Shooting Star Tour
Shooting Star Tour
As some of you know I recently spent a fair bit of time on holiday in Syria and one of the cooler things that happened is that I got to see the amazing Shooting Star moassel being made. A pal of mine introduced to the people responsible for Shooting Star and gave me a little tour through the various barns/flats/houses scattered around the Tartus Governorate from which this lovely product emerges.
First stop was off a dirt road in the middle of nowhere where a small clay brick building filled with bundles of cured leaves are bundled and stored and three small barns that could have easily been at home in rural Kentucky sat in splendid isolation. In the first barn I got to see Prelip and Shak Al-bent leaves flute cured in a method one would find in the Southern United States. The second barn had Basma leaves being fire cured with piles of barely smoldering wood while the third had some apparently shade grown leaf shaped like Samsun placed upon a mesh grating which stood about 2.5 -3 meters above smudge pots emitting clouds of smoke that smelled of cardamom and anise. Apparently two men climb ladders and use a sort of rake I didnít see to turn the leafs although I could find out how long the various curing processes take.
I found it amazing to see such a variety of curing methods in such a small area and the incredible amount of work that it takes to produce such a product says a great deal about the dedication and skill of the workers.
Next, we visited an apartment in Sāfītā in which a couple of women with long, delicate fingers skillfully stripped the vines and stems from the cured leaf in much the same way cigar tobacco is processed in a rolling gallery while they animatedly chattered.
In a near by apartment the leafs are blended together according to the recipes for the various flavours and are bundled in canvas before being loaded in to an old Peugeot estate wagon to a little house near Baniyas where the leaves are chopped, mixed with molasses and baked at low temperatures (around 250F I think) for anywhere from less then 30 minutes to a couple of hours depending upon the type of leaf and the flavour ultimately being produced. It is my understand that the various blends of leaves are given different baking times so as to vary the extent to which they assimilated into the agglutinant with a goal of maintaining rather then muting the natural flavour profile of the various tobaccos as is the case with Gulf and American style moassel. The tobacco/molasses mixture is then scrapped into big plastic tubs and put back on the Peugeot and sent to a house near Tartus.
Upon arriving in Tartus, portions from the various tubs are mixed in big kettles (with no heat being applied) with something that looks like a mash rake (a special paddle used in making ales) connected to a hand held electric drill and then transferred into wooden barrels where they are mixed with various essential oils infused with herbal and spice extracts. The various essential oils used in making the various Shooting Star flavours are produced in Al Hamidiyah by Greek speaking spice makers although I didnít get to see that aspect of the process. The moassel sits in the barrels for several weeks before being scooped and packed into small plastic barrels which are sent out to a few local vendors or simply plopped on some wax paper which is bound with string and given to the purchaser.
All in all Iíd say the whole process was fascinating and I hope that those of you that got some samples of Shooting Star have a bit more of an appreciation for the dedication, craftsmanship and knowledge that went into making such a delightful smoking session possible.
If anyone has any questions about any of this Iíd be happy to answer them.