From the country of the Nizari Isma’ilis, Ibn Battutah made his way towards Dimashq al-Sham (Damascus), passing through the cities of al-Ladhiqiyah (Latakia) and Ba’labakk (Baalbek). His description of the industry of Ba’labakk is most illuminating:

“It has such an abundance of cherries as is not to be found elsewhere, and in it is manufactured the dibs which is called by its name. It is a kind of thick fruit juice they make from grapes; they have a kind of clay which they add to this, with the result that it solidifies. The jar into which the paste is put can then be broken and the contents will remain in one piece. From this dibs is manufactured a sweetmeat, into which pistachios and almonds are put, and which they call al-mulabban. Another name they give to it is ‘horse-skin’. Another industry at Ba’labakk is the making of wooden vessels and spoons that have no equal in the world. Frequently they make a large dish, then make a second which fits into the hollow of the first, and another in the hollow of that, and so on to as many as ten, which anyone seeing them would imagine to be a single dish. In the same way with spoons, they make a series of ten, one within the hollow of the other, and make a leather covering for them. A man will carry this in his belt, and on joining in a meal with his friends, will take it out; those who see it think it to be a single spoon, whereupon he produces nine others from within it.”

Ibn Battutah’s love for detail is matched by a sense of wonder seen more often in children than adults. One has to love a man who took such delight in describing the tricks one could perform with cleverly contrived cutlery.

Image Attribution: The image above is sourced from Wikimedia Commons and based on a painting of the town of Baalbek by the Hungarian artist Tivadar Csontváry Kosztka (1853-1919), uploaded by Szilas. Dating back to 1906, it has been preserved in the Janus Pannonius Museum of Pecs, Hungary.

Reference: The Travels of Ibn Battutah (edited by Tim Mackintosh-Smith)