I went to a boys only high school back in Damascus. I had a great group of friends, ten of us, stuck together like conjoined twins. If one wants to buy a jeans all ten of us went to buy that jeans. If one needed a haircut we all went for a hair cut. One of the greatest characters in that group was Issam. This guy lives his life in slow motion. He talked slowly, laughed slowly and responded slowly but he had an edge to him. He was completely care free. He didn't care about school, didn't care if he gets in trouble, didn't care about teachers and didn't care about his family. Nothing on Earth seems to worry or trouble him.
In our tenth grade as part of biology studies, we had to keep a notebook. We did home work, extra curricular activities, biology drawings and stuff like that. You work on this book all through the year and you hand it towards the end of the semester to be marked. Our friend Issam didn't keep one and the day before the books were due to be handed he decided to borrow Abed's (another friend) book to copy it.
We left school and Issam decided to stop at the food seller on the corner to eat some Ful Nabit. Loads of kids were gathered around the Ful cart, somebody played a stupid joke, scuffle broke out and, true to form, my friend Issam dropped Abed's book in the large simmering ful pot.
We had such a good laugh the following day when we saw the hard crispy pages of the book. Even our biology teacher was in stitches when he heard the story. The only one who was not laughing was Abed especially when the marks came out few days later.
One of the best features of Damascus food scene is the endless number of street sellers offering all kinds of delicious snacks. On every corner of every street a man pushing a cart full of delicious grub. Food on offer changes according to the season. Mulberry juice, green almond, green plums, grilled chestnuts, corn on the cob boiled or grilled, Ma'arouk (sweet filled pastry), sugar cane, Tamari (thin rolls with grape molasses spread), prickly pears, and the list goes on and on. One snack in particular out-sells all others and is available all year round, Ful Nabit.
Ful is Arabic for broad beans or fava beans. I had a long think on how to spell it in English. I would have chosen "fool" as that how we pronounce in Syria but I usually stick with wikipedia spelling. They used "ful".
Ful Nabit is boiled fava beans served with salt and cumin. The seller cart will have huge pot with the beans slowly simmering. The beans are served in a proper glass or china bowls rather than paper wrap or a plastic plate, which I find adds a nice touch. to the experience. You usually get a glass of the cooking stock and half a lemon to accompany your ful. The cooking stock flavoured with salt , cumin and a squeeze of lemon makes a delicious (but not at all pretty) side drink.
Here is how to make Ful Nabit:
Dry fava beans 300g
Soak the beans in plenty of cold water over night. Drain the beans and add to a pot with more cold water. Bring to boil then lower the heat and let simmer for about 90 minutes.
Cooking time will vary depending of the beans size and type so make sure you check the beans every once in a while. If you can squeeze the flesh out of the skin like a paste then you are ready.
To eat, bite the tip of the bean off and dip in salt and cumin. Squeeze the flesh into your mouth and discard the hard skin. It is not very sightly but it is delicious and truly addictive.