts and decorated with pistachio it becomes assabia’ issit “lady’s fingers.”

Ballorieh – shredded wheat sandwiches pistachio filling and sweetened with Attar syrup

Greybeh – a dry pastry made from oil and flour and sprinkled with cinnamon

Halawet al-jeben – Cheese pastry, rolled and stuffed with cheese or thick milk cream, served with Attar (Atar) syrup which is essentially a simple syrup with either rose water or orange blossom water added.

Halva – sesame paste sweet, usually made in a slab and studded with fruit and nuts. Halva is readily found in about any Middle Eastern or Eastern European market in the US.

Karabij – is a type of ma’amoul and popular in Aleppo where it is called “Karabeej Halab”

Kenafeh (k’nafe) – shoelace pastry dessert stuffed with sweet white cheese (ricotta like), nuts and syrup.  This desert is often served at special celebrations such as brit milah or engagement parties.

Ma’amoul (mamoul) – date, pistachio or walnut filled cookies shaped in a wooden mold called a tabi made specially for Christian (traditionally Eastern) and Muslim holidays (such as Ramadan).

Mamuniyeh – semolina, boiled in water with the addition of copious amounts of sugar and ghee, and typically served with salty cheese or milk cream (qeshtah).

Swar es-ett (Lady’s wristlet)-a dessert of round pastry steeped in Atar syrup while the center is covered with smashed pistachio.

Taj al-malek (King’s crown) – a dessert of round dry pastry, centre is filled with pistachio, nuts or cashew.

Zilebiyeh – thin sheets of semolina dough, boiled, rolled and stuffed with pistachio or qeshtah.

Znood Es-sett (Lady’s arms) – filo pastry cigars with various fillings.

Syrian Food Bloggers and Resources:

Because I could not pick just one recipe to feature, I linked to some great resources on Syrian cooking.  I tried for find sources that focused exclusively on Syrian food, and I am sure there are others, so if you find them please let me know, and I’ll add to the list.

Aromas of Aleppo – cookbook author

Orange Blossom Water – wonderful photos and recipes – a treasure of a resource

Syrian Foodie in London – great ideas from a Syrian ex-pat in London

Paris Alep – a Syrian food blog in French

The Syrian Academy of Gastronomy

Update me when site is updated

30 comments for “Moving Up My Travel List: Syria

  1. May 6, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    Wow. Everything you need to know about Syria is right here. Syria has been on my list of to-go-before-I-die destinations for a long time. There was a time when the main attraction was the Ugaritic library. Now it’s more about the food. And, man, look at that food list. Torture. Torture. Torture.

  2. May 6, 2010 at 12:37 PM

    Great to learn about Syrian cuisine, what an excellent informative post!

  3. May 6, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    I hope you do visit soon and share your travel story with all of us! You’ve made me suddenly hungry for fattoush.

  4. May 6, 2010 at 8:00 PM

    YOu are such an encylopedia of knowledge on everything:-)There is a small Syrian and Lebanese community in my island and I must admit I have not really tried very much of the cuisine. That will have to change after this post

  5. May 6, 2010 at 8:56 PM

    My favorite part about eating any type of Middle Eastern food is the meze. I could make an entire meal just of that, well, and of course, the bread to go with it. FYI, have you ever been to this place in Albany? http://www.zakimedcuisine.com/
    It is INCREDIBLE. Some of the best meze and rotisserie chicken ever.

  6. May 7, 2010 at 12:07 AM

    What an incredible post!! Have never even thought or considered syrian food, but this sounds incredible. Amix of middle eatern and meditteranean flavours, really made me hungry!! So love the vids too! Glad you got into it and shared it with us!!

  7. May 7, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    What a beautiful posting – I did not realize how much I loved Syrian food. I lump too much into “middle-eastern” cuisine. The information is so welcome – thanks for all the research you do.

  8. May 7, 2010 at 8:53 AM

    The food of that part of the world! I cannot resist Middle eastern flavors! Syria is surely a place to see… That was a great post!

    cheers,

    Rosa

  9. May 7, 2010 at 10:31 AM

    Agree with you on all the reasons for visiting Syria. I’m in love with the food culture of the Middle East and if it weren’t for the political situation, I’d be on a plane on my way there, stat!

  10. May 7, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    You are so thorough in writing your posts. Great review of Syria, its culture, and and its wonderful cuisine. I love middle eastern food and spices. Fattoush is one of my favorite simple salads.

  11. admin
    May 7, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    Leela – Well now when you’re exploring the treasures of the Ugaritic library- you have an idea of what you can get when you feel peckish. Seriously, the sounds of the culinary treasures here have me drooling to sample the delights.

    5 Star – Glad to help.

    Lisa – I made myself hungry for fattoush and just about everything else on the list. It all sounded so tasty.

    Whizzy – I hope you do sample the food and report back to let me know what you think.

    Carolyn – I’m with you, the meze is a meal to savor all to itself. I have not tried the place you mentioned in Albany, but now that I have a bad hankering as a result of doing this post, I hope to address it soon.

    Ruth – If you get the chance to give it a try, you will not be disappointed, I promise – its soooo good.

    Claudia – My pleasure, not sure in MN where you can find good Syrian or Middle Eastern, but I hope you get some regularly.

    Rosa – I’m with you, all the Middle Eastern flavors or delicious and it is fun to see the different take different cultures place on the same food.

    Danielle – I have a trip in my near future – I feel it.

    Lisa – Thanks – and I am with you – the flavors are amazing. All this talk has me craving hummus at the very least tonight – thankfully the local market carries some lavash to go with it.

  12. May 7, 2010 at 8:34 PM

    I am planning to go to Damascus this summer; who knows, we may run into each other! Syria is a fascinating country with a wealth of archeological and other cultural treasures; as far as the food, suffice it to say that Aleppo is considered a culinary mecca in the middle east. Pastry shops in Damascus are known to be the best in the near east. Damascus is a city that has retained in middle-eastern cachet and the old Damascus neighborhoods are still intact and need to be seen, quick!

  13. May 8, 2010 at 6:42 AM

    I should make you my travel agent because I have been thinking about Syria also. I have been to Turkey very near the border and it was spectacularly beautiful so I have a feeling Syria is just as wonderful. GREG

  14. May 8, 2010 at 8:34 AM

    I would love to visit Syria, too!Sounds like an amazing country and the food sounds delicious!

  15. May 8, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    I would love to go anywhere in the middle east as long as they had Mezze or something similar!!!!!!! I love the sound of the foods – they get my tastebuds juicing….

  16. May 8, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    First of all Ms. L, it is never too late to let her know how you felt- You have honored her right her and now. Fate be at your side, somehow she will receive your vibes and you will cross her path again. It has happened to me too many times, not to believe in fate and Karma…

    I have longed to visit here, and the gods be willing hubby and I are knocking places off our list as fast as we can…I have had the honor of knowing a few people from Syria, and eaten the foods…of course not with the location and authentic platters, but it was all good and a great memory I have stored! I have a set of the small glasses my friend brought me back- love them!

    Happy Mother’s Day my friend, whether you are or not, your spirit in all that you do is worthy of more hugs and love I can possibly throw your way!

  17. May 8, 2010 at 10:38 AM

    you could twin this trip with lebanon or jordan !! Have fun there !! Pierre de Paris

  18. May 8, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    I also recommend Aromas of Aleppo and
    the blog The Syrian Foodie of London. (the others I do not know as well).
    Zora O’Neill from the Roving Gastronome went on a Syrian Culinary Tour with Anissa Helou last year. She has a very interesting post about her experiences.
    I would love to go….

  19. May 8, 2010 at 10:06 PM

    So, I never even knew this about Syria! I didn’t know it was such a culinary mecca!

  20. May 9, 2010 at 1:32 AM

    I have to agree with you – Syria is foreign enough to me that I’d need a specific reason to suddenly want to visit. I think your post has given me that reason now. :) I think I will have to put it on my travel list now – especially since I’ll be MUCH closer as of July!

  21. admin
    May 9, 2010 at 6:27 AM

    Taste of Beirut – I’d love to run into you in Damascus this summer, alas too many wonderful family events are keeping me in the States this year. Everything I’ve read about Aleppo has me very intrigued and you’ve convinced me I need to go sooner than later.

    Sippity – Whoever makes it there first has to fill the other in – deal? I am keenly looking forward to visiting.

    Erica – Maybe we need to get a group of us food lovers together?

    Kitchen Butterfly – Sounds like they have the meze covered, so we really need to start planning a trip. My tastebuds were juicing writing this post, so I know exactly what you mean.

    Chef E – I feel like the window closed – I never got her contact info, so my fingers are crossed she reads my blog =) But I think this is a lesson that you can never let any of these kinds of opportunities slide by. I am so glad you had the opportunity to experience some of the culture and food, isn’t it incredible? Thank you so much for your Mother’s Day wishes, the same to you – one of these days I look forward to an in person meet up – I think we’ll have a lot to discuss,

    Pierre – I love that idea, and believe me, it has occurred to me. My problem is that I am not sure I could stop there, the culture and surroundings.

    Sarah – I just ordered the book Aroma of Aleppos – and cannot wait to crack it open – the reviews say its something special indeed. I’d love your perspective on the food of Syria as you probably see a lot of similar foods but not with the twist that Syrians put on them – I think it would be interesting to see how they change based on outside influences.

    Sophia – Oh yea girl – its got a major reputation as a serious foodie place. You may need to check it out sometime.

    Brenda – OK, hints like this have me dying of curiousity – surely you can’t stop there. If you make it there first, and it sounds like you will – please fill me in on the details. Happy Mother’s Day! Hope you are doing it in style inLondon.

  22. May 9, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    I was surprised to see some of the foods I eat and love on the list! It looks like an interesting place to take a ‘culinary’ tour. And beautiful too – specially the greener area.

  23. May 10, 2010 at 6:25 AM

    Excellent post. I have to admit I knew nothing about Syria prior to reading it. I can completely relate to your discovery though. There are many places that I had no interest in visiting or investigating the cuisine, but then you meet someone or come across a detail of interest and that changes completely. You see it in a completely different light and are ready to buy the plane ticket! :) Turkey and Croatia are now on that list for me.

  24. May 17, 2010 at 3:06 PM

    Thank you for another informative post. I’ve never been to Syria although it’s our South neighbor, but I’ve known some people from there who are so friendly. And it’s great to learn more about their cuisine. I guess we share a lot.I must visit it one day.

  25. admin
    May 17, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    Reeni – Given the region many of the foods overlap boundaries, because really who’s going to stand in the way of a good humus at the border crossing =)

    Lori – Turkey and Croatia are high on my list too, I feel I have a problem of having too many “priority 1″s on my travel list.

    Zerrin – I’d love to get your opinion some day on the differences in the foods you share in common. I am sure there are certain tweaks that the Turks made to dishes and vice versa.

  26. A Traveler
    June 14, 2010 at 4:18 PM

    I just returned from a long journey through Syria two days ago. Memories of the food, the people, the culture, sights, smells…everything are still swirling in my head. I have traveled a great deal and recommend Syria as one of the few places that is not yet spoiled by an overly ambitious effort to develop tourism. Go now while it is still the friendly, exotic, and relatively untouched place that it is. And, yes, the food is to die for!

  27. Jon
    July 9, 2010 at 10:07 AM

    We are trying to plan a vacation to Syria for next spring with my wife and three teenage children. Our plan is forming shape: Damascus, Antioch, Palmyria, then to Petra in Jordan and maybe Jerusalem. My question is really about getting around: Is it feasible (speaking no arabic) to rent a car without a driver when we leave Damascus and be able to get around. Any tips would be really helpful. We drove in Turkey without problem (the english alphabet sure helped).

  28. admin
    July 12, 2010 at 6:01 AM

    A Traveler – What an incredible journey, and thanks so much for sharing your experiences. It sounds like a trip of the lifetime.

    Jon – Sorry, I cannot help you on your travel question, I know there are several travel sites where travelers can post their questions and then others that have experiences will follow up. Trip Advisor is one that comes to mind. Best of luck and it sounds like a wonderful family trip.

  29. A Traveler
    July 31, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    Jon – Just a couple of thoughts about your upcoming trip. I highly recommend including Aleppo in your Syria itinerary. It is quite wonderful, on a smaller scale than Damascus. It is the culinary center of Syria…and that’s saying something. On driving…I did my trip with a Syrian guide and driver. More then once we got lost, even with a seasoned driver. Signage off the main roads is rare, and often non-existent. The people are wonderful and very helpful, but English is not widely spoken outside the large cities. I’m not saying don’t do it, just be prepared, e.g. write destinations in Arabic, have a map in Arabic and English, etc. Locals will be more than happy to help you. Have a wonderful trip!

  30. admin
    August 2, 2010 at 3:27 PM

    A Traveler- Thanks so much for responding – I send an email to Jon with a copy of your response to make sure he got it.

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