El Nabattiyeh is one of those out of the way cities, somehow overly populated while being in the middle of nowhere. The streets choke with dense, irregular traffic and those carelessly wandering on foot fill even the tiniest spaces between the cars. Have you heard of swarm behavior? A single bee or ant isn’t smart but their colonies are – I’m not sure how anyone survives on that road, but they seem to come out of the madness unscathed. Right in the city center is a butcher with half and quarter carcasses hanging out in the shop window. There’s beef and local lamb with large hunks of liyyeh, the beloved tail fat that is eaten raw or used for cooking and perserving. Over charcoal, very little food beats a properly handled skewer of pure tail fat: the surface turns golden and crisp and the inside melts in one’s mouth, savoury and even sweet. Luckily, like many butchers in the area, this shop also doubles up as a charcoal barbeque restaurant, so we enter hungry and eager. Here, eggplants for babaganouj are pounded with a mortar and pestle until smooth and get a touch of tahini, only enough to feel its presence. The kafta, minced lamb and parsley kebabs, are served with chili-flavoured bread – they’re super fresh and bloody awesome.
After a brief wait for the 12-year-old boy who works at the green grocer’s to remove his cart from behind our car, we resume our journey. We enter Jarmaq (ref here), a stunningly rugged bit of landscape both green and barren, and pass by its wheat fields. A farmer is busy with the harvest, aided by two young daughters. It takes some effort, but after he is convinced that I’m not a spy, he lets me take their photo.