Small Luxuries

By Anissa Helou

Published on May 25, 2010

There's a little market in the elegant Sha'la neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, that goes by the name Souk el-Tanabel (near bouz el-jeddi)—literally, the market of the lazy people. The shoppers there look more busy than lazy, though; mostly they're women in smart business attire and designer jogging suits moving purposefully from shop to shop, perusing towering stacks of resealable bags filled with already-chopped vegetables and herbs. Over the past 30 years, the half dozen or so vendors in the Souk el-Tanabel have become famous for their presliced, pre-diced foods, prepared daily by teams of women working out of their homes. Every evening, workers from the shops deliver whole produce to the preppers, who core zucchini, eggplants, potatoes, and carrots for mehshi (stuffed vegetables); dice vegetables and chop herbs for soups, salads, and stews; and trim artichokes. In the Damascus suburb of Kafar Soussi, I visited the home of a 35-year-old mother of three named Buthaina Homsi, who had just taken delivery of an armload of fresh flat-leaf parsley. She works in a small room erected on the roof of her house. Seated on a low stool before a wood table, she chopped the herbs with great speed and precision, scraping the tiny green flecks into a plastic tub. When it was full, she transferred the minced herbs into plastic bags, which a worker would soon collect and take back to the shop. Later, the parsley would be purchased to make, perhaps, a tangy tabbouleh (see ** Tabbouleh**) that would taste as fresh as if all the ingredients had been chopped right in the buyer's own kitchen. —Anissa Helou, author of _Mediterranean Street Food (William Morrow, 2002)_

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