Another first under my belt. A sheep’s head for lunch. I think I may have been a little rash to accept the kind invitation to a traditional lunch.
For some reason I thought it would end up being a type of lamb stew – a sort of comforting hot pot in a foreign land. There’s no way I could have imagined the enourmity of what I’d agreed to.
Sunday being a working day in the Arab world (Friday and Saturday are the weekend) it was off to work for me this morning.
Avoiding a serious road crash on the way – something that must be celebrated as a daily achievement with traffic travelling in no particular lanes and with no “give way rules” – my working day finished with the invitation to lunch courtesy of one of the culture journalists at the newspaper I’m working at and a guide book publisher fo the city.
I was shown into the upstairs of a small entranced restaurant into a large clean space where the waiter proceeded to wrap the table with polythene. Innocently I asked what was happening “it looks like they’re preparing for an autopsy” I joked.
Four bowls of thin, brownish soup were delivered.
It was clear and smelled strongly of lamb. Salt, pepper, cumin and fresh lemon were served alongside what was essentially a lamb stock. I tried a few mouthfuls but found it a rather too full on taste.
No need to worry about getting hungry though – a table full of courses soon arrived. First there were lamb’s tongues in yoghurt, then the famed sheep’s head meat, then stuffed intestines, lamb’s feet, stuffed stomach and finally sheep’s brains.
This was a lesson in offal the like I have never seen before, almost an autopsy in fact.
My hosts tucked in with gusto – sleeves rolled, diving in with hands and thoroughly enjoying the feast. I sampled a little of almost everything (the brains were really too much for me) using techniques I had seen on a television programme where an anorexic explained how she had kept the condition from her parents for years.
Talking a lot, remarking on the food, chopping it up, moving it all about and dropping bits onto other plates.
I think I got away with it.
For the record, just about any part of a sheep seems to taste (perhaps not unsurprisingly) of lamb. It’s just the textures that differ. The head meat was very tender and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference from a quality cut of any other part of the animal. The tongues were sweet and tender, the feet very gristly and the stuffed stomach something like haggis. The brains remain a mystery.
Several hours later, and still feeling a little queezy, I took a walk through the Old City of Damascus. It’s an endless labyrinth of steets selling everything imaginable.
As I turned a corner and waited on the street for the traffic to slow enough to cross the road, a butcher’s shop caught my eye. Hanging outside was something very furry and quite large. I couldn’t work out what sort of animal this might be but, moving closer, I finally understood what it was – a camel’s head and neck.
Suddenly a boring sandwich at my desk seems quite appealing.
The gratuitous use of the camel picture is thanks to AntonioA at Flickr.