I spent a year living and working in the Middle East (Cairo; just before the revolution), which was long enough to realise that a lot of what we read about this region doesn't match up with what life is actually like there, or the people.
Staying at my brother-in-law's in Ottawa reminds me of this contrast. Anmar is Syrian, born and raised in Aleppo. His family spent time in Saudi Arabia before moving to Vancouver. A successful engineer, with a beautiful wife and two equally beautiful children, the best thing about Anmar is that he’s Syrian.
What that means to me, his house guest, is that I’m going to be stuffed with restaurant quality meals at least twice a day - and good restaurants at that. Aleppo to me is a series of dishes that I will think about for months afterwards.
Every morning begins with omlettes, pancakes or crepes; oatmeal with nuts, spices, maple syrup and cream; fresh figs with yogurt; pita with molasses and tahini; espresso and teas too numerable to count.
The days consist of pizza made from scratch; ful medames (fava beans); ka’ak (bread sticks flavored with spices like cumin, anise and cherry pit) and trays of cinnamon buns that take 24 hours to make and are coated with caramelized walnuts.
Most countries in the Middle East have a different take on similar dishes and Syrians go for lots of fresh vegetables and yogurt.
When I think of Aleppo I picture Anmar's warm kitchen and their mezzanine floor of Lego.
He calls my daughter karabeej (sweet biscuit) when he chucks her up into the air.