We finally made it out of the house. Within seconds a taxi stopped for us, my aunt lives right off a pretty busy road, plus there are tons of taxis around. The driver was a middle aged man, we spoke to him in Arabic but he could tell it wasn’t Jordanian Arabic. He asked where we were from. “Damascus, the great,” my father replied. I told him we wanted to go to Restaurant Hashem, downtown, he said ok and we were on our way. Dad and I talked in the car, sometimes the taxi driver chimed in, we were talking about Arabic sayings and proverbs, my dad is full of them.
As we got closer, the man began to tell us of well-known place that sells knafeh (an Arabic sweet that is ground or shredded wheat with cheese and lots of sugar syrup, flavored with orange blossom water), I smiled at Dad, “I’m getting hungry.” “Why did you start talking about knafeh” he said to the driver, with a laugh, “now she’s hungry!” Neither of us had eaten breakfast, just some tea or coffee. I had done this on purpose because I had read about Hashem Restaurant, it’s your typical Levantine “breakfast joint” or breakfast street food, so to speak. The cab driver dropped us off there, we paid him and crossed the street in the sweltering heat. We sat down on plastic chairs at the restaurant which was half outdoor, the outside part covered by green corrugated plastic roofing. A young waiter came to take our order, there was no menu because they only serve what they serve and you must know what they serve. My dad looked at me, I said I wanted foul, my dad asked what else they had. Fool (fava beans, slightly mashed with garlic, lemon, diced, fresh tomato, green onion and olive oil), fetteh (fried pita bread soaked in olive oil that has been treated with some chemical, excuse my being so vague but I do not recall how they treat the oil) msabaha (similar to hummus, ground chickpeas with tahini, which is sesame paste, garlic and lemon juice), falafel (fried “dumplings” of garbanzo bean and spices). I gave our order, msabaha and fool.
My dad added that he wanted falafel, he looked at me, I said I didn’t want any, he said to bring just a half order. We were offered tea and coffee, I had black tea, sweetened just perfectly (well probably too sweet but with that combination of foods and flavors, it is perfect). They brought our food within 3 minutes, the falafel first. The boy bringing them out just said, falafel, falafel and people would sort of raise their hand or finger or simply look at him to let him know that they had ordered falafel. The falafel was served on a piece of paper, over a plate. The paper is there to absorb the excess frying oil. Next came the msabaha and fool. They were both served in red clay bowls, swimming in olive oil. Oh they were beautiful. My grandmother used to say, the eye eats. Which means, presentation is very important in food, if something is served well and looks appetizing, you will be more apt to eat and enjoy your food. My dad started dipping the falafel in the msabaha. Oh man…it was delicious. First the soft olive oil hits your tongue and then you’re hit with a surprise attack of garlic flavor, there are undertones of tahini (sesame paste) and garbonzo beans, slightly sour, thanks to the lemon. You haven’t even taken a bite yet. Then you do and the crunch of the falafel splits into soft warm dough between your teeth. Not bread dough, but bean dough, so hearty, so flavorful, so wonderful! The waiter came over and asked where we were from and we told him we were from Damascus. “Ahla wa sahla (welcome).” “Ahlayn feek” (welcome to you), we responded. We sat eating, talking about how wonderful the food was and laughing at how disorganized but perfect everything was. A waiter came by and threw 2 big hot loaves of pita bread on the table.
|Msabaha, falafel, tea and paba B|
|Fresh baked bread|
My dad told me stories about his youth, he had trigonometry class at 7 am, and he and his friends would go to the restaurant in old Damascus at 6 to have fool. Now, fool (fava beans) have the fame to make you tired, they are a heavy food and make you feel a bit lethargic, so my dad and his friends would sit in class staring blankly at the teacher who thought they were still half asleep. We finished our meal and asked how much we owed. “Leave it on us.” the waiter said with a smile. My dad said “no no, next time,” the waiter looked down, shyly, “ok.” “But you’ll remember us, huh!” my dad said with a laugh. “Of course, of course, Mister.” “How much would you like?” I asked. “Two dinar.” (that’s about $3). We paid and were on our way. On the way out we heard “tfadalew, tfadalew,” a word akin to welcome or help yourself but more warm. We walked out, holding hands, which is not uncommon for a father and daughter, albeit a grown woman, to do in the middle east. It’s not even uncommon for two men or two women or any two people We walked towards the gold market. Gold is a big deal in the Middle East, people invest in gold quite a bit and you can go down to the gold market and sell your gold for market price to any gold jeweler.