Archive for December, 2011

A day in the life of a… salop vendor

Shukri: Winter is the best season for sweets

Mike Derderian
Star Staff Writer

For those passing through downtown Amman on a cold winter day nothing beats a cup of hot salop (sa7lab) to warm their chilled bones and stop their teeth from clattering. Of course if you are one of those people who grew up with the traditional ambience of our old marketplace  then you are no stranger to Abu Rateb’s place where Mohammad Shukri has been making and selling the stuff for more than 17 years.

“Our recipe hasn’t changed; it is prepared by our employer’s sons, my father and myself,” commenced Shukri before being interrupted by a client, who asked if they had licorice juice. “No sorry, we only serve it during summer,” politely answered the 30 year-old Shukri to the disappointed teenager.

Located at the corner of Al Khayam Cinema’s Uphill Street, Al Mardini’s place according to Shukri has been around since 1951 and like the many shops in Al Balad (downtown) it has become a household name to a lot of Jordanians, especially to those who savor the spicy white blend.

Placed on a slow fire, salop gradually brews into a white thick liquid that consists of milk, starch and vanilla for flavor, announces Shukri. Before scooping salop from the brass caldron into a cup for an eager customer he slowly stirs it once or twice. The young man then skillfully sprinkles shredded coconut and cinnamon over the warm salop and places a wide straw in the cup before handing it over to the customer who takes careful sips—salop is near boiling—as he walks away in delight.

“In wintertime we switch to salop; however in the summer we sell cold beverages like lemon, licorice, carob and tamarind. We also sell warm harisa, which is our specialty, in addition to awama and the traditional sweet known as Asabe’ Sit Zeinab,” elaborated Shukri, “winter is the best season for sweets.”

Expressing his comfort at working with the Mardini family, Shukri says that a person working in downtown grows accustomed to the area, streets and neighboring shopkeepers. Consequently his long working hours at the shop appear shorter and less tedious.

“We open shop at 6:00 a.m. My shift starts at 4:00 p.m. and continues until 12:30 and sometimes till one past midnight. My father has been working with the Mardini’s for 37 years; today he happens to be on leave,” said Shukri, who further added that it was because of his father that he continued working in the business, “I wanted to help him out and here I am.”

On how they prepare the juices and sweets Shukri said that they have a small workshop located atop the shop where most of the beverages are mixed and sweets packed.

“I am an active person. As my shift starts late, I utilize mornings in doing my usual errands. Basically I don’t have a holiday but that doesn’t bother me much,” added Shukri, “our working days are almost the same and nothing much changes during festivities and holidays.”

As in any profession, the juice business isn’t void of intruders, who are in for the easy gain as the young man puts it. “Not everyone knows that it is vital to work according to a recipe. It is a lucrative business and this is what attracts them.”

According to Shukri people of all sorts and ages, especially the younger generation, are attracted to Abu Ratib’s salop place by word of mouth. “They come to us saying that their parents or grandparents used to come here and no matter how late or early it is, people still come to us,” joyfully added Shukri.

Most Jordanians nowadays live by the clock and are always in a hurry, so it is no longer a favorable pastime to stand placidly opposite Abu Ratib’s marble counter in order to enjoy a hot or cold drink, where trays of hot harisa glitter as the neon light reflects off its syrupy surface. However, you can always order a takeaway salop as Shukri puts it pointing to the plastic containers that are neatly placed on a shelf next to the hot caldron.

“A lot of Jordanians drink salop; it is a nutritious drink for the body, and wherever you go people know salop which is a very old recipe,” expressed Skukri, “there are a lot of salop vending shops in Jordan yet people prefer to come to us because of our reputation and the unique flavor we offer.”


These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on December, 16, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.

The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month.

Lately my dependency on the Social Network has been turning into guilt-filled-angst that is spread thick on spent hours. Another strong reason behind my writing and designing the above visual statement is because Facebook is becoming my work after work.

For a husband and a father of a lovely little girl, and, pretty soon, the father of another child, this dependency is really irritating the existential Homo sapien within me.

I’ve contemplated deactivating my account so many times, however, every time a strong argument that goes in my head prevents me from doing so:

I now have so many acquaintances, from the region and the world, who I really enjoy conversing and interacting with; some are now even amazing friends that I care for!

Facebook has also become my personal PR headquarters, where I post my work through pages that reflect my passions. It helps me connect with creatives, be they writers or artists, or just plain normal folk like you and I, whose work and thoughts I respect. Of course I regard myself more of a writer and an aspiring comic artist than an artist-artist.

Plus disconnecting in this time and age would be PR suicide and it will turn you into a castaway much like Robinson Crusoe, who is constantly searching for his Man Friday!

So the above poster is to remind me – I am sure you don’t need my advice on anything, especially the time you spend on Facebook – that there is a real life beyond the  few centimeters that make up a computer screen within which I am leading a cyber existence.

Some people deny it exists but it is there in their own hands: The middle finger that some of us often use when encountering idiots, especially Ammani drivers, who probably got their driving licenses through fuckin’ WASTA [nepotism, favoritism and tribalism all in one].

A new study [DON’T YOU BELIEVE IT] revealed that using the middle finger when dealing with idiotic lifeforms helps reduce heart attacks and manic depression.

Don’t deny it! Embrace it and most of all use it!

Whenever I have a meeting with a friend or an acquaintance at Rainbow Street I park my car at the lot adjacent to the new Rainbow Street Theatre. Question: When did the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) sell this brilliant parking space to a private contractor?

I don’t mind paying 1 JD but why should I do so when it was originally free!

Anyway that is another issue for another blog post. The reason why I park there even though my rendezvous would be at a place like Turtle Green, Cafe Des Artists or Books@cafe is because I like to walk through Rainbow Street.

I simply enjoy stretching my aging muscles!

For the past few weeks, even after the Occupy Rainbow Street took place, and which I did not attend because I was busy chasing after rent and food money, I noticed that there are no more benches in Rainbow street.

A bench is a long seat, made out of metal and wood, for several persons and can be found in parks or public spaces.

What are  parks or public spaces? Things that we don’t have in Jordanian neighborhoods, and if we do they are usually surrounded by so much red tape that you’ll need a pair of garden hedge scissors to go through them before you reach a fresh patch of green!

Today’s blog post is all about questions!

Where are the young men who held unto their guitars like passionate lovers while jealous ladies watched them as they sang the night away at Rainbow Street? Where did the married couples who hang around Rainbow Street with their children and baby carts go? Where did the boys and girls who shyly sat next to each other on benches at Rainbow Street vanish?

So where did everyone go? They are gone with the wooden benches that were removed by you know who: GAM.

I thought of the above poster a while ago but it wasn’t until I read Raghda Butros’s piece on BeAmman “Bring Back the Benches” that I decided that I should make it for the blog post that I you are now reading.

The phrase in the poster translates to “Only in Jordan.”

Why were the benches that gave the visitors of Rainbow Street an excuse to enjoy Rainbow Street disappear, and why is our GAM so blatant and obstinate in upholding haphazard decisions that affect our lives one way or the other without even asking for our permission?
But the most important question that comes to mind is: Why is Jordan against having public places like any other country around the world?