After cutting off food baskets… homemade bulgur wheat and tomato paste are back in Daraa
Daraa – Halim Muhammad
Umm Mahmoud lit the wood-burning stove under the pot and added wheat grains to prepare the bulgur’s supply. She abandoned this task years ago but returned to it in the summer of the second year after the Syrian regime re-controlled her governorate.
The forty-something-year-old woman coughed as she tried to keep the fire burning to cook the wheat, but the smoke rising from the stove filled her eyes with tears and affected her health as she suffers from a chronic pulmonary allergy.
“It is like we came back in time to decades ago, when my mother used to rely on firewood to prepare and store supplies of bulgur and tomato paste,” Umm Mahmoud told Enab Baladi.
Umm Mahmoud is “forced” to return to store food supplies to feed her family of seven, not only because of high prices and poor economic conditions but also due to the cut off of aid she used to receive for years during the war.
Before the Syrian regime’s forces regained control of the area, in July 2018, relief organizations that assisted residents were active by delivering aid through the al-Ramtha border crossing with Jordan.
The United Nations (UN) has resorted to the al-Ramtha border crossing to eliminate bureaucracy and not hinder humanitarian efforts by activating the Security Council resolution to deliver cross-border assistance without requiring permission from the Syrian regime government.
Nevertheless, the region’s return to the Syrian regime’s control suspended the UN resolution, and the relief aids returned subject to the governmental decisions.
“I used to receive the aid basket a maximum of every month and a half, and the basket was filled with tomato paste, bulgur, canned food, oil, and sugar, but nowadays the basket is distributed every six months,” Umm Mahmoud said.
According to Umm Mahmoud, the aid provided was “enough” to meet the family’s food needs.
Nowadays, the aid granted does not include canned food or tomato paste, whereas the bulgur is not enough and of bad quality. Therefore, most people, especially in the countryside, resorted to preparing bulgur and tomato paste at home, Umm Mahmoud said.
How to prepare bulgur supply and tomato paste at home?
The preparation of homemade food supplies is an old habit in the Daraa governorate, given the importance of bulgur in preparing the “Hauran Mansaf” and the “Mlehi,” a ceremonial big occasion dish made with bulgur and garnished with meat and nuts.
Umm Mahmoud explained to Enab Baladi the preparation way of bulgur supply at home, which begins with putting the bulgur wheat in water to melt the dust and push the straw to the top of the pot. Then the moist grains are spread outdoors until they are dried by the sun.
Umm Mahmoud removes the dirt, little stones, and barley from the wheat grains and then sends them to the grinder to become ready for storage.
As for tomato paste’s homemaking, it does not require lots of effort, as Haneen, a local woman in her thirties, told Enab Baladi while mashing the red tomatoes.
Haneen covered up her hair and wore medical gloves before starting her work. She first cleaned the tomatoes, then cut them, added salt, and mashed them.
The women of Daraa province have two ways to making tomato paste, the first of which is placing the tomato paste under the sun for several days after mashing the tomatoes, and the second way is done by cooking the tomato juice on fire until it holds together and turns into a paste.
Haneen prefers the cooking way and said that the last step is to store the tomato paste in jars to be consumed later and added to food, such as pasta meals, potato soups, and beans.
What about the markets?
According to Haneen, bulgur and tomato paste are available in shops and markets, but their high prices drive families to prepare them at home.
The price of one kilogram of bulgur in the market is 1200 Syrian pounds (SYP = less than half a dollar), and the price of tomato paste is 1500 SYP per kilo. These prices are considered high, given the weak purchasing power of the residents in this region.
The United Nations had repeatedly expressed its “concern” about the rise in food prices in Syria, as they increased in more than double over 2019, by 133 percent, according to last June’s estimations when the Syrian pound witnessed the largest drop in value against the US dollar.
According to the latest data from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in August, 32 relief organizations are active in the governorate of Daraa, including five organizations affiliated to the UN, 13 Syrian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), eight international NGOs, five civil society organizations, and the “Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC).”
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