Cooking Under Siege in Homs

 

Homsi hamburgers, besieged sweets, tenacious pizza… This is how the people of Homs are referring to their meals these days, 24 months into a siege that has forced them to eat whatever they can find. From the grass that grows on the roadsides to turtles, birds and insects, Homsis have taken their renowned creativity and lightheartedness to another level. 

Meals under the siege

On April 2014, a facebook page was created under the name “Meals under the siege”, as a discussion forum on how to deal with the regime’s attempts to starve the population into submission. Flour, rice, wheat, and all basic products traditionally present in every Syrian kitchen, were blocked for hundreds of thousands of residents in the besieged areas. In anticipation of the siege, some residents had stored some basic products, but they are quickly running out of them as well. 

“They say necessity is the mother of invention,” a man living in the old city of Homs said to Syria Untold. “So here we are, trying to make manaqish with whatever we can find, including these seeds that we found but we can’t seem to agree on whether they are spices or henna”. “Anyway, you put a pinch of salt, and... it’s edible!”, he adds.

Necessity has also pushed the residents of besieged areas into eating whatever source of protein they could find. This includes turtles, birds and insects, which have never been part of the Syrian gastronomy.

A stew made of figs and medlar. Source: Meals Under Siege's facebook page
A stew made of figs and medlar. Source: Meals Under Siege's facebook page
A stew made of figs and medlar. Source: Meals Under Siege's facebook page

“You boil the turtle meat, and then add a side of medler and figs, or prepare it as a soup. Actually, turtle meat is very good given the circumstances.”

The expertise that Homsis have acquired in the field of creative cooking under siege has turned out to be useful for residents of other areas facing similar situations. The meals prepared are photographed and shared on facebook on a daily basis, so that others can take inspiration and use the scarce ingredients at their disposal. 

True to their renowned sense of humor, residents of Homs reflect on their situation with comments such as “I just prepared this bird that was so small that I’m not sure if it was an animal or a spice”, and “A friend just told me that his grapevine has talked to him and says the leafs are scared to come out, after seeing what happened to its neighbors.”

Overcoming every barrier

To an outside observer, the psychological barrier that needs to be broken in order to eat something one never thought could eat seems hard to overcome. But Syrians under siege are far past that point. “When you are hungry, there is no psychological barrier regarding anything that can be eaten.”

Creativity and wit are helping the people under siege to resist the policy of starvation that the regime is imposing on them. But even the scarce ingredients they have managed to find are running out. When asked about this, our source answers:

“We really can’t think beyond the present. What will happen tomorrow, we don’t know, but we have noticed that whenever we think there are no resources left, we find something else that can be eaten. We hope that God will continue to provide.” 

Meal made of grasshoppers. Source: Meals Under Siege's facebook page
Meal made of grasshoppers. Source: Meals Under Siege's facebook page
Meal made of grasshoppers. Source: Meals Under Siege's facebook page

Along the same line, the facebook page where the meals are posted includes comments which highlight the fact that “a human being can be happy even in the most adverse circumstances. What matters is that he is at peace with himself, and with God.”  

From the first demonstration that took hundreds to the streets in March 2011, until today, the people of Homs continue to teach the world the meaning of dignity, resistance and creativity in the face of adversity.

 

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