Bread: bread is fairly common; the variety of choice is pita bread
Hummus: a dip consisting of mashed chickpeas (garbanzo beans),
tahini, garlic, and lemon
Rice: numerous types of rice exist and it tends to be either a
side or a base for many dishes
Tabbouleh: a "salad" generally made of parsley,
bulgur, tomatoes, garlic, and lemon
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Dolma: fruits, meats, and/or vegetables with rice stuffed
in grape leaves, but sometimes also served in peppers or tomatoes
Kebab: numerous styles exist, but usually with a base of roasted
lamb or chicken and vegetables in pita bread
Kibbeh: minced lamb and bulgur, although further ingredients
widely vary as every city has their own version
Mezze: sampling of numerous dishes, generally including
small plates up to grilled meats
When eating in Syria there are a few etiquette rules you must
follow, but dining rules do vary slightly based on whether your host and other diners
are Christian or Muslim, and even then there is further division based upon on conservative
or liberal your company is. First, dress on the conservatively side (see our
Syria Culture Page for more details). Second, in conservative homes it is
not acceptable to eat with a person of the opposite sex unless you are related or
married. While this separation of sexes is uncommon today, to some conservative
Muslims this is important so observe the local restaurant's situation and follow
a local's lead.
Try to arrive on time for a meal and if eating in a local's home remove your
shoes at the door if others have done so. Greet the elders first, but be sure to
greet every person individually and shake their hands (although some conservative
Muslims don't believe men and women should touch so wait for locals to extend
their hand first if they are of the opposite sex). Let your host seat you and when
sitting be sure to keep your feet flat on the floor or pointed behind you as pointing
the soles of your feet at another can be offensive.
If dining in a restaurant with Muslims don't order any pork product or alcohol
as these foods are against the Islamic dining rules, although many Muslims in Syria
do consume these items today; eating with Christians there are no true dietary restrictions.
If eating in the home of a Muslim you don't have to worry about these dietary
restrictions since they won't serve either of these items and if they do you
are more than welcome to partake. Once the food is served follow your host's
lead as he or she may invite everyone to take their food at the same time or may
request that either you or the elders be served first. Try a bit of everything offered
as turning down food is rude. If you finish your first serving, expect to be offered
a second helping; turn this invitation down at first and only after your host's
insistence should you accept more food.
Depending on the company and the foods served, you may be expected to eat in the
continental style (knife in the right hand, fork in the left), or you will be expected
to eat with your right hand, but only touch your food with your right hand. As you
finish your food, leave a bit on your plate to show there was more than enough and
place your fork and knife together in the 5:00 position.
If dining in a nice restaurant be sure to check the bill for a service charge. Many
restaurants include a service charge that will replace the tip, but if no service
charge is included a tip of about 10-15% is appropriate.
Celebrations & Events
Syria's major holidays and festivals that are centered
around food are religious in nature. Both Muslims and Christians call the country
home so the variety and traditions of these holidays differs greatly. There are
two major Muslim holidays in Syria, including Eid al Fitr, which is an
event filled with numerous foods. These foods differ from family to family, but
generally consist of various meats and fish as a base with grains and vegetables
on the side. This celebration occurs immediately after Ramadan, a religious holiday
that requires fasting for 30 days.
The second major Muslim food celebration is Eid al Adha, which is only
celebrated after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory journey for
every able Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large number of
rice and meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.
For the Christians, Christmas in Syria is an event filled
with traditions that begin on Christmas Eve and last well into the evening on Christmas
itself. The most traditional Christmas dinner food in Syria is chicken with oranges
and nuts. In addition to this, there are numerous pastries and other sweets served
When a Syrian welcomes you, it is often accompanied by an
offer of coffee. Arabic coffee and Turkish coffee are seen everywhere, but Syria
offers other varieties as well as tea, another very popular drink. Soft drinks,
milk, and juices are also common, including the popular mint lemonade.
Alcohol is legal in Syria and the Christian minority does
consume various alcohols, however the majority of the country is Muslim and many
Muslims don't drink alcohol, although many in Syria do. In the cities alcohol
is quite common, but in more rural areas and in more conservative families alcohol
is rarely consumed. In most situations there is no issue with visitors drinking,
but if in doubt follow the lead of your local host or ask.
The tap water was generally considered safe to drink in Syria,
but due to the recent violence and war in the country many water sources could be
contaminated. The most cautious course of action is to entirely avoid the tap water
and items that could be made from or with the water, such as ice, fruits, and salads.
If you do decide to drink the local tap water, first check with your local hotel
or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness of the water in that area. If the water is
safe, remember that many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water
as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are
not from the region.