When walking around a Syrian city, you will often see giant reproductions of coffee pots, because the Syrians consider coffee part of their lifestyle, and this is how they like to show it. Coffee is always served on important occasions: from prenuptial meetings of prospective wives through to purification rituals and funerals.
The coffee-drinking ritual can transform even an ordinary visit to a Syrian home into a solemn occasion. As in Egypt, coffee in Syria is made with sugared water, and therefore you need to find out how your guests prefer the drink before serving, and if necessary make several pots of varying sweetness. Bitter coffee is reserved for funeral ceremonies, because the absence of sugar reflects the sombre tone of the occasion. Sometimes, when people are worried about the future, they will upturn the empty cup on the saucer, and wait for the coffee grounds to form patterns, which they will then "read".
Although serving coffee is a pleasant duty for the host, guests are also expected to respond appropriately: the magic word is Daïmé, meaning “for always”, expressing the hope that the home at which the coffee was served will always be so generous.
Kahwa - Turkish coffee with cardamom
Ingredients (for 4 servings):
200 ml (7 fl oz) of water
4 heaping teaspoons of coffee blended with cardamom
Sugar to taste (optional)
Put the water in a Turkish coffeepot, add the sugar and the coffee powder, and stir gently. Put the coffeepot on the burner and let it come to a boil. When the coffee starts to bubble and is foamy on top, remove it from the burner. Using a teaspoon, put some of the foam into four cups. Put the coffeepot back on the burner for a few seconds but do not let it boil. Carefully pour the coffee into the cups to avoid ‘dewhip’ of the coffee foam.
It is good etiquette not to add the sugar after the coffee has boiled, so as not to disturb the sediment which forms on the bottom of the pot. The sugar will have to be added to water before the coffee is infused. This means you need to have a coffee pot for each type of coffee: without sugar (murrah), low sugar (mazboutah), or very sweet (hilweh).
Baklawa - Oriental flaky pastry with dried fruit
500 g (17.6 oz) of phyllo dough
175 g (6 oz) of melted butter
120 g (4.2 oz) of natural Aleppo pistachios, chopped
For the filling:
1 kg (35 oz) of natural Aleppo pistachios, chopped
1 teaspoon of rosewater (optional)
For the sugar syrup (atar):
500 g (17.6 oz) sugar
370 ml (13 fl oz) of water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange flower water
1 teaspoon rose water
Butter a rectangular baking tin of about 25 x 30 cm (10 x 12”). Place a layer of 5-7 sheets of phyllo dough in the tin, brushing the top with the melted butter. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios over the layer and cover with 5-7 sheets of phyllo dough. Brush the top with melted butter again. Using a very sharp knife, cut into diamond shapes. Place the tin in the oven at 150°C (300°F) and bake for about 15 minutes until the top is golden.
In the meantime, dissolve the sugar in the water with the lemon juice and boil for about 15 minutes, adding the floral extracts if desired. As soon as the phyllo is done, remove from the oven and pour the hot syrup over the top, so the phyllo absorbs all the syrup. Sprinkle the top with chopped pistachios and serve with a cup of Turkish coffee flavoured with cardamom.