During the travels of John Lewis Burckhardt in Syria he describes lifestyles as well as major dishes found in the plateau of Haouran (southwestern Syria).. As well, he gives recipes for the most important food. Variations on the cuisine that he describes are found today throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Here is what he has to say:
1. Daily Life:
Among the Fellahs of the Haouran, the richest lives like the poorest, and displays his superior wealth only on the arrival of strangers.
The ancient buildings afford spacious and convenient dwellings to many of the modern inhabitants, and those who occupy them may have three or four rooms for each family; but in newly built villages, the whole family, with all its household furniture, cooking utensils, and provision chests, is commonly huddled together in one apartment.
Here also they keep their wheat and barley in reservoirs formed of clay, called Kawara (ﻩﺭﻮﻗ) which are a bout five feet high and two feet in diameter. The chief articles of furniture are, a handmill, which is used in summer, when there is no water in the Wadys to drive the mills; some copper kettles; and a few mats; in the richer houses some woollen Lebaet are met with, which are coarse woollen stuffs used for carpets, and in winter for horse-cloths: real carpets or mattrasses are seldom seen, unless it be upon the arrival of strangers of consequence.
Their goat’s hair sacks, and horse and camel equipments, are of the same kind as those used by the Bedouins, and are known by the same names. Each family has a large earthen jar, of the manufacture of Rasheiat el Fukhar, which is filled every morning by the females, from the Birket or spring, with water for the day’s consumption.
In every house there is a room for the reception of strangers, called from this circumstance Medhafe; it is usually that in which the male part of the family sleeps; in the midst of it is a fire place to boil coffee.
2. Food and Cuisine:
Of the Burgoul I have spoken on other occasions; there are two kinds of Keshk, Keshk-hammer and Keskh-leben; the first is prepared by putting leaven into the Burgoul, and pouring water over it; it is then left until almost putrid, and afterwards spread out in the sun, to dry; after which it is pounded, and when called for, served up mixed with oil, or butter.
In Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, Kishk is a powdery cereal of burghul (cracked wheat) fermented with milk and laban (yogurt). It is easily stored and is valuable to the winter diet of isolated villagers or country people.
Kishk is prepared in the early Fall when the wheat crop is harvested. Milk, laban and burghul are mixed well together and allowed to ferment for nine days. Each morning the mixture is thoroughly kneaded with the hands. When fermentation is complete the kishk is spread on a clean cloth to dry [see above picture]. Finally it is rubbed well between the hands until it is reduced to a powder and then stored in a dry place.
The Keskh-leben is prepared by putting Leben into the Burgoul, instead of leaven; in other respects the process is the same. Keskh and bread are the common breakfast, and towards sunset a plate of Burgoul, or some Arab dish, forms the dinner; in honour of strangers, it is usual to serve up at breakfast melted butter and bread, or fried eggs, and in the evening a fowl boiled in Burgoul, or a kid or lamb; but this does not very often happen.
The women and children eat up whatever the men have left on their plates. The women dress in the Bedouin manner; they have a veil over the head, but seldom veil their faces…