SIDON, Lebanon: The shouts of the chocolate seller Ahmad offering his wares never ceased. A bell he carried rang in his hand, inviting customers to buy from him.
In shacks distributed by the Sidon Municipality, chocolatiers and other pastry-makers peddled their wares. Ahead of Eid al-Fitr, Sidon’s souks have transformed into a center of movement day and especially night, with shoppers lured by holiday discounts rejuvenating the city’s sluggish economy.
“For us this Eid is an important selling season,” Mohammad al-Durr, a shop owner, said Saturday.
Abu al-Hanafi Nasab, who was offering games and dolls on the sidewalk, told The Daily Star, “The joy of Eid is great here, and children love to buy toys.”
One such child, 6-year-old Dina, who was hugging a doll, said, “I bought pretty clothes for Eid, and I chose my doll, which will sleep tonight with me in bed.”
The Sidon Scouts toured the streets, the music from their instruments drifting throughout the market. Other scouts, along with trucks carrying figures representing the Eid euphoria, roamed the market carrying a Chinese dragon.
But perhaps the biggest draw during the festivities Saturday was also the sweetest one.
Dahr al-Mir Square near the Great Omari Mosque in Old Sidon was transformed into an area for the production of Eid desserts where the scent of maamoul mixed with the smell of Eid sweets.
Sidon “has its special flavor in Ramadan and in Eid,” Mayor Mohammad al-Saudi said.
He said his municipality saw it as a duty to take care of its chocolate and sweets sellers.
In line with that duty, the Sidon Municipality and the Muslims Scouts in the south organized the Traditional Eid Dessert Festival in the square of Dahr al-Mir, which drew visitors and sellers until dawn.
Owners of small shops selling sweets and families cooperated to prepare desserts in front of visitors.
“We bake desserts in tight alleys and popular and poor neighborhoods in Old Sidon for the poor to eat desserts, especially Eid desserts,” said 50-year-old Abir Abu Khadra, who helped her husband make and bake maamoul.
Kiosks transformed into small factories for producing sweets like malban, a candy similar to Turkish delight. Mohammad al-Naqouzi, who comes from a family that inherited the production of malban, said the candy was originally Turkish but had become part of the Lebanese tradition.
Sima al-Sidawi said she had brought various types of malban for visitors to try.
“It is a great idea to carry your wares from the patisserie and factory to here in the old city, where we originally lived,” Sidawi said, mixing starch, mastic, walnuts and sugar.
Umm Maha al-Samra, who has been making malban for over 10 years, created about 400 kilograms of the sweet for this season.
She said she hoped she would sell it all, especially considering a kilogram costs just LL11,000 ($7).
“And more important is that malban is made at home. So just like I maintain the hygiene of the food I make for my children, I do the same for the sweets,” she said.
Another candy, Al-Asha, made from fennel flower and sesame seeds, dough and sugar, is “delicious and tastes great,” according to Sobhi al-Mzayyen, who works at Sayfo Sweets.
Many dessert shops have stopped manufacturing Al-Asha, but it is still made in Sidon’s Old City because of its connection with the city’s heritage.
The festival organizers also managed to make the biggest date maamoul in Sidon, attracting local and outside visitors alike.
Chef Mohammad Abdul-Manaam said, “In this tradition, we wanted to create the biggest [maamoul], bake it and distribute it among the visitors.”
He said the maamoul was made of 8 kilograms of semolina flour, 5 kilograms of date paste and local ghee. It weighed 15 kilograms, according to the chef, as opposed to a normal date maamoul, which would weigh about 150 grams.
Among the shoppers purchasing sweets for the season Saturday was Umm Mahmoud. “I had to buy the Eid maamoul and encourage all that is traditional and linked to the city’s heritage,” she said. - Writing by Sahar Houri and Emily Lewis