Pleasures You Can Taste

You and I deserve a little break. What’s been going on all around, in our backyard and beyond, can and eventually will bring the best of us down. To compose ourselves, to maintain a glimmer of hope and sanity, nothing beats getting back to the basics. We certainly need food for the mind but at the primal level we must first secure food for the body.

As if the troubled world didn’t exist, I woke up one Friday morning earlier than my normal workdays. Still 6:30AM and I had an insatiable hunger for the early sun, for the streets, for the open market and for some fresh real food. I needed to slow down though. Only a virgin, still wet behind the ears, rushes moments of pleasure. I should savor every little detail, every small nuisance of a slow day ahead. It’s my day off, and I’m not having many of those lately.

-“What do you want to do, where do you want to go?”
-“i wanna go shoppin 4 food, green stuff & fresh meat. You’d cook 4 me. I’ll eat it all…”
-“Ahh, it’s one of those days then, Allah yjibek ya toulet el bal. Come on say it, what do you have in mind, what do you want to eat?”
-“u really think i care, whatever we find… we buy, we bring, u cook, i eat. let’s go shoppin.”

On a side street, near the southern edge of Tartous, the largest outdoor vegetable and produce market opens daily year-round. On a Friday morning, it’s a gourmet dream come true. Still too early for ordinary mortals to leave the comfort of bed and home, I had full reign to look and touch, to smell and taste the bounties of the good earth. To chat with the old ladies who have brought their produce from the villages nearby, to take pictures of vegetables and fruits, to not care if anyone around thought that this Tartoussi has lost his marbles, to be myself, just for a day, is a blessing from heaven... and it’s all mine.

This simple joy is truly beyond words. But I have to let you in on it, and my humble writing is for the collective good of a real life we should all share, or at least not forget. It’s been over a year since I’ve gone shopping for food on my day off. I don’t mean a supermarket or a grocery store, but rather going through a Levantine experience, those of my generation remember as the only way to shop for food.

For those of you living in Syria, don’t miss out on your chance to buy your food as it was meant to be. It seems that we’re not going to have the open markets for much longer anymore. Concrete monstrosities are much more profitable. For the busy ones with little free time on their hands, slowing down every once in a while and smelling the radishes is as relaxing and gratifying as any vacation in an exotic location could ever be. It’s much cheaper though and can be squeezed in your demanding schedules. You can’t go wrong. You’d come back home and eat stuffed squash in yogurt (Koussa b Laban or Sheikh el Mehshi). You’d mix the filling on the inside with some Burghul and make Mhabbal b Koussa. When it’s Fava Beans time (fool) there are over a dozen way to make it (Ya Rijjal Nezel el Fool, La Tis2al wla T2ool = Whoever succeeds in translating this Damascene proverb in the Comment Section wins a Huge Plate of Fool bi Eshro bi Kezbra w toom). The crisp parsley you just brought will be transformed into the freshest Tabbouleh this side of the galaxy. And for your sweet tooth afterward, those brightly yellow bananas will find their way into a beautifully simple and deliciously inviting banana pie. The Mana2eesh b Zaatar are on the house.

In the coming month of June my work might take me to new lands. I will try to post while away, but just in case I can’t make it, you’ll hopefully hear from me upon my return. Eat well, sleep tight and have fun.


* said…
I am INTRIGUED. So Much that I cant concentrate on the posts.
What are thse pictures that come up blank on my computer with a little cross on the left hand upper corner?
When I click on them I get tyhe famous
We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.

If you think this site should not be blocked, please visit the Feedback Form available on our website.


Abufares said…
Akh ya Kaya
Veggies, pictures of veggies. The wise ones of the UAE have apparently decided that my cucumbers are too obsene to be allowed to scratch the decency of citizens & expats living on their sacred soil. As I've written before in "Forbidden", someone has given himself the right to decide for you that lettuce and onions are harmful to watch.
Flickr is blocked in the UAE that's all. I'll make it up to you and from now on load my photos on Blogspot.
Ammoontie said…
hi there,
Salam... been a while since I was last here. As usual I have always enjoyed your writings, pictures and recipes.
Have a wonderful weekend..!
GraY FoX said…
you certainly know well how to bring me into a good mood :)
food is the cure for our current situation
i agree
and i can help eating it all
Yazan said…
Abu fares,
you never fail to bring back delightful details that i would never be able to appreciate if it wasnt for me traveling... I hope someone will bring out those brilliant details in Tokyo and Japan, long after am gone... It's a beautiful memory...

I have very close memories to that, our family friends had a farm in Kasab, an apple farm, we used to spend their most of the summer... my dad and I were responsible for waking up at 6am, drive up to the main road to bring fresh Labneh and Eggs, and and.. and then pick some veggies from the backyard for the breakfast... it was, now I know, some of the most relaxed moments I can recall, ever...
The fresh air of the 6pm, and the scent of apples is so overwhelming, I can smell it now, while I am writing... The water is so pure.

Thank you abu fares for bringing that back, and for you awesome writing, as always.
* said…
Now that you have satisfied my curiousity .Let me begin by saying.
That I so appreciate a man who understands the firmness of tomatoes, or the crispy crunch of a fresh cucumer.
Because the first step to cooking is undeniably,the selection of each vegetable and fruit, that you will feel, weigh, caress and inhale.
There begins the journey.
And as you travel the winding paths, when you left the home and knew not what you would cook, they beckon you to buy them, and you can see the meal coming together.
I love the colours of an open market.
Sometimes I will go shopping not knowing what to cook for dinner, and then I will spot a bit of this and that and by the time I am done. I have my menu.
For me the joy is not just in the selection, but in the aromas that will drift tantalisingly forth from my kitchen.
When my husband will come home hungry, and he will enter the kitchen first.
Its like a slow dance, the prelude of things to come.
And when my loved ones sit and eat, and lick their fingers. Its the greatest joy of all.
Abufares said…
Hi Ammoontie
Long time no see. Hope all's well with you.
Have a great time.
Abufares said…
Come On Gray Fox
Get whatever is bothering you out of your system. Enjoy the moment, the little pleasures. The best we can do occasionally is to live one day at a time.
Abufares said…
Hi Yazan
I'm certain that almost everyone has some nice memories from the distant past. It's sad that in these tiring times we tend to ignore or even stiffle them. We need the little silent smiles to keep our sanity.
The images you brought to life are so endearing and vivid. Do us all a favor, write about the good times, every once in a while.
Abufares said…
You are a master chef and a writer at the same time. You have your own unique way of making your words aromatic. Everytime I read you I feel assaulted by wild flowers and a hint of hickory.
You're one special girl.
* said…
thank you u sweet man.

Where was the internet 15 years ago, when I was a hippy chick running barefoot with flowers in my hair, and would shriek with delight whenever a seed exploded.
Karin said…
I LOVE to go to open markets, to enjoy the colors and smells ... I am CRAZY about that!
And afterwards to prepare food ... from scratch - of course!

Thanks for the GREAT and mouthwatering pictures ... and please tell your wife she's a FANTASTIC cook!
Abu Fares,

Thank you for forcing us to slow down and smell the roses...and the veggies.
Dubai Jazz said…
Hi Abu Fares,
FLCKR IS BANNED…I think I should offer my services as an experimentation object for finding out how deprivation can impact a human being.
I am, like Kaya, not able to see those pictures of yours. But your wonderful description as ever is a great alternative, and can even rival a real picture ..(am I consoling my self?)

Don’t be surprised if Lujayn is able to see them though! (lakan ya 3amy vitaminWaW)
Anonymous said…
Hey darling, the fava beans are here, do not worry, do not fear!!

So, do I deserve the "Huge Plate of Fool bi Eshro bi Kezbra w toom"

Nice post as usual!!

Abu Abdo
Abufares said…
Hi Karin
I miss you.
You would have been the perfect companion in the vegetable market.
Abufares said…
Abu Kareem
Hello my friend. Rather than forcing, I'm just reminding you of little forgotten pleasures.
Abufares said…
Dubai Jazz
I made up my mind, for Kaya's and your sake, I'll avoid Flickr when my publishing my posts from now on.
Abufares said…
Abu Abdo
You're a genius. What a great translation.

يا رجال نزل الفول لا تسأل ولا تقول

Hey darling, the fava beans are here, do not worry, do not fear!!

You just won a huge plate (as advertised) of Fool b Eshro b Kezbara w Toom. You can pick it up any time you're in Tartous (in season only, otherwise I have to substitite your prize with Tabbouleh...etc.)
Lujayn said…
Abu Fares, when I'm in Aleppo, I love to tag along with my aunts to the veggie market. Its not an open air defined market, but a couple of streets with vegetable shops on both sides of the street, their produce spilling out on the sidewalks in boxes and baskets. It is a beautiful sight, everything looks incredibly fresh and every produce has its distinct smell. And of course everything is sold in season. None of the imported tasteless, bland vegetables we buy here year round. Thanks for the lovely description and pics, Abu Fares. I'm sure your travels are going to be providing us with a lot of "food for thought". Look forward to hearing all about them.

Dubai Jazz??? Shou hal hasad? bidi 3aleq kharzeh zarqa 3ala bab Dubai Media/Internet City :)) But I heard our priviledged status isnt going to be for long - we are set to lose our unrestricted access to the Internet in the near future. Apparently they're worried about our morality in the free zones too.
Ingrid said…
oh my goodness! Too bad you're saying 'new lands' because if you'd be headed back to visit TX.. I'd say come over, I'd grab some veggies from my yard and you can cook!! (lol, ok, pretty please)
safe travels abu fares!
KJ said…
el7amdella I work in the Free Zone, flickr cannot be blocked here :D I love the veggies!

Man mafi a7la men enno tenzel bel sebe7 w temsek heik el bandoora el jirdiyyyeh. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah ma a7laha! Ya zalameh I remember lamma kent enzal ma3 el tayta bel sham 3a soo2 el jem3a. Shi bijannen.

El7amdella lissa fi bel sham kteer ma77alat heik, bel zat on Fridays, fa it never gets old.

Ma na2es gheir wallah eybee3o el batteekh wel sabbar bi hal grocery stores!

As for the proverb: Literally it means "Oh man, the beans came down, don't ask and don't tell!".

Aw bel emsharma7i "kol bala ta3leeq" :P
Abufares said…
Hi Lujayn
I'm glad I've stirred some memories. I think I might still be able to pull one post before leaving. As I've said, I'll try to post while away but might not be able to.
Abufares said…
Hello Ingrid
It's been a while.
You're right, had I been heading "back" to Texas it would've been more of a homecoming. But, may be someday! I'll take you up on your offer and cook for you.
Abufares said…
We all have our little "insignificant" memories. Once we are deprived of them and something triggers them back, they sure feel awfully sweet.
Thank you for sharing.
Lujayn said…
OK, curiosity has gotten the best of me, I cant help myself. Where are you off to, Abu Fares? :))
Abufares said…
Can you hold your breath until I write about it, or should I speak out now (although my travel plans are not yet final).
Lujayn said…
Hold my breath, hold my breath? hmmmmmmmm, I'll try.
Shannon said…
OH! I always check your blog too late to read and participate in all the comments. I absolutely HATE shopping at the supermarket for fruits and vegetables. The quality is crap and the flavor lacking. I look at that outdoor market and want to weep with jealousy for being in the middle of a desert, we have nothing of the sort!! Please enjoy some fresh food for me!
Abufares said…
You're not late at all and you're always welcome to drop in at in anytime.
It's funny you should mention the desert as many people have the idea that the entire Middle East region is a vast desert. I'm fortunate to live on the coastal strip of Syria where we enjoy Mediterranean weather and a landscape that is as green as they could get.
One day, if you make it to our neck of the wood, I'll be very happy to act as your guide.
The Syrian Brit said…
Abu Fares,
I sincerely hope that your travel plans involve a detour through this 'Green and Pleasent Land' of ours?..
Ingrid said…
abufares, I know I should be ashamed for asking you to cook for me if you'd ever head over here but..aham..I do think it's entirely your fault..your pictures of the food makes one hungry even after you just had something to eat! When I have a free moment, I'll click on your 'food' labels and look for some recipes this summer..I'll have plenty of time to cook and experiment plus my tomatoes are almost ripe..
Anonymous said…
mmmm....I miss Arab fruit and vegetable :(
Abufares said…
Hi Syrian Brit
Although I'll be relatively close to your beautiful island, I'm afraid I won't make it all the way. Not this time at least.
I'll write all about it soon.
Abufares said…
Once you see how I cook, you're going to ask me to step aside, find me a beer or something and you'll handle it from there. So my offer still stands. I know that I'm going to be forced to take it easy and enjoy what you'll end up cooking.
Abufares said…
I miss U :-)
Anonymous said…
Abufares, dakhil ainak , don´t do this to me, I can eaven smell your open market.
Syria is blessed with her soil and water ,but,but do Syrians know that? the last time I visited Syria I was impressed how bad, people use what once was sacred, SABIL,were places where people can drink water free, water was not just for cleaning it was SYNONIMOUS of purification, thats why Muslems purify themselves before meditation,,,,,,,,,,sorry if I went out of the subject ,dut it has to do with it, some times I can not control my feelings,
Last week my friend Geoge (ARABIC 4TH GENERATION) asked me to help him buy some fruits for the cristmass eave. among them was imported (DAMASCO/ MESHMOSH)I dont know where it was from,but for me that was mot MESHMOSH, he asked me why? I answerd in Arabic MA MESTUWE ALA EMO, he never understood, but he was happy for his buy, after all MESHMOSH was the fruit his grand father used to talk about,,,,imagen if he knows the real SHAKARPARA MESHMOSH of Halab, eaven the sead ( LOZTO) was eatable,,,,,,,


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