Ramadan sparks interest in traditional Syrian cuisine at iftar in Amman

Syrian shops keep up a distinguished culinary tradition among the diaspora

Sit al Sham Syrian sweets and pastry shop in Jasmin-Badr district in Amman to go with story ‘Ramadan opens appetite for Syrian cuisine in Amman. photo: Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National

Clotted cream wrapped in thin pastry on an underpinning of crushed pistachios tops off an already formidable collection of delicacies at a Syrian sweet shop in Amman.

Warbat Ramadan — twists of Ramadan — as the pastry is called, has been introduced for the holy month at the Sit Al Sham (Damascus Lady) store in the Jasmin-Badr district.

The neighbourhood occupies a hilly area separating the relatively affluent western Amman from the mostly disadvantaged east.

It has become the de facto Syrian quarter in the capital over the past decade as Syrians have fled the country in the aftermath of the 2011 revolt against five decades of Assad family rule.

Jordan syrian cuisine. Photo: Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National

Amman, a relatively new capital, lacks the hustle and bustle of pre-revolt Syrian cities and their long tradition of business.

But Syrian refugees who have found employment mainly in food businesses in Jasmin-Badr, or those few who have managed to open their own, have injected variety — and some would say higher quality food — to the dusty, previously staid residential area.

A kilo of the clotted cream sweet sells for $17 at Sit Al Sham while pistachio baklava, the most costly item on the menu, is $35 a kilo.

In between are a large variety of sweets made from ingredients that range from semolina, almonds and walnuts to rose petals and cheese.

“In these economic conditions, $25 is a hefty sum. But the quality is high”, says Youssef, a manager at the shop.

Ramadan is traditionally a crucial month for business, says Youssef, who is from the city of Irbid near the border with Syria. Other workers at the shop are Syrian.

Many Jordanians are familiar with many of the sweets at Sit Al Sham because Syrian sweets were among the most in-demand items that traders and Jordanian visitors to Syria used to bring back home before 2011.

Sit al Sham Syrian sweets and pastry shop in Jasmin-Badr district in Amman to go with story ‘Ramadan opens appetite for Syrian cuisine in Amman. photo: Khaled Yacoub Oweis / The National

But another Syrian business in Jasmin-Badr, which opened in the last year, introduced a genre of Syrian specialities mostly unknown in the kingdom.

Its showpiece is Kibbeh, a mince of bulgur, onion, lamb and sun-dried chilli paste, oval-shaped and filled with pine nuts, along with more meat and onions.

Fried kibbeh is displayed at the Durra market in Al-Madina Al-Munawara street in Amman, Jordan. (Salah Malkawi for The National)

The restaurant’s name is Fukhar and its owners are from Aleppo, the culinary capital of the Middle East. The ancient city, significantly destroyed by the regime and Russian bombing between 2015-2016, is known for 40 kinds of Kibbeh.

One of the more subtle variations available on Fukhar’s Wednesday menu is quince Kibbeh, a sweet and sour plate that dates back to a 1,000-year old recipe influenced by trade between Aleppo and China.

This Kibbeh swims in a sauce of quince, pomegranate molasses, garlic and mint, as opposed, for example, to sumac Kibbeh, which has a sauce primarily composed of the spice sumac and tomato.

Fukhar uses premium baladi (local) meat, which is raised by shepherds, and premium ghee, or clarified butter.

But for those on a budget the restaurant can prepare on request Kibbeh using imported Romanian meat.

“It is half the price,” says Mustafa, a young Syrian from Aleppo who works at Fukhar. “Some customers cannot pay much.”

While the Syrian diaspora chefs have enriched the cuisine available in Jordan, a host of Syrian dishes can only be sampled at Syrian homes, where the Ramadan iftar provides a showcase of an ancient culinary tradition.

Updated: April 09, 2022, 5:48 PM