The Middle Eastern country of Syria is a diverse region that is dry and arid, with mountainous regions, forests, rivers and plenty of desert plateaus. The staple foods are those that the climate and soil allow Syrians to grow or those they can buy at market. Most Syrian families cannot afford to eat meat daily, so most staple foods are fruits, vegetables and grains. Many of these staples are common to many Middle Eastern countries, where residents have grown and eaten them for centuries.
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Bread and Grains
Pita bread or flat bread, bulgur (whole wheat kernels that have been cooked, soaked in water and broken apart) and rice are staples in many Syrian dishes. Syrians dip pita bread in the numerous sauces and dips, such as hummus, tahini or baba ghanouj, and pita is a part of all meals. Syrians eat rice with various stews and combine rice with meats in many dishes. Bulgur is used in a variety of meat and vegetable dishes such as tabouleh, a salad containing chopped herbs and vegetables.
Syrians grow their staple vegetables for sale at the markets as well as for their own consumption. Eggplant or aubergine, cucumber, chickpeas, onions, peppers and tomatoes are all vegetables Syrians use in daily cooking. Vegetables make up a large part of the typical Syrian diet and are used for main and side dishes as well as salads and dips. The popular hummus dip is a mixture of mashed chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice and sesame paste.
Dates, figs, watermelon and plums are ingredients in many desserts. Syrians eat these fruits raw. They also dry, cook or crush into pastes the dates, figs and plums and use them as fillings for pastries. Olives are another staple fruit of the Syrian people. These are also eaten raw, pickled, or included in salads and side dishes. Since grapes are a crop of the southeastern part of Syria, they are also a common food that is consumed raw, dried or as a paste. Grape leaves are stuffed with meats and boiled.
Spices and Flavorings
Syrian foods are always full of flavor and savory. Since most of the foods are eaten fresh, Syrian cooks use a wide variety of spices to give them a beautiful appearance and zest. Mint, garlic, turmeric and cumin are common ingredients in Syrian vegetable and meat dishes. Cumin is such a staple that it is placed on the kitchen table in a shaker. Lemon and parsley are also important ingredients in both meat and vegetable dishes.
Hot tea is the most common drink in Syrian households. It is consumed throughout the day. Tea is usually very strong and Syrians serve it with sugar. Black tea is the most common variety. Teas made with mint or hibiscus flowers are also served. Coffee, a Turkish blend, is also a popular drink served strong and black with lots of sugar. Milk and soda are also very popular among Syrians.