Food & Cuisine in Syria

Whatever be your choice of eatery or cuisine, rest assured that you'll find it in Syria. If you're looking for fast food or an expensive, sophisticated dining place or even street cafes, you'll find it here. Syrian cuisine is quite a mix of different cuisines, most notable among them being Lebanese, Mediterranean, Greek, French and Turkish. For the discerning gastronome, there's strictly Syrian cuisine. It's no fun travelling to a new land and not sampling the regional cuisine and the many surprises it has to offer. So leave your reservations at the airport and prepare to indulge your senses, because Syrian cuisine is a feast for all senses

Be it the fragrant aromas, the visual presentation of the dishes, the delicate and strong flavours in the food and the aftertaste each dish leaves, everything is uniquely Syrian.

Just reading our Syria Restaurant Guide below will get your taste buds going! So, after some serious shopping in the bazaars of Syria, relax and savour a delicious meal in the Syria restaurant of your choice. For more local cuisine information, as well as suggested places to enjoy a meal, click on one of our destinations below:

- Aleppo
- Damascus

Syria Food & Cuisine Guide

Local Syrian Delicacies

Some of the Syrian dishes that you will come across in most outlets in Syria are:

Pita bread (Khubz) - a round flat bread served with hummus, a dip of rather thick consistency made from boiled and ground chickpeas, sesame seeds or tahini sauce, lemon juice, garlic and paprika

Baba ghanoush (there are different variants of spelling) - A spread made from smoked eggplant and spices

Other popular dishes are stuffed zucchini (Mahshe), dolma, different varieties of kebabs, kibbeh nayyeh, mujaddara, and shawarma (meat wraps), kubbeh (meat and semolina balls stuffed with mince meat, onions and nuts), yabra (vine leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice), ouzi (minced meat pastries, not to be confused with the Greek ouzo), and mensaf (lamp chops served with rice and pine nuts)

Salads - Tabbouleh (small diced vegetables) and fattoush (chopped cucumber, tomatoes, onions, herbs, bread croutons and grated cheese - the Syrian version of Caesar's salad), usually served with soup

Hors d'oeuvres/Appetizers (Meze) - Cheese manakish, za'atar and minced beef

Cheeses - The hugely popular string cheese called jibbneh mashallale, made of curd cheese, and shanklish (goat cheese flavoured with thyme and pepper)

Cookies - Called ka'ak, usually accompanying the cheeses

Baklava - Syria's famous dessert, a flaky pastry filled with an assortment of nuts and honey.

Eating Out in Syria

For the vegetarians, there's an endless array of dishes to choose from - pita bread and hummus are a perennial favourite, as is falafel (deep-fried chickpea patties). Then there's foul, pronounced ‘fool' - do not be concerned about either pronunciation, because it's a delicious fava bean paste, flavoured with paprika and cumin and olive oil, served with fresh mint, chopped onions and bread. These should set you back by not more than 50-100 SP for a complete meal.

Then there is shawarma, the meat wrap that's loved all over the world. If it's chicken you fancy, a half-chicken wrap with bread and mayonnaise will cost you roughly 150-200 SP. For those who do not mind spending a little extra, you can have all these at an expensive restaurant for a bill that will roughly be 5-7 times the amount listed above.

Drinks in Syria

Leave your fears of drinking unsafe water in another country far behind when you enter Syria, for here in the street taps, you get clear spring water that's completely safe. If you're a stickler, you can check with the locals, but it's really unnecessary. You can also choose to buy bottled water, which cost 15-25 SP for around 1.5 litres.

You also have a choice of a wide range of fruit juices from street vendors, which cost around 40-50 SP per serving. Be sure to try the fruit punch, which is almost all fruits available blended together and served with ice.

And for those who like an afternoon buzz, there is beer. And it's cheap - between 35-100 SP for a half litre bottle in most shops and budget hotels. Two popular local beers are Al-Sharq and Barada. And for the grape loyalist, there's a choice of Syrian wine, Lebanese wine and French wine, ranging from 150-400 SP per bottle. Popular beverages are tea and coffee, with or without milk.

Things to Remember

Food is usually served a la carte and buffet dining is very rare to come by. There are bars and wine stores that serve a range of drinks to choose from, but do remember that whether you're a native or a tourist, you will have to refrain from drinking alcohol during the holy month of Ramadan - it's illegal to drink during this month and if by mistake you're caught with alcohol in your hands, the punishment can be quite severe. Make sure to leave at least a 10% tip wherever you dine - it's expected. More is even better.

Be sure to check out the roadside eateries if you're on the lookout for authentic Syrian cuisine - they taste like nothing you'll find in expensive hotels. Do remember to try some mulberry juice - it's sweet and refreshing, and eat some baklava. Buy some Za'atar (a fragrant mix of thyme, marjoram and sesame) in the Souk al-Bzouriya (Seeds market). And then if you want to try your hand at cooking, pick up pre-cut vegetables and herbs at the Souk al-Tanabel (literally, Lazybones market).

If you're in Damascus, the restaurant Al-Khawali comes highly recommended. Tucked away in the heart of the Damascus market, it is housed in a striking 14th century palace. What sets it apart from the noisy and pedestrian market is its carved wooden door. There's a wonderful open air courtyard inside, with tables laid out around a fountain with citrus and jasmine trees - the overall effect is nothing short of regal. Start with some assorted meze, follow it up with some mensaf and finish your meal with some ‘light as a feather' baklava. You would have had an authentic Syrian experience.