As with Syrian food, the range of drinks is varied enough to please most palates.
Fresh fruit juices are a must-try and stands adorned with bunches of bananas and piles of oranges can be easily spotted from a distance. All kinds of fruits including pomegranates and grapefruit can be squeezed while you watch or order a mixed concoction which brings together mangoes, bananas, apples and orange juice in the blender.
Another treat in warm weather is minted lemonade or a rosewater syrup. The watery and slightly salty yogurt drink ayran (like an Indian lassi) is equally refreshing and available widely in restaurants and from shops.
The usual selection of cold drinks is available, including Syrian and Western brand colas. Hot drinks include tea, instant coffee (commonly referred to by the brand name Nescafe) and Turkish coffee. Frothy lattes are almost unheard of but the chain Inhouse has a reputation as the Starbucks of Syria and you can find branches in Aleppo and Damascus.
Guests in private homes will typically be offered a sip of shockingly-strong Arabic coffee from a communal cup as a welcome to the home or after a meal. Rock your cup slightly but quickly from side to side a couple times when you give it back to your host if you have had enough. Just handing it back without this little shimmy means you would like more of the dark brew. A couple sips are more than enough for most people.
Water of course is key for cyclists. Syrian water is not perfect and it’s certainly not up to Western standards but it is relatively safe and among the best in the region. You should be aware that monitoring and testing is not always reliably done. However, many cyclists drink tap water in Syria without issue. Taps dispensing fresh water are widely available at mosques, built into walls on busy streets or from metal coolers in many towns which even chill the water. Any shopkeeper will happily fill your bottles if you can’t find a public tap. Even in the remote desert around Palmyra, police posts every 50-70km provide a point to stock up on water from their tanks. In an emergency, you could also flag down any trucker as they all carry large stores of water on their vehicles.
Delicate stomachs will want to stick to bottled water for drinking, which is always available in cities but less so the more you go into the countryside. A water filter or other treatment method will be required for some of the rural areas where bottled water is not always sold.
Alcohol is available in most towns of any size from special shops which sell a wide selection of the popular drink Arak (like the French pastilles) as well as many Syrian, Lebanese and French red wines and a range of beers. The cheapest Syrian wine is often sickly sweet so go for a mid-range one. The more expensive Lebanese wines like Chateau Ksara are well worth trying and even though they’re the priciest in Syria, they’re still dirt cheap by international standards. Turning to beer, favourites like Heinekken, Amstel, Grolsch and Efes are available alongside the unique tasting Al-Charq from Aleppo and the Damascus lager Barada. Restaurants generally do not serve alcohol unless they are located in the Christian quarters of cities.
Typical costs for drinks are as follows:
- Can of Coca-cola – 15 SP
- Large bottle of water – 25 SP
- Mug of fresh juice – 40 SP
- Can of beer – 50 SP
- Bottle of Syrian wine – 150 SP
- Bottle of Lebanese wine – 350-400 SP