The best of Syrian Food
Put simply, the food in Syria is outstanding. Mediterranean ingredients combined with ancient techniques and Arabic flavours; those into their food will find Syrian food to be among the highlights. Expect lots of fresh flavours — lemon, parsley, sumac and plenty of colourful salads — as well as creamy dips and sensational stews. Here are our top five best Syrian foods to try next time you visit.
Syrian shawarma hits different. You may have tried shawarma before and will likely do so in Lebanon, arguably the home of shawarma, before you travel to Syria. Syrian shawarma differs for several mouthwatering reasons. Firstly, the bread is flakier and butterier — imagine something between pastry and bread. Secondly, the filling is simply meat (also cooked on a rotating device), a creamy garlic sauce, sour pickles and occasionally a few other discretionary ingredients. They’re cheap, abundant and ridiculously addictive.
The king of Arabic salads, fattoush is found at almost every Syrian dinner table. Think chunky pieces of fresh tomato, cucumber and radish, doused in a sweet-sour sumac and pomegranate molasses dressing and adorned with crispy, fried pieces of flatbread. It’s crunchy, sweet, sour, fresh and a perfect accompaniment for meat or fish dishes, or alone as a simple lunch.
How muhammara has not made it to hummus-level global fame, we have no idea. This red pepper and walnut dip is typical in Damascus but is well worth requesting in other cities (although it must be said, the best version we had was in Damascus). Red bell peppers are blended with walnut, garlic, lemon, breadcrumb, pomegranate molasses (a staple in many Syrian dishes), smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, cumin and olive oil to create a light, citrusy, sweet and umami dip paired with flatbread. Syrians, as well as much of the levant, know how to do a dip, but this one is one that in our experience barely touches the table before being devoured. No Rocky Road Travel Syria tour is complete without muhammara!
4. Baklava & Kunafa
Unlike muhammara, baklava is well-known around the region. However, its reputation here is well-deserved, and Syria offers baklava lovers a neverending assortment of the sticky-sweet dessert. All Syria tour guides believe the best baklava comes from their hometown, so take recommendations with a pinch of salt (or, pistachios in this case). Its basic recipe involves layers of crispy, buttery filo pastry being filled (or, more precisely, layered) with various nuts and sugar syrup and cut into small portions. Syrian baklava differs from its neighbours’ thanks to a dash of citrus juice in the sugar syrup. Genius!
Kibbeh are (typically) tear-shaped croquettes made from ground bulgar, meat (typically lamb or beef), pine nuts and a few other ingredients, and then fried, roasted or grilled until golden brown. They can be found on most menus in some shape or form, but the one thing they have in common is that they are always delicious. Depending on what type you get, they come served with different things, but you can expect some kind of salad or creamy sauce as an accompaniment, or just as is straight from a street vendor (our favourite way)! Kibbeh to watch out for in Syria are:
- Kibbeh “meqliyyeh darawish”: These are simply fried and the most common kind of kibbeh, often served as a hot appetiser across the Arabic world. Try them in Aleppo, a city also famed for the quality and assortment of kibbeh (and food in general).
- Kibbeh “bil sanieh”: Meaning “kibbeh in a pan” in Arabic, this kind of kibbeh is flat and baked, with layers of ground meat, onions and nuts interspersed with two layers of kibbeh before being doused in ghee, festooned with pine nuts and baked to perfection.
- Kibbeh “labanieh”: These kibbeh are close to the traditional form, but they are cooked in a tangy yoghurt sauce and seasoned with fresh tarragon. It’s a hearty, comforting dish, great in cold weather and filling enough to be a main dish.