Syria... Food in Daily Life

Wheat is the main crop and one of the staple foods. Vegetables, fruits, and dairy products also are eaten. Lamb is popular, but most people cannot afford to eat meat on a regular basis. Islam prohibits the consumption of pork, and other meats must be specially prepared in a method called halal cooking. In middle-class and wealthier homes, meals are like those eaten in other Middle Eastern countries: roast or grilled chicken or lamb with side dishes of rice, chickpeas, yogurt, and vegetables. A mezzeh is a midday meal composed of up to twenty or thirty small dishes. These dishes can include hummous , a puree of chickpeas and tahini (ground sesame paste); baba ganouj, an eggplant puree; meat rissoles; stuffed grape leaves; tabouleh (a salad of cracked wheat and vegetables); falafel (deep-fried balls of mashed chickpeas); and pita bread.

Olives, lemon, parsley, onion, and garlic are used for flavoring.

Popular fruits that are grown in the region include dates, figs, plums, and watermelons. Damascus has a number of French restaurants dating back to the time of colonial rule. Tea is the ubiquitous drink and is often consumed at social gatherings. Soda is also very popular, as is milk and a drink made by mixing yogurt with water, salt, and garlic. Alcohol consumption is rare, as it is forbidden by the Islamic religion, but beer and wine are available, as is arak, an aniseed drink that also is popular in other Middle Eastern countries.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions:

 Food is an important part of many celebrations. During Ramadan, each day's fast is broken with an evening meal called iftar. This meal begins in silence and is consumed rapidly. Eid al-Fitr, the final breaking of the Ramadan fast, entails the consumption of large quantities of food, sweets in particular. Food is also a central element at weddings, parties, and other festivities.

Basic Economy:

The country supplies almost all of its own food needs. The proportion of the population working in agriculture has decreased significantly from 50 percent in 1970, to 30 percent in the 1980s, to 23 percent today. Despite this decline, production has increased, thanks in large part to the dam at Tabqa, which has allowed for increased irrigation. Half of the workforce is employed in industry and mining. There is less of a gap between the rich and the poor in Syria than there is in many other countries, and as more of the population gains access to education, the middle class continues to expand.

The basic unit of currency is the pound.

Land Tenure and Property:

 Before independence, urban landlords controlled the countryside, often mistreating the peasants and denying them any rights. The majority of peasants worked as sharecroppers and were economically and politically powerless. When the socialist Baath Party took control, it introduced measures to limit and redistribute land ownership and establish peasant unions.

It also set up local governing organizations and cooperatives that have allowed the peasants to attain more control of their lives and livelihood.

 Commercial activities:

 The center of commercial activity in each town or city is the souk. People from all walks of life and all ethnic and religious backgrounds come together to buy and sell a wide variety of goods. Spices, meats, vegetables, cloth, traditional handicrafts, and imported products jostle for space in the crowded booths and alleyways. Souks are not just commercial centers but gathering places as well, and haggling is a necessary part of social interactions. Shopping centers and supermarkets exist but have not supplanted this uniquely Arab institution.

 

Haifaa Mafalani