Illustration by Zelalem Waritu.

A Taste of Home: The Syrian Breakfast

Syrian breakfast, to me, is not only a wonderful spread of dishes but a social affair central to families and communities. Not only does it embody the things I miss about home, it is simply delicious.

Sep 19, 2021

I wake up, groggily, to my family collectively yelling my name up the stairs. They don’t want me to miss the best meal of the day: Friday breakfast. I immediately get out of bed and rush downstairs, eagerly anticipating what I am about to be met with.
One of the things I miss the most about home is the food. I especially miss the concept of food as an event, with aunts, uncles and grandparents gathering to share in a special moment with dishes new and old. Some of my most vivid memories while growing up involve me hovering over a chaotic, crowded kitchen as my mom or grandma expertly add finishing touches to heavenly smelling foods. I don’t really do anything productive until it’s time to actually consume the food, but I periodically ask if anyone needs help to flimsily justify my presence in the kitchen. I especially miss the gatherings that involve breakfast. The Syrian breakfast.
A Syrian breakfast is often communal: family and friends share a mosaic of various small and centrepiece dishes over some morning chatter and free-flowing black tea. As an important hub for the spice trade and numerous empires over millennia, Syrian cuisine is influenced by centuries of local innovations and interactions with Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Persian and Levantine food cultures. This explains its diversity, strong Mediterranean influences and the variety of specialty flavors from different cities.
Every family has their favorites that they add to the breakfast table, but the backbone of the meal is generously drizzled olive oil — or poured, depending on how big of an olive oil fanatic you are — on most savoury dishes.
Common à la carte dishes often include a mix of dairy products, dips and vegetables — all meant to be eaten with Arabic or pita bread as a utensil.
Food dips include labneh, hummus and Za’atar. These are easy to prepare on the go. Labneh (which can be purchased from supermarket deli sections or dairy aisles) is spread on a small dish, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with mint and Aleppo pepper. Hummus, which can be homemade or purchased pre-made, is also topped with olive oil and Aleppo pepper, as well as cumin and chopped tomatoes. Za’atar (the prepared spice mixture with sesame and sumac, not the pure dried herb) is placed in another small bowl, with a bowl of olive oil accompanying it. Pieces of bread are dipped into the olive oil then into the Za’atar.
Other instant foods include Syrian cheeses — I personally enjoy Syrian stringy cheese — and fresh vegetables and greens like olives, tomato, cucumber and mint leaves. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can either make or hunt down ready made makdous, or cured eggplant.
On weekends — or when you have extra time on your hands — you can always include some larger dishes into the mix. One hearty Syrian classic is Tisi’yeh, which is a mixture with chickpeas, sour tahini yogurt sauce, olive oil, toasted pita bread pieces and pomegranate. Other dishes include Ful (a popular Syrian version contains plenty of tahini and chickpeas), fried potato cubes with spiced ground beef and various egg dishes. Eggs can take the form of omelettes topped with cumin or fried eggs cooked with juicy Sujuk, Basturma or tomatoes. Alternatively, hard-boiled eggs can be sprinkled with the works: salt, cumin and Aleppo pepper.
And of course, you can’t forget the tea. Black tea bags will do, but be prepared to keep refilling your cup.
What makes the Syrian breakfast so endearing is how flexible it can be. You can keep innovating and including random dishes you may be craving — from manakeesh to a tuna salad, or jams to cold cuts. You can eat a couple of small plates on the go, or spend hours chatting with loved ones over loud music in a backyard on a hot, sunny morning. You can bond with new people over an amazing culinary experience. It’s a beautiful social affair — when you are properly following Covid-19 gathering guidelines, of course.
Sidra Dahhan is Senior Columns Editor and Film Columnist. Email her at
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