A day in the life of a… salop vendor
Shukri: Winter is the best season for sweets
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.