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Posts Tagged ‘cuisine’

When I moved to Qatar in 2005, my friends organized a welcome feast in my honor . They wanted me to experience eating a rice-based dish cooked in the desert and eaten with the hands.

On the menu, Kabsa, a traditional dish made of rice cooked with lamb, chicken and an array of spices. A huge platter with a mountain of Kabsa sat in the middle of the table. While I naively waited for someone to distribute plates, knifes and forks for everybody, those never came. My hosts were all already seated, and with a unanimous motion, they started eating with their right hands.

I sat there, eyes wide, confused and shocked at the same time.

“Come on you can do it! Will you just grab it?” yelled one of my friends.

“No, I can’t do it” I answered anxiously. I did not know how to just dig into that steaming pile of rice.

I had heard about Bedouin eating habits, but at 22, I had not discovered yet my passion about culinary exploration, which explained my reluctance.

I guess I was set on the right track that day… I put all the rules of table etiquette that I was brought up with, behind me, gathered my courage, and started caressing the warm rice gently, hoping that I would have the guts to actually grab it as easily as they did. I took a deep breath, and dug into the glowing mountain of food staring at me. I grabbed a handful of rice with my right hand and exerted pressure with my palm and fingers. The grease made the rice stick together into a ball which I pushed into my mouth with my thumb.

made a mess…and loved every bit of it – Dukhan Desert, Qatar- 2005 (Photo by Fernando Di Guama)

Surprisingly, a fulfilling sensation emerged. I have never had such a close contact with food. There was a rich taste of seasoned rice that left a hot and spicy finish when I swallowed. I quickly mastered the procedure and started enjoying, feeling liberated from the constraints of what I thought were proper table manners.

The picture above was taken on another day, when we sat on a table in the desert. We actually used to eat the traditional dish on the floor, sitting around the big platter, barefoot and cross-legged.

From that day on, I became an addict of intense meal experiences, and started traveling the world looking for those and learning about local cultures through their cuisine. Qatar was just the beginning…

**An edited version of this post was also published in Physical Equilibrium Newsletter in New York City.

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Ilili, or tell me, in Arabic, is the name of a Lebanese restaurant in New York City. Many friends have asked me which was my favorite Lebanese restaurant in the city. A question that would embarrass me because… you know what? I don’t like any Lebanese restaurant in the city. Truth is , I don’t like to eat Lebanese food at restaurants in New York. It is not worth it for me. And anyone who likes good food and appreciates homemade cuisine would agree with me…until i went to ilili in the Flatiron area. That place actually changed my views about Lebanese food in New York restaurants. 

First, the tabboule definitely competes with the homemade version. 

Although the service was not always great! Waiters take on the task of educating customers about the menu and the characteristics of the cuisine. And if they have doubts that the customer may be Lebanese , they ask  him or her , if they would like to break the Arak themselves. A gesture that made up for the mishaps that followed. But I will not dwell on that, because this place is a must-go destination, if you want to have a sense of what the cuisine in Lebanon tastes like.

 At the bar, you can choose from a special selection of cocktails with original combination of ingredients such as rose water and vodka to  warm up the palate for the upcoming culinary voyage. A complementary helping of creamy labne (strained yogurt) served with crispy pita chips drizzled with extra virgin olive oil imported from Koura in Northern Lebanon along with Lebanese olives; greet you at the table.

And about the rest? you can read it here.

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This summer, before concluding my journey in grad school and starting an even more exciting one in the real world of Journalism (wishful thinking), I have registered in a multimedia class, to film, edit and produce videos for the web. As taxing as it is, it has been so enriching and thrilling thus far.

For my story, I chose to film the Lebanese community based in Brooklyn focusing on the Lebanese Food Festival that took place this last weekend in May. The festival showcased dancing, live Lebanese and Arabic music, fresh Lebanese and Levantine delicacies that attracted and fed over 5,000 passersby.

 

Food stalls at the Lebanese Food Festival (Carla Haibi)

Food stalls at the Lebanese Food Festival (Carla Haibi)

 

 

Here’s the article published in Now Lebanon.

A slide show will follow.

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When i first came to New York, one of my professors who is Dominican — and now became one of my closest friends– told me that in the Dominican Republic, kibbe and tabboule, both traditional Lebanese foods, are essential elements of the Dominican cuisine. I wondered how this happened. How did kibbe become so popular from Lebanon all the way to Santo Domingo? From there, I got the idea to write the article that just got published in Now Lebanon.

Dominican Quipe in Washington Heights (Carla Haibi)

Reporting and writing this story was really fun and interesting. With the help of some Dominican friends, i got recommendations of one of the most popular Dominican restaurants in New York and  I got in touch with the president of an important cultural club, the Syrian-Lebanese-Palestinian club in Santo Domingo to understand how this fact came to be. I also interviewed the president of the Lebanese industrialists Associations and a researcher from the University of Austin -Texas among few others who did not make it to the finished piece.

I am going to Santo Domingo in less than a month, and I will do some live reporting from there.

Lebanese kibbe in Brooklyn (Photo by Carla Haibi)

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An 2005 NYTimes article titled Lebanon’s Stills, Chilled by War, Are Rekindling the Old Fire, features my uncle (my mother’s brother) making arak, Lebanon’s national alcoholic drink. The story takes place in Zabbougha, a beautiful village in Mount Lebanon.

My mom’s family owns lands and fruit orchards and of course my uncle, Georges (who looks like Clint Eastwood) makes Arak for family and friends. As you can imagine, there is not a family meal that goes by, when we are all gathered that is, without Arak paired with delicious Lebanese Mezze.

In fact, Mezze , the selection of appetizers that make up the bulk of Lebanese cuisine is best paired with Arak.

Arak is made through a triple distillation of grapes, it is anise-flavored with a hint of licorice (from the anise seeds).

Arak turns milky white when mixed with water (1/3 arak, 2/3 water and an ice cubes added at the end).

It is a strong alcoholic beverage. It has to be drank slowly, enjoying the burst of freshness that every sip imparts. 

My uncle makes it every year. I will be reporting on the process live this year. So a more detailed report will follow.

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For those of you who are celebrating, Happy Passover!

Here’s a story i wrote for the holiday while interviewing a Lebanese Jewish caterer in New York.

Read it on Saveur Website.

Some pictures of the food she prepares. All Lebanese and all Kosher.

 

Lebanese Tabboule

Lebanese Tabboule

 

Stuffed grape leaves

Stuffed grape leaves

 

Kibbes and Turnovers

Kibbes and Turnovers

I don’t know about you, but I am getting hungry and my mouth is watering.

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A Lebanese equivalent to the Napa Valley and the wine country in California would be the Bekaa Valley. To put things into perspective, I mentioned in “About me” that i am from Zahle, the capital of the Bekaa Valley, famous for its hearty cuisine and wines.

Yes, Lebanon produces wine and it is believed that it was the first site of wine production in the world.

An article in the Wall Street Journal narrates a touring of Lebanon’s prominent wineries. There are many other interesting wineries that the article did not explore in detail, such as Domaine de Baal , the first organic and biodynamic winery in Lebanon and Chateau Khoury, beautiful domain that overlooks the Valley. I will post more about these wineries later on.

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