Syria, and Aleppo in particular, seemed like the natural place to start my Middle East food crawl. In many ways, this was where it all began. Along with the capital, Damascus, Aleppo claims to be the oldest continually inhabited city on earth.
People have been thriving here for over 10,000 years, during which time the city has been conquered by – in no particular order – the Akkadians of Mesopotamia (Iraq), the Sumerians, Amorites, Assyrians, Neo-Babylonians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Hittites, Mongols, Mamluks and Ottomans (apologies to any marauding hordes of barbarians that I might have left out).
Alexander The Great stormed into town in 333 BC, possibly because he was at a loose end one afternoon while he was waiting for a hair appointment.
Throw in the spread of Islam in the 7th century AD, and the Crusades that followed – not to mention the odd earthquake here and there – and you’ve got a real little survivor on your hands. And that’s before you get to the brief British occupation and then the French Mandate that followed the First World War.
Sandwiched between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, Aleppo had once enjoyed a position as a great trading city on the Silk Road, but its routes of prosperity began to dry up, and by the early 20th century it had fallen into decline.
If Aleppo’s troubled history was a meal, it would be a buckling banquet table of hot and cold mezze plates, fiery dips, succulent grilled meats, aromatic rice dishes and bitter-sweet Arabic pastries – a bewildering variety of complex flavours, textures and aromas that would make the modern-day Arab-Israeli conflict look like a Pot Noodle.