Tamryeh, the Feast of Mar Sassine and a Taste of Eternity

The church of  Mar Sassine (Saint Sassine)- next to my home in Lebanon in the small town of Beit Mery- hosts a yearly fete on 13th September.  For three days the area is cordoned off and thousands of people come to stroll, shop for rickety nicknacks, stand by to watch the crowds or attend outdoor concerts, standup comedies and plays. In this lively and noisy atmosphere where church bell ringers compete, stall holders sell shawarma on a spit, crisp falafel sandwiches, saj manoushis as well as large selections of Lebanese sweets. A favourite with gourmands of all ages and only cooked during summer feast days, is tamryeh - a deep fried pastry dusted with icing sugar . 

Nostalgia coupled with curiosity prompts me to order a dozen to take home. Anis, the pastry chef, starts a series of precise movements which he repeats with rhythm and dexterity. First he rolls out a piece of soft dough on an oiled surface. He then spreads it and pulls it from all sides to make an almost clear, thin sheet which he swiftly divides into four equal pieces. From under his worktop he pulls out a large tray of pre-cooked orange blossom flavoured semolina paste. He takes four squares which he places in the centre of the dough and finally he delicately lifts and folds the sides to make envelope shaped parcels.

Dropped in sizzling oil the pastries float, blister and expand until they turn a golden colour. Anis picks them up with a slotted spoon and places them on a special polished stone sat in the tray next to him, to allow excess oil to drip. When he feels that tamryeh is ready, he hands it to his helper who, with flourish, sprinkles it with powdered sugar.

Because the dough is extra thin, it cools in no time and the impatient me could tuck in almost immediately.
At the first bite, the sweet pastry crumbled; with the second bite I got a taste of the smooth and plump filling and with the third bite I died and went to heaven!

Standing, there in the warm evening, amidst the crowds, the sounds of music, children's voices, people calling and bells ringing, I relished every bit of the warm and light crusted pastry. It suddenly became clear to me that tamryeh like many other foods of this kind have a timeless quality. Anis and generations of  people before him had unknowingly contributed to this, however fleeting, taste of eternity.

Anis rolls out the pastry

The semolina squares 

The envelope-shaped parcels


The polished stones in the background

Dusting with powdered sugar- almost ready

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