Is there something strange going on? I don’t think so. It’s the Middle East as usual, bombs and suicide bombers exploding in one place or another, dozens of shredded bodies left in their wake, a down-and-out marketplace left in shambles.
68—that is, sixty-eight—dead. The explosion three days ago took 43. I wonder if in reality death is altogether commonplace, normal, and we are the ones who exaggerated it, made it into something extraordinary. Still, people are dying—lots of them, besides. A bomb exploding at noon in Aleppo doesn’t seem to have had the same effect on the Australians gathering for dinner in Sydney’s restaurants at the same time. And in Toronto, people rushing to work still won’t have heard the news. They’ll hear it soon enough, but most of them will regard it as an ‘ordinary’ explosion, not even worth reading about. The closest city to Aleppo is Hatay. In fact, the people of Hatay are so close to Aleppo that, if they paid close enough attention, they’d be able to hear the explosions with their own ears.
Hatay’s mezzes are famous, its dishes rich. Availing itself of the entire cultural heritage of this ancient region, Hatay’s cuisine is lacking in nothing. Whatever the Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, Turkmen Kurds, Turks, Persians, and Greeks ate and drank over the course of history, the people of Hatay took note, in case they might need it one day. And of course, they need it every day. Whosoever happens to pass through Hatay without partaking of its exquisite flavors will have missed a great deal.
The best food made by the Arabs of Hatay, what we might even call a true work of art, is the Arab kebab. You must try the kebab at the shabby cafeteria in the Old Market. Hamdullah Usta, master chef, is almost a real-life version of the naive shopkeeper type often found in novels. As his name and fame grew, tourists began flocking to Hamdullah Usta.