What Syrian food lacks in variety, it makes up for in delicious, fresh flavours and savoury spices. Damascenes are tremendously proud of their local food and are not big consumers of the food of other cultures - Chinese or Mexican, for example. There are a few ethnic restaurants in the large hotels, but most of the restaurant you'll see in Damascus serve Syrian food.
Damascus has an amazing array of sweet shops, and many of them stay open quite late to offer goodies to the "after dinner" crowd. You'll see a lot of slices of quite elaborate cake - gateaux - and small round balls that look like shiny doughnuts. These are baklawa which taste like doughnut balls soaked in honey. Another dessert which is more likely to be served at home, for a special occasion is RuzHalib - a rice pudding served in an enormous pan, which everyone attacks with spoons! Yallah! Bring your toothbrush to Damascus, the sweets will make your teeth ache!
1/2 cup sesame seeds
1 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. water
2-1/2 cups flour, sifted
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup water
2 tbsp. coarsely chopped pistachios (optional)
Scatter the sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast in a 350-degree oven until a light golden brown. Combine the honey with the (1 tbsp.) water and use to moisten the sesame seeds. Spread in a saucer.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and sugar. Cut in the butter, as if you were making pie crust dough. Gradually add the (2/3 cup) water until the dough is smooth.
Form balls of dough the size of walnuts and dip one side of each ball into the sesame seed mixture to coat. The bottom side may be very lightly touched to the pistachios. Place on greased baking sheets, sesame side up.
Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.
Recipe from "The Arabian Delights Cookbook" by Anne Marie Weiss-Armush