Food and drinks Syria

Drinking water: You cannot drink tap water. Buy bottles of purified drinking water, which is safe to drink everywhere. Do verify that the bottles have their original caps. Coke on the rocks is taboo too, because the ice cubes are made from tap water. You should also brush your teeth with bottled water.

Meals: Arabian cuisine is mostly unknown in the west. There are also large regional variations; in Tunisia or Egypt people have different traditional foods to Syria or Jordan. Jordanian and Syrian dishes are often influenced by other Mediterranean countries and other traditional Arabian dishes. It is advisable to begin slowly in order to allow your taste buds to acclimatise, however tasty the food may be. In principle, everything is worth a try, but avoid kiosks or souq stalls that may operate with less than fresh produce. This is particularly useful advice during the summer months. Meat on a spit can also be a problem. Meals that have spent time in warmed containers can also contain bacteria. Watch out for raw vegetables, mayonnaise and ice cream. In Syria, it is best to avoid milk and cream, although yoghurt is safe. Recommended local dishes include shawarma (kebab meat made from marinated lamb), kibbih (deep-fried meatballs with added flour and onion, falafel (deep-fried balls made from chick-pea paste, served in bread), hummus (chick-pea paste mixed with sesame paste, garlic and lemon), ful (brown beans, garlic and lemon, combined with lots of oil), kebabs (grilled mincemeat), shish kebabs (lamb from a spit, grilled over charcoal), laban (yoghurt), or khobz (flat, round bread served with most meals, and often used as a ‘spoon’). Mensaf is a typical Bedouin dish, consisting of lamb, rice and pine kernels. As mentioned earlier, Islam forbids eating pork, and you will not find it on any menu. Do not request it in a restaurant, as you will deeply offend the staff by doing so. If you do not wish to eat meat, there is a range of vegetable dishes, the most notable of which being karnabit maqli (roast cauliflower with sesame sauce), badhinjan mahshi (stuffed aubergine in tomato sauce), and mnazalet banadora (stuffed tomatoes). Desserts here are very sweet, and mostly consist of puff pastry with nuts, which is soaked in honey.

Alcohol: Despite Islamic prohibition of alcohol, it is widely available (except during Ramadan) and is widely consumed. Wines produced in the region are not favoured by experts. Beer is brewed in Syria, and it is certainly not outclassed by western beer. Western beers are brewed in Jordan and imported beer is also sold here. Arabians also drink arak, before, during and after meals. Arak is distilled from aniseed, resembles ouzo and is identical to Turkish raki. It is often diluted with water. If you do not drink alcohol, you can find fresh fruit juice made from fruits such as banana, orange, lemon etc. They are particularly widespread in Syria. Make sure to check that they are not diluted with water, unless you prefer watery fruit juice! Soft drinks are also available.

Tea and coffee: Black hot sweet tea is the national drink of Syria. This “shai” is served in small glasses all over the country. If you do not want sugar, simply say: “B'dun shakar.” Coffee is also popular here, especially Turkish coffee. It is boiled with sugar and served in a kind of doll’s coffee set. You should let the deposit settle before taking a sip. You could also take Arab coffee. It is boiled several times, which makes it highly concentrated. The cardamom which is added lavishly lends the coffee a special and tasty flavour. When you visit people at home you will usually be served this Arab coffee, even when you have asked for tea. To be polite, drink at least three cups. Then you can put your hand over your cup to indicate you have had enough. Then you may get the tea you asked for.

Restaurants: You can find Arab cuisine in its simple form in small eating places and in its exotic, luxurious form in the more expensive restaurants. Eating out is cheaper than in Western Europe, with the exception of the luxurious hotels. International cuisine can be found in all the larger hotels. Hamburger and pizza restaurants are scarce.

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