Souqs information

Sidon (Saida) , Lebanon
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The old covered souqs are the city's highlight, lying between the Sea Castle and the Castle of St Louis. This is where, in labyrinthine alleyways, shopkeepers ply their trades in workshops the same way they have done for centuries. Officially there are some 60 listed historic sites here, many of them in ruins, though renovation work is ongoing.

Scattered throughout the souqs are several coffeehouses and plenty of tiny canteens dishing out cheap, simple and tasty Arabic dishes; there are also a huge number of pastry shops where you can buy hot bread and biscuits. The delicious sanioura (a light crumbly biscuit) is a speciality of Sidon and the souqs are also famous for producing orange-blossom water.

Distilled from the fragrant blossoms of the orange tree, orange-blossom water - along with rose-water - is a speciality of Sidon and it's well worth picking some up to take home while in town. It's said that their correct method of distillation was finally perfected in the 10th century by Avicenna, an Arab physician. Nowadays both remain popular in the Middle East for enhancing numerous dishes, both sweet and savoury, and orange-blossom water is the defining ingredient in the misleadingly named popular local digestif, café blanco (orange-blossom water in boiling water).

The trick, in cooking, is to use the distillations sparingly - just a drop or two at a time - orange-blossom water being stronger in flavour than rose-water. Orange-blossom water is particularly yummy when added to fruit salads, salad dressings or Arabic rice dishes, while rose-water can give a delicate flavour to custards, pastries and halva. Both also make lovely cooling summer drinks: add a few drops to a sugar syrup, then stir them into iced water, cocktails or iced tea to conjure a taste of the Middle East wherever you are.

High-quality versions of both are made by Matbakh Saida, and sold in the Musée du Savon's (Soap Museum) attached café.