If you’re familiar with Naranj, then you’re familiar with your grandmother’s traditional light and crispy biscotti, dipped in the bitter-sweet,home-made marmalade, bursting with the zestful concentrated flavors of home grown oranges. Such is the tantalizing taste of Naranj, reminiscent of ancient trees, meticulously grown and artfully cared for by our Damascene ancestors.
Upon the opening of the Syrian restaurant Naranj, considered as a treasured national heritage in its home country, we were immediately tempted to visit a place transient of old Damascus. Perhaps the idea of being transported into a different world, esoteric yet completely familiar is one that could only be experienced by visiting the decadently oriental Naranj.
Resplendent with a stylishly modern yet vintage façade, Naranj embodies an ancient Damascus. A city whose character is woven through thousands of years of civilizations; antiquities and ancient maps are ornately displayed throughout the interior of the restaurant, complete with courtyard fountains and high ceilings. The allure of the Damascene environment is simply irresistible, fragrant with the appetizing scents of slowly roasted lamb and exotic spices mixed with the sweet aroma of apple flavored Narjeeleh smoke.
How can one describe an innate and familiar feeling? As we were seated, the friendly staff eagerly visited us and the host described all the different dishes on offer. As if we were dining at our grandmother’s house, to be spoilt and fed a hearty meal that will leave us craving the charm of traditional cooking, we couldn’t resist and simply surrendered to the countless suggestions on offer.
Starting off with an impeccable assortment of mezzah, or traditional appetizers, we were dutifully impressed with the pleasing presentation, let alone the delicious pallets. From the bite size Yalange, the hand-rolled stuffed vine leaves dipped in the purest olive oil, the Fattoush pulsating with the tangy summac sauce, to the light and airy Lahme bi Agine, we were completely filled with joy to delve into the different platters.
The Kibbeh mashweyah, slowly roasted and marinated in a rich Pomegranate sauce flawlessly complemented the aromatic Zaatar and Zeitoun salad. Dressed in a light lemon and garlic sauce, we couldn’t get enough of this delicious thyme, barley, and pomegranate salad. Not only so, the sweet yet sharp beetroot and Moutabal dip made for the perfect companion for the meticulously prepared Batata Harra, which consists of slowly roasted potato cubes that are spiced and herbed using cumin, red and black pepper spices and sauces. Fans of the famous Fatet Makdous (Stuffed Eggplant Fatteh) are in for a special treat, as the yoghurt based Fatteh sauce is extremely light, allowing one to fully enjoy the mixture of the spiced minced meat and eggplant seasoned with roasted ground pine nuts.Using freshly imported Syrian lamb, we also sampled the lemon and Mint flavored Patties, also called the Akras Naanaa.
After a lengthy period of time sampling the various smezzeh, we were presented with a national dish that is traditionally prepared in the coastal villages of Syria called Burghul Bi Dfin. The word Dfin, which also means buried, effectively described the slow-roasted lamb shank, as it effortlessly melted off our forks. The tender lamb is accompanied by a Burghul pilaf, and is then immersed in a concentrated olive oil concoction called Zeit Khreij. An intensely mesmerizing flavor, Zeit Khreij is slowly prepared by extracting the olive oil concentrate, and is then left out in the sun to slowly ferment for a long period of time. Although quite rich in flavor, the Zeit Khreij made for a wonderful sauce to accompany the other main courses and dipping breads, including the mixed grill. Marinated in various sauces then slowly grilled to juicy perfection, the cubed lamb pieces were succulent, and the Shish Tawook was extremely light. For those fancying an Armenian inspired classic, the classical rendition of Kebab Karaz at Naranj is absolutely supreme, as the sweet yet sour cherry sauce is lighter than the traditional, thicker cherry sauce commonly employed at other restaurants. Another popular choice for most fans of Syrian or Lebanese cuisine is also the famous Sayadeyeh, where Naranj delivers a picturesque rendition featuring freshly sourced Hammour and lightly seasoned rice.
Upon completing our long-lasting meal, we were pleasantly surprised by a large silver tray overflowing with a wide assortment of oriental sweets, as well as traditional Naranj biscuits, to accompany our refreshing mint tea. Had we known that the desserts would be this tantalizing, we would have attempted (only slightly) to refrain from ferociously consuming the various appetizers and main courses. Fluffy and crunchy Baklaweh, date and pistachio stuffed Maamoul, or the buttery soft and crumbling Ghraybeh, we didn’t even know where to start! Also in the tradition of Syrian service, a larger platter of fresh fruits was placed right next to the tray of sweets as the waiter laughingly rubbed his stomach and stated, “This is good for the digestive system, after the desserts, eat some fruit!” Naranj also offers their services of preparing the delectable sweet platters for takeaway, including jars of the customary Naranj marmalade to be enjoyed within the comforts of your own home that are available upon a kind request. When exploring Syrian cuisine, it is imperative to note that the idea of tasting a delicious home-cooked meal is not to go without careful planning and select ingredients. The quality of the freshly sourced ingredients at Naranj highlights the memorable tastes and addictive flavors, which reminds one of the care and dedication once executed by a loving parent to perfect even the smallest appetizer.
At Naranj, the culinary experience is truly a leisurely delight, tempting one to spend hours simply savoring each and every transcendent flavor, which involuntarily transport one into a distinctive Syrian instance, embolic of a different era. In a beautiful quote by Syrian thinker Yasser Tabbara, “Trying to describe Damascus is like describing your own voice, something you’ve heard for all the past years without thinking much about…it shines through the goodness of its people, their dignity and generosity, and through the genuine smile of a hopeful Damascene.”
For your Damascene experience at Naranj, please call 2226 8666. Naranj is located on Gulf road in Salmiya, Olympia Mall.