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Archive for the ‘Syria’ Tag


Aleppo’s Omelette

Growing up, weekend breakfasts meant frying aajeh in the kitchen. Aajeh is a delicious parsley-rich omelette popular across the Middle East. Unlike the classic French omelette, parsley is the star of the show; the eggs are there to hold everything together. Aajeh are fried, simple, and delicious. I love aajeh so much, I stole convinced my mom to give me her traditional aajeh pan from Aleppo. The pan has small dimples/craters that allow you to make individual aajeh fritters. As far as I’m aware, no other city in Syria (or the Middle East for that matter) prepares aajeh this way. Most recipes call for frying the aajeh as a large disk in a non-stick skillet.

Today I’m going to feature the Aleppan variation that I learned from my mom. If you want to prepare individual fritters, but your mom doesn’t have a special aajeh pan you could steal, you can make free-form fritters by carefully ladling spoonfuls of aajeh mix into a non-stick skillet lined with oil. Alternatively, the Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

mise en place
mise en place
fresh eggs
fresh eggs
whisked
whisked
aajeh fix-ins
aajeh fix-ins: featuring parsley
Mom’s aajeh pan
Mom's aajeh pan
weekend mornings
weekend mornings
aajeh عجة
aajeh عجة

Aajeh

yields ~6 servings

Components

  • 6-8 eggs
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, grated
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • olive oil, for pan-frying
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Grate the onions making sure to squeeze out some of the excess water.
  2. Lightly whisk the eggs until the yolks and egg whites are combined.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together.
  4. Place an aajeh pan or a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  5. Line the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of olive oil.
  6. Once the oil barely begins to shimmer, begin ladling spoonfuls of the aajeh mix.
  7. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side (depending on how big you made your aajeh and how high your heat is. Repeat until aajeh mix is finished.
  8. Transfer the fried aajeh to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Note: The Danish/Dutch have popular pancake (aebleskiver/poffertjes, respectively) that are cooked in a similar pan. You can find them on Amazon.

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Alan’s Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

On October 26, 2011, a few months after I got back from my Fulbright in Syria, I noticed a new email in my inbox. From: Alan Janbay. Alan is Syrian American. He has extended family in Venezuela. And, like me, is also a food blogger. The coincidences seemed uncanny. I remember thinking, this guy is my digital doppelgänger!

We exchanged emails for about a year until we finally met in person in 2012. Alan was born and raised in the southern city of Sweida, Syria (السويداء), approximately 100km south of Damascus and 450km south of Aleppo. His birth name is Alaa’ (علاء), which is short for Aladdin (علاءالدين) in Arabic. While our stories are similar, there are fascinating differences between our food cultures. Dishes in Sweida incorporate plenty of yogurt, specifically dried yogurt or jameed (also known as kitha in Sweida). Jameed is yogurt that has been salted and dried into a rock, which helps preserve milk through the long winters in the Hauran mountains, where Sweida is located.

Alan and his Nana Nadia in Sweida
Alan and his Nana (Grandma) Nadia in Sweida
Alan and his mom in Sweida
Alan and his mom in Sweida

Alan learned how to cook from his grandmothers, Nadia (“Nana”) and Raeefeh. He recalls sitting at the kitchen counter while Nana prepared his favorite dish, vegetarian stuffed grape leaves called yalanji. She often tasked him with the simple jobs like peeling potatoes and fetching utensils. This exposure to cooking influenced his perspective on food. Before moving to the US, he lived with his grandparents for four years. He woke up every morning to the aroma of Teta Raeefe’s Arabic coffee brewing in the kitchen and his grandfather’s BBC Arabic radio station playing loudly in the background.

Ever since he was little, Alan was fascinated by planes and airports. When Alan moved to the US in 2001, he pursued a masters degree in Aviation Management and was able to realize his dream. Upon graduation, he started working for Delta Airlines in Oklahoma City. Before the war broke out in Syria, he used to surprise his family in Sweida. Without them knowing, he’d hop on a last-minute flight on Delta to Amman, Jordan and take a short cab ride across the border to Sweida. Sadly, he hasn’t been able to visit since the war broke out in 2011.

Alan has since moved to Atlanta, where he works at Delta’s Global Offices. He is passionate about sharing his Syrian heritage with friends and colleagues. His delicious food offers a glimpse into Syria’s rich culture. This is what prompted today’s post. Alan recently developed a unique recipe for Syrian-inspired lamb chili that incorporates ingredients from his childhood. He seasons ground lamb with a mixture of aromatic spices and creates a delicious chili base using reconstituted jameed, the dried yogurt traditionally used in dishes like mansaf.

There is no such thing as “chili” in Syria, but Alan does an amazing job of marrying the concept of American chili with the flavor profile of his culinary heritage. If you love lamb (and even if you think you don’t think you like lamb), you need to try this recipe!

mise en place
mise en place
jameed (جميد)
jameed (جميد)
reconstituting jameed in hot water
reconstituting jameed in hot water
beautiful colors
diced peppers
potatoes for richness
diced potatoes
Alan’s Syrian-Inspired Chili
Alan's Syrian-Inspired Chili
ground lamb + spices
ground lamb + spices
blending jameed
blending jameed
creamy jameed sauce
creamy jameed sauce
bay leaves, cilantro with reserved spices and garlic
creamy jameed sauce
cannellini beans #beanchili
cannellini beans #beanchili
Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili
Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

Syrian-Inspired Lamb Chili

yields ~6-8 servings

Components

  • 2 pounds ground lamb
  • 28oz cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 100g jameed*
  • 6 cups of hot water
  • 2-3 yukon gold potatoes, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp red pepper paste
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling
  • 2 tsp cumin, ground
  • 2 tsp Aleppo pepper, ground
  • 1.5 tsp turmeric, ground
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon, ground
  • 1 tsp allspice, ground
  • 1 tsp coriander, ground
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Roughly chop the jameed. Cover in a bowl with 6 cups of hot water. Set aside.
  2. Mix all the spices in a bowl. Reserve roughly 3/4 for the meat and 1/4 for the broth.
  3. Preheat large large dutch oven (or heavy bottom pot) over medium high heat.
  4. Coat the bottom of the pot with olive oil and sear the lamb with the spices (do not add salt because the jameed has plenty of salt).
  5. Set aside 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Add the remainder of the minced garlic, red pepper paste, and tomato paste to the seared meat. Mix until well combined.
  6. Add the diced potatoes. Coat with lamb fat and cook for 6-8 minutes or until potatoes are cooked halfway through.
  7. In the meantime, pour the soak jameed (along with the soaking water) into a blender and blend until smooth.
  8. Add the diced peppers to the potatoes and meat mixture. Cook for 1-2 minutes then add the blended jameed. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.
  9. Add the bay leaves, chopped cilantro, remainder of the spices, and reserved teaspoon of minced garlic to the pot. Mix until well combined. Lower heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  10. Gently mix in the rinsed cannellini beans. Cover until ready to serve.*

Note: You can find jameed at your local Mediterranean market. If you don’t have jameed, you can substitute greek (strained) yogurt, but be sure to adjust the salt/water accordingly. Jameed is preserved with salt, so does not require (much, if any) additional salt. This dish tastes better the next day.

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Award-winning Syrian-inspired Lamb Chili
lamb chili bite

Cookies with a rich history

Like all immigrants, when my grandparents moved from Syria to Venezuela in the late 1950s, they brought a piece of Aleppo with them. To this day, I associate the scent of fresh mint with my grandmother, Marine, Allah yerhama (may God rest her soul). As kids, we used to play around her vegetable and herb garden in Venezuela. My grandmother grew a disproportionate amount of mint. I would occasionally pluck a couple leaves, rub them between my fingers, and press them up to my nose. The scent of fresh mint always reminds me of her.

Aleppo circa 1954 (grandmother is on the right)
Aleppo circa 1954 (grandmother is on the right)

Through food, music, herb gardens, and traditions, immigrants forge familiar identities in a new home. Pomegranate molasses was difficult to find in Venezuela, so my grandmothers often used tamarind paste to recreate that sweet and tangy flavor profile. Lebanese immigrants in Mexico paved the way for tacos al pastor, a twist on the classic shawarma sandwiches known throughout the Middle East. Substitutions make it possible to keep traditions alive. Each substitution or spin on a recipe forges a new identity.

The Middle East is full of these variances. If you don’t believe me, ask a Palestinian and a Syrian how they prepare stuffed grape leaves. Each recipe carries with it the history of its ancestors. Ask a Greek cook about dolmas and you’ll jump to a different, but familiar chapter in the history of stuffing vegetables. The recipes on my blog represent a snapshot in time. That brings me to kleejah (كليجة), the recipe for today’s post.

The origin of kleejah appears to be somewhere in Iraq. My maternal grandmother, Muna, makes amazing kleejah. She lives in Venezuela. Kleejah, at least the one from my childhood, is somewhere between a cookie and a bread. It wasn’t until I lived in Aleppo that I experienced kleejah that wasn’t my grandmother’s. Some bakeries in Aleppo prepare kleejah as a cookie, while other make a chewier variation, similar to brioche. The dough is seasoned with a variety of fragrant spices such as cinnamon, cloves, fennel, anise seed, nutmeg, mahlab, and nigella seeds. The kleeja from Iraq is different. The Iraqi version is flavored with cardamom and stuffed with a date paste, similar to ma’amoul. Somewhere between Mosul and Aleppo, a transformation occurred. In Aleppo today you’ll even find the spice-filled Aleppan version stuffed with dates, forging yet another identity.

Today, I’m going to feature the kleejah I grew up eating. This recipe is from a dear friend and expert Aleppan cook, Siham Baladi. Before I jump into the recipe though, I have to tell you a funny story about Siham. Siham and I have never met in person. She grew up in Aleppo and moved to the US in her early 20s. She stumbled upon my blog while I was pursuing my Fulbright in Syria. She sent me a sweet email about the beautiful memories she was able to relive through my blog. She also connected me with her family in Aleppo in case I needed anything. I was moved by Siham’s email, so I decided to share it with my grandmother’s sister, Christine (Aunt Kiki). Aunt Kiki was helping me get settled in Aleppo and was intrigued by the premise of my research: food. I thought Siham’s email would provide wonderful context to the Fulbright’s mission of cross cultural exchange. As I was reading and translating Siham’s email out loud, Aunt Kiki stopped me at the part where Siham connected me with her family in Aleppo. Curious, Aunt Kiki asked if that note was from Siham… I was floored! Siham hadn’t lived in Aleppo for over thirty years. As it turns out, when Aunt Kiki was a newlywed back in 1959, Siham was a little girl who lived in the building Aunt Kiki had moved into with her husband.

Siham Baladi
Siham Baladi

The Aleppan variation calls for a lot of spices. If your grocery store has a bulk spice section, I recommend picking them up from there. The spices are usually fresher and it ends up being less expensive than purchasing individual jars of spices.

mise en place
mise en place

To bloom the yeast for the kleejah, you’ll want to start by warming milk between 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit (43-46 degrees Celsius). Instant yeast allows you to skip the blooming stage, but this is always a good way to make sure your yeast is alive and well. It takes a few extra minutes, but it saves you a lot of trouble if your yeast doesn’t activate for any reason.

warm milk
warm milk

Dissolve the yeast in the milk and a tsp of the sugar (save the rest for the dough). Cover the bowl and allow the yeast to proof in a warm place for 5-10 minutes.

bloomed yeast
bloomed yeast

In the meantime warm up the spices (except for the nigella seeds) in a skillet. This helps bring out their essential oils.

spices: cloves, cinnamon, fennel, anise, mahlab
spices: cloves, cinnamon, fennel, anise, mahlab

Grind the spices (except for the nigella seeds) in your spice grinder until it becomes a powder. The nigella seeds will get added to the dough whole.

grinding spices
grinding spices

Combine the dry ingredients together (flour, the spice mix, nigella seeds, and a pinch of salt). Mix until they are well combined. The reason you mix the dry ingredients first is so that they are evenly distributed in the dough. Once the dough comes together, it becomes difficult to mix the spices evenly without over working the dough.

mixing the dry ingredients
mixing the dry ingredients

Once the dry ingredients are mixed tougher, you can add the wet ingredients: yeast-milk mixture, butter, olive oil, and yogurt.

adding the wet ingredients
adding the wet ingredients

Stir the mix a few times with a wooden spoon until it comes together and then knead with your hands until a soft dough is formed. Coat the dough with a layer of olive oil, cover with a kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise for 4-5 hours in a warm, dark place.

kleejah dough
kleejah dough

Deflate the dough and divide it into tennis-ball size pieces (roughly 60 grams each).

dividing the dough
dividing the dough

Form the dough into an 8 shape. You could also form them into buns. Cover the dough with a damp towel and allow to proof a second time for 45-60 minutes.

second round of proofing
second round of proofing

Brush the dough with an egg wash (1 egg + 1 Tbsp milk). This will give the kleejah a shiny, golden brown coat once it bakes. Bake the kleejah in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Baking times will vary depending on the shame and size you made your kleejah.

egg wash
egg wash
Kleejah (كليجة)
Kleejah (كليجة)

Kleejah

yields approx 16-18 pieces

Components

  • 500g flour (~3 3/4 cup)
  • 113 g butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup milk, plus 1 Tbsp for egg wash
  • 1 Tbsp mahlab
  • 1 Tbsp nigella seeds
  • 1 Tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 Tbsp anise seeds
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 Tbsp plain yogurt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 Tbsp yeast
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Putting them all together

  1. Heat up milk to 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit (43-46 degrees Celsius). Dissolve the yeast in the milk and a tsp of the sugar (save the rest for the dough). Cover the bowl and allow the yeast to proof in a warm, dark place for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Warm up the spices (except for the nigella seeds) in a skillet over medium low heat, making sure not to burn the spices. Remove the spices from heat once they become fragrant.
  3. Grind the spices (except for the nigella seeds) in a spice grinder until they’re a fine powder.
  4. Combine the dry ingredients together (flour, the spice mix, nigella seeds, and a pinch of salt). Mix until they are well combined.
  5. Add the wet ingredients: yeast-milk mixture, butter, olive oil, and yogurt.
  6. Stir the mix a few times with a wooden spoon until it comes together and then knead with your hands until a soft dough is formed. Coat the dough with a layer of olive oil, cover with a kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise for 4-5 hours in a warm, dark place.
  7. Deflate the dough and divide it into tennis-ball size pieces (roughly 60 grams each)
  8. Form the dough into an 8 shape. You could also form them into buns. Cover the dough with a damp towel and allow to proof a second time for 45-60 minutes.
  9. Brush the dough with an egg wash (1 egg + 1 Tbsp milk). This will give the kleejah a shiny, golden brown coat once it bakes. Bake the kleeja in a 350 degree oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown. Baking times will vary depending on the shame and size you made your kleeja.
  10. Transfer kleejah to a wire rack until they have cooled. Enjoy!

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Kleejah served with tea
Kleejah served with tea

Fadi’s Red Lentil Soup

When the bomb cyclone hit the New England area a few days ago, I was prepared. The cyclone may have packed bitter cold wind chills and the ability to crush my soul like a popsicle, but I had soup. Specifically, Fadi’s red lentil soup. The bomb cyclone didn’t stand a chance. Before I get to the soup though, let me tell you about Fadi.

Fadi aka Abu Jack (Jack’s dad)
Fadi aka Abu Jack

Fadi makes some of the best sujok sandwiches in all of Aleppo. Sujok, if you haven’t had it before, is an Armenian sausage flavored with lots of garlic and a variety of fragrant spices such as cumin, fenugreek, Aleppo pepper, and allspice. That’s what drew me to Fadi in the first place. His sujok is legendary. Once the temperature in Aleppo begins to dip, butcher shops throughout the city prepare their own sujok recipes and hang them out front to dry. You can’t miss the aroma of garlic and spices as you walk around the city.

hanging sujok
Hanging sujok

Fadi is second generation Syrian. His grandfather fled from Urfa, Turkey to Aleppo during the Armenian genocide. You can see a photo of Fadi’s grandfather hanging above Fadi in the first image. Fadi inherited his small sandwich shop, Abu Jack’s Sandwiches, from his grandfather. When you walk into Fadi’s shop, you’ll be greeted by the scent of sujok sizzling on a sandwich press and the sound of a soccer match playing loudly on the tv hanging above your head. The shop is pretty small — it can barely fit four adults standing in front of Fadi’s counter. This usually means there’s a line out the door.

Fadi’s shop
Fadi’s shop

That’s where Fadi’s red lentil soup comes in. In order to keep his customers warm and happy, Fadi retrofitted a coffee dispenser for his simple yet delicious red lentil soup. It’s easy for soup to be overshadowed by sujok, but Fadi’s soup is incredible. It merits its own blog post. Before winter is over (or if you find yourself in another bomb cyclone), you need this soup in your arsenal. The good news is that the soup is incredibly simple to prepare.

Fadi offering me soup
Fadi offering me soup

The ingredients are simple. Fadi uses a mix of rice and potato to thicken his soup. And the soup is very forgiving, so don’t worry about precise measurements.

mise en place
mise en place

You also don’t need to worry about perfect dicing. Since the soup is pureed at the end, a rough chop does the trick.

chopped veggies
“chopped

I start by sweating the onions and garlic in a little bit of olive oil. I season with salt and pepper. The key to any good soup is to season in layers. It’s better to season gradually as you go along rather than try to season the dish at the very end. It doesn’t taste the same and you end up using more salt if you season at the last minute.

sweating the onions
“sweating

Once the onions have become translucent (~8-10 minutes on medium low heat), you’ll want to add the spices. I don’t add the spices in the beginning because I want to make sure my onions don’t caramelize. It’s also easier to tell when the onions are translucent if they’re not colored by the spices.

spices: cumin, Aleppo pepper, coriander, and turmeric
cumin, aleppo pepper, coriander, and turmeric

I like to cook the spices for a couple of minutes, which helps draw out their flavors. Once you begin to smell the spices, add the rest of your ingredients.

everything else: lentils, rice, carrots, potatoes, and broth
“lentils,

Bring the broth to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot partially with the lid and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until lentils, rice, and potatoes are fully cooked.

gentle simmer
“gentle

At this point, you can serve the soup as is, but I like to puree the soup for a rich and creamy texture. If you decide to puree the soup in a blender, make sure to leave the lid partially open to allow the steam to vent. Otherwise, you’ll end up with soup on your ceiling! This is the perfect job for a hand blender, if you have one.

puree
“puree”

I like to serve the soup with an extra sprinkle of Aleppo pepper, cumin, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Fadi’s red lentil soup
“Fadi’s

The best part about this soup is that spritz of fresh lemon juice at the end. It brightens up the entire dish!

spritz of lemon juice
spritz of lemon juice

Fadi’s Red Lentil Soup

6-8 servings

Components

  • 500g red lentils
  • 10 cups chicken stock
  • 50g rice, preferably medium grain
  • 1-2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium russet potato, roughly chopped
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tsp cumin, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper, plus more for garnish
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Coat the bottom of a large pot with olive oil. Sweat the onions and garlic with a little bit of salt and pepper over medium low heat. Make sure not to caramelize the onions. You want them to become translucent (~8-10 minutes of medium low heat).
  2. Add the spices (cumin, Aleppo pepper, coriander, and turmeric) to the translucent onions and cook until fragrant (1-2 minutes).
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring mixture to a boil. Partially cover the pot with a lid and lower heat to medium low in order to maintain a steady, but gentle simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes or until rice, potatoes, and lentils are fully cooked. Stir occasionally to avoid anything sticking to the bottom of the pot.
  4. Puree the soup with a stick blender.
  5. Garnish each bowl with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of cumin and Aleppo pepper.
  6. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Notes: If you’re using a regular blender to puree the soup, be sure to vent the lid of the blender to allow the steam to escape. The soup can be made the day before and heated before serving. In fact, it tastes better the next day!

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happiness
empty bowl of soup

The Syrian Hospitality Waltz

Note: I wrote this post for the IIE Fulbright Blog about my Fulbright experience in Syria.

Lost, I strolled up to a middle-aged gentleman standing a few feet beside me who was leisurely munching on a bag of peanuts. I cleared my throat as I approached him. “Marhaba,” “hello,” I said in my peculiar Arabic accent. As the man turned to me, I asked if he could point me in the direction of the market.

There was no rush because there was never really a need to rush; everything in Aleppo happens in its own time. The man offered me some of his peanuts. I declined politely as he extended the snack-sized bag. I made sure to say “shokran,” “thank you,” so as to not offend, but he insisted. Having already lived here for a few months, I understood this was part of the intricate, Syrian hospitality waltz. It’s a well-established, figurative dance based on a set of unspoken rules. If you watch it take place between two locals, it can be quite beautiful — I was still learning. I explained how I had just eaten lunch and was absolutely stuffed. I followed with a comment about how delicious my meal had been, and he smiled and instructed me to follow him.

We exchanged stories as we walked down the busy street. I mentioned that I was a Fulbright student studying food in Aleppo; he chuckled and assured me I had come to the right place. In fact, most Arabs and food scholars consider Aleppo to be the culinary capital of the Middle East. Historically situated along the Silk Road, Aleppo has served as the home for a myriad of cultures — Armenian, Circassian, Greek, Jewish, Kurdish, and Turkish. They have all played a role in shaping what Aleppan food is today.

The conversation with the older gentleman went smoothly, as if I were chatting with an old friend. Once he knew I was there to study lunch, he began to tell me of all the dishes I needed to taste. As we passed prominent landmarks, he interjected to explain how I could find my way in case I ever got lost again. He insisted on walking with me until he felt confident I could find the market. As we arrived to the point where we were to part ways, he extended his bag of peanuts another time. I couldn’t say no, not after all this, that would be considered, “Aaeeb,” or “shameful.”

I politely grabbed a couple peanuts from the small bag and tossed them in my mouth. They were dry-roasted and salted, and actually very tasty. I thanked him again, “shokran,” and repeated it a couple more times. He responded by extending his open hand across his chest, over his heart, saying, “ya meet ahlan w sahlan,” which roughly translates into “oh, you are most welcome, a hundred times over.

In Syria and across much of the Middle East, symbolic gestures, however small, can have significant social implications. These gestures are equivalent to the imperceptible signals exchanged between two dance partners on a dance floor. Placing your hand over your heart is understood to be a gesture of openness and sincerity. Numbers also play an important role in social exchange. Many Arabic phrases can be reinforced by a quantitative amount. For instance, if you want to congratulate someone, you can say “mabrook.” But for emphasis, you would say, “alf mabrook,” which literally means, “a thousand congratulations.” Even ordinary exchanges can sometimes trigger the waltz. The expression for “good morning,” is “sabah al kher,” literally “morning of goodness.” A standard response would be, “sabah al noor,” or, “morning of light” but you might also hear, “ya meet sabah,” which translates into, “one hundred beautiful mornings.”

During my stay in Syria I met many people like the middle-aged man who were interested in getting to know me, and vice versa. Conversations that started about eggplants and parsley unraveled into stories of love and companionship, culture and politics.

These exchanges, however imperceptible, are indicators of a larger dance meant to teach us about one another. They are ways in which we can participate in each other’s cultures and form relationships based on mutual understanding. I consider these interactions to be the highlights of my Fulbright in Syria. These are the interactions I carry in my heart and continue to share on my blog in an effort to continue the waltz I started almost one year and one month ago.

Assorted photos from my Fulbright:

hospitality begins with coffee or tea
hospitality
you can’t tell, but we were stuffed from a huge barbecue/feastfriends
Abu Jack — the sandwich king
basterma
pomegranate farmer
pomegranates
our desert hosts
desert hosts
desert garb
desert garb
desert hospitality
desert tea
always offering guests
pomegranate offer
friendships that will last forever
with friends at park

Note: For more photos from my Fulbright in Syira, please visit my Flickr account.