We went to Shaqlawa today. It is a small resort town in the mountains about an hour North East of Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. To get there, you take the Salaheddine road, which goes through the rich suburbs of Erbil, and not far from Saddam's summer palace, now housing the president of Kurdistan.
Shaklawa looks like many resort towns in the Arab world, and it reminded me of Slonfeh in Syria, except that Shaqlawa is much drier, although I am told winter snows are redoubtable. Most of the greenery is accumulated in the wadis, where it should be. And this is also where the town is built.Shaklawa High Street is dominated by touristic restaurants, cell phone shops, clothes shops and shops selling traditional sweets and nuts. You find a lot of those in the Erbil souk too, but our driver told me Shaklawa's products are well know, and worth tasting.
The ropey stuff hanging from the ceiling looks like sausages, and is called "sujki" which means sausage. But in reality they are sweet and nutty; the white ones are made from flour and milk and filled with wallnut, and the black ones are made from gelled grape molasses and stuffed with wallnuts. Very good stuff, made in Sulaymaniyya, another Kurdish town
There is a vary famous sweet in Iraq called "mann wa salwa' and the shop keeper told me that this is the manna that fell from heaven. Above is a sample of a globalized heavenly manna, a mixture of divine sweets and jelly beans.
But there are also a lot of very traditional, home made products. I found some qamareddine, which I went to Damascus to look for only last week. It is also called qamareddine in Kurdistan, and made with apricots (above) and pears (the lighter one below) and sour prunes.
Sour prunes are also used to make a very interesting jam, sold in bulk with the pits (?). It tastes good but it is, expectedly, quite sour.
Shaklawa is half and half Christian and Muslim Kurds, and there is a small Christian mazar, a shrine, hidden in the mountains. I hiked up, a very nice walk (but too short) and the view is beautiful (although my phone cam did not really capture the majesty of the landscape). Beyond the far mountains is Iran.
The mazar was not particularily interesting and consisted of a half fallen wall and 3 caves smelling of melted candle wax.
Back to Erbil. After the Iftar, Erbil comes back to life a second time. Although the old food souk remains closed, vendors take over the sidewalks. They sell mostly sweets, food, juice, music cds and dvds and men's underwear. Below is a picture of a kebab vendor in Erbil city center: artery clogging material.
Most shops in the covered souk close after iftar and clothes and textile vedors take over the place. I love the Kurdish women's dress and their fondness for colorful and shiny material. It is not Damascus' Souk al Hameediyyeh at night, but it is nice too.