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.