Syria is renowned for its ancient ruins, impressive mosques and traditional handicrafts, but Intrepid’s Jess Lee has another treat on her Top 10 list in this amazing country…
“Bahar, the house manager, is laughing at me. Yet again I am begging for his hummus recipe. Of course I don’t have a chance. This is the same man who once declined to give King Carlos of Spain a recipe from his kitchen when he dined here, and was only convinced to do so after a quiet word from President Bashir Al-Assad.
Set in a grand old Damascene house, Al-Khawali Restaurant in the heart of Damascus’ Old City is a feast for the eye as well as the stomach, but it’s for the latter reason that my Intrepid group have followed me here. I’ve promised them the best hummus in the Middle East and in this region, where the revered chick pea dip originated from. That’s a pretty tall order!
Seated at my usual table in the middle of the vast, ornately decorated interior courtyard, we wait in anticipation. As well as the house hummus, Al-Khawali offers a mind-boggling variety of mouth-watering mezze dishes, perfect for sharing as a group. We dive into the menu with abandon – ordering anything we can’t pronounce or that sounds a bit unusual. It may be one of the top restaurants in Damascus, but compared to dining in the West, it is incredibly inexpensive so we can afford to be adventurous.
The hummus arrives and there’s a collective anticipative silence as warm just-out-of-the-oven bread is delivered to the table by attentive waiters. Greedily we tear chunks from the flat loaves and scoop into the dip. My group nod assent as they taste the perfect combination of chilli and spices that have been mixed into the dip. There is a group sigh of consent – yes, it is the best hummus in the Middle East.
Bahar arrives at the table to ask if everyone is enjoying their meal. We gesture happily and I again plead for the prized recipe. He shakes his head and laughs at my persistence before walking away. Unfortunately, unlike King Carlos of Spain, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get Syria’s President to intervene on my behalf. But that won’t stop me from trying again on my next visit!”
* photo by Rob McLeod – Intrepid Photography Competition