Mum worked as a tour guide when I was little, and whenever she came back from Syria she would bring a giant box of ‘Syrian biscuits’; tiny, crispy, sesame-covered pistachio biscuits, sticky from honey. Although I am from the Netherlands, nothing tastes more like my childhood than those biscuits. Mum would let us unpack her suitcase hunting for presents and souvenirs, and this box of biscuits was always the big treasure.
Later on I had a chance to meet these biscuits in real life, so to speak. I traveled to Syria myself, where I was not only given a box of these biscuits on several occasions, but I also saw them appear with hot, sweet cups of tea, and in bakeries all along the streets of Damascus. I never thought that they would not play a role in my life, but at the moment the streets of Damascus are not safe, and biscuits are the least of everyone’s worries.
However, it should be a well-known cliché that war cannot destroy memories. Last year (exactly a year ago as I am writing this in fact) I worked in Jordan for four weeks; and I wondered – would Jordan have a similar biscuit? Of course this resulted in a great deal of my spare time being spent hunting down bakers and bakeries. Just ask my colleagues! My mission proved difficult, because I spent most of that time in a small, rural village. It had two bakeries, but neither sold my beloved biscuit; and I did check several times a week.
Eventually, near the end of my work in Jordan, I found the biscuit. Right in the centre of Madaba. I was having a cup of fresh mint tea, and guess what appeared on the saucer! I asked where the café bought its biscuits, and tracked down the bakery a few blocks away (accompanied by my now enthusiastic colleagues!) However, these Jordanian biscuits, they were the wrong size. A box came back home with me, but it did bug me. More and more. So, after many years, I finally realised… why do I not try to re-create them myself?