Not that I’m dwelling on it, but it’s relevant for any post about food or eating: after we got sick in Syria, it lingered. Especially around Alicia, who didn’t take antibiotics.
So the Middle East turned out not to be the culinary adventure we were hoping for. While breakfast was included in pretty much all hotels and hostels in Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, we frequently skipped other meals during the day. I found myself living on surprisingly addictive Saudi-made ‘tea and coffee biscuits’ (by Egypt, I was going through two or three packets a day…but hey, they only cost 1 EGP!).
But here are some of the things we did eat (when I felt like taking photos). I’ve included Turkey, because otherwise this would be a post about falafel in all its various guises.
It began on my first night in Istanbul with copious glasses of apple tea (I don’t care if only tourists drink it – it’s awesome!), continued into Jordan with multiple tea breaks on our trip to Wadi Rum and climaxed in Egypt where tea just wasn’t tea unless it had at least three teaspoons of sugar in it.
You’ll find yourself drinking tea in countries the world over, but its always slightly different. In China, it’s herbal, in England it’s milky and in the Middle East it’s dark as pitch and, with enough sugar, syrupy strong.
In Beyoglu in Istanbul, there are fresh juice stalls every fifty metres selling small cups for around 1 YTL. They squeeze your fruit of choice right in front of you, and the fruit is generally kept in a fridge or icebox, so there’s no need for any dubious looking ice.
There are also loads of fresh juice stalls in Syria, particularly Damascus and Aleppo. We did try mixed juice in Aleppo, complete with ice that had probably been kicking about in the dust at the back of the shop. We were ill the very next day! It was great juice though.
In Fethiye, Turkey, we had one of the nicest and freshest meals I’ve ever had while travelling. We went to the market, purchased a member of the day’s catch along with some prawns, and took it back to a nearby restaurant where they cooked it all up in a simple but scrumptious garlic sauce.
Turkish sushi and a gigantic chicken kebab
In Selcuk, Turkey, we managed to find a restaurant that was not only reasonably priced but did tasty food, too. Alicia’s meal, some kind of kofte wrapped in pastry, was described by the waiter as Turkish sushi. It tasted more like a mince meat pie. But nicer!
And my chicken kebab was grilled to moist perfection, but it was enough to feed a small army. It kind of looked like a chicken lightsaber.
In Turkey, we ate a kilo of Turkish delight between us. It’s really only delightful in Turkey – I don’t think I’d bother to eat it anywhere else.
Throughout Syria and Jordan we also tried plenty of pastries, which always seemed to be made from cheese or had a cheesy filling, accompanied by pistachios, which seems to be the Middle Eastern equivalent of chocolate – everyone loves them.
One particularly memorable pastry was the local specialty in Hama, Syria. Basically made from raw cheese that is stretched and fiddled with to form a dough, which is then stuffed with a sugary, creamy filling. It’s topped with honey or similar, and accompanied by ice cream or cream. Raw cheese sounds pretty disgusting but it was awesome. It reminded me of a mango pancake, without the mango.
Since leaving the Middle East, my breakfasts are pretty boring. Rarely will I find my toast accompanied by a boiled egg, or a little ball of falafel. And it’s certainly not free!
Breakfast doesn’t vary much throughout the Middle East. What began in Turkey as bread, a boiled egg, butter, maybe some jam, tomato, cucumber and cheese continued into Syria and Jordan. As we travelled further, the tomato and the cucumber disappeared, and when I arrived in Egypt, sweet pastries joined the usual suspects.
I abhorred boiled eggs back in June. I wouldn’t touch them. By the time we got to Jordan, I was disappointed when my egg had clearly been rolling around the hotel’s kitchen bench for some days and I would refuse to eat it. Now…I even miss it a little bit.
Made with chickpeas in most of the Middle East and some kind of green bean in Egypt, we had our first falafel at a roadside stall somewhere outside of Hama, Syria. Our guide recommended it, and the little balls of chickpea-y goodness were being fried up right in front of us, so we ate them. So. Good!
We probably liked falafel a little too much. It became our daily lunch, and often, our daily dinner (when there were no roast chicken shops around). A falafel sandwich, with falafel, fries, humus and salad for the adventurous, costs lest than $1 and is incredibly filling. They’re also perfect for taking with you to eat later, and they travel pretty well rolling about at the bottom of a backpack while you’re hiking the hills of Petra.
In Amman, Jordan, we stayed in two guesthouses that are right across the road from Hashem Restaurant, one of the most popular (and probably the cheapest) falafel places in Amman. A meal consists of a plate of falafel, a plate of bread, a plate of fries, a tomato, an onion, a bowl of humus and a bowl of fuul (fava beans) and you go to town making your own sandwiches.
I have no idea if it was the heat or what, but the entire time Alicia and I were in Jordan and Syria we were obsessed with lemon-y soft drinks. Preferably diet 7UP, but any would do. Weird.
Honourable mention: kosheri
I don’t have a picture, but you can Google kosheri here. Made from macaroni, lentils, tomato, onions and rice, kosheri is incredibly popular in Egypt and it’s also one of the cheapest ways to have a filling meal when you’re sick of falafel. Though quite bland, I ate a whole bowl of it. Either I was hungry, or it was surprisingly good.
On my RTW trip during the summer of 2010, I met my friend Alicia in Istanbul and we spent the next 46 days travelling overland through Turkey, Syria and Jordan before I headed to Egypt solo to join up with a quick organised tour through upper Egypt.
Read more about this leg of my trip on my Middle East roundup page.