I don’t know if mehyawa (or mahyawa), a fermented fish sauce that has its origins in Iran and is used widely as a spread in the Arabian Gulf, will ever become a global ingredient but it deserves to be. Eaten on its own with bread (usually regag or tannur) or with other ingredients like the fried egg in the picture above, it could be considered an ‘umami bomb’. I can’t remember where I first tasted it but I am pretty sure it was at my wonderful friend, Maryam Abdallah. Maryam is a wonderful cook and the first ever Qatari TV chef. She is married to a Bahraini and gets her mehyawa from Bahrain. According to her and other friends, Bahrain is the place for mehyawa but I got mine from my wonderful friend, Sheikha Bodour al Qasimi, who has been (still is) my saviour whenever I needed to learn about Emirati cuisine. Also when I wrote my piece on camel hump for Lucky Peach when she gave me a whole baby camel! Anyhow, I was having an exchange with her sister Sheikha Hoor Al Qasimi about mehyawa on Instagram where I rued the fact that I didn’t bring back any with me from Qatar (Maryam had offered to give me some but I worried about having a bottle of it in my luggage) and Hoor said she would arrange to send me some. Not long after Bodour’s driver was at my door with two huge jars of excellent home-made mehyawa.
I may have inadvertently started a trend. I was doing a radio interview the other day about Modern Mezze ahead of my participation in the Emirates Literary Festival and as I was flicking through my book, I remembered that I had included roasting chickpeas as a way to supplement a home-prepared mezze and I wondered if the roasted chickpeas that I have been seeing on menus in the last couple of years or more did not have their inspiration in the photo and quick recipe below. It sounds presumptuous I know and I am sure there are people who wrote about roasting chickpeas before I did — must check in Rayess’ book, also Ibrahim Mouzannar‘s. Also it may well be that the trend for roasted chickpeas came from somewhere else because they are a heatlhy snack and chefs are more and more concerned about offering healthier choices.
Some of you will remember Bea from her delicious biscotti and cacciucco. Well, I am back in my friends’ gorgeous house by the sea where Bea cooks the most divine meals, some of which I am hoping to blog before I leave. Until then, I thought I would post the adorable panettone and icing sugar presepio that she made for my friends for Christmas. Such a sweet thing to do (no pun intended). Her edible effort is not unlike the non-edible one outside the Duomo in Perugia below. I guess there aren’t very many ways to depict baby Jesus just born in the barn!
Sicily is the land of sweets. In the old days, the nuns made them in convents. A few still do but nowadays you need to go to pasticcerie or regular bars to sample the amazing range although not all will be good. Two days ago we had a very poor gelato but we struck it lucky this morning when Mary took me to eat the best cannoli ever in the most unlikely place, an ugly hamlet called Dattilo that is home to a few hundred people. I don’t know if the place is mafia land but I am sure that any gangsters there will do the same as the Godfather character and leave the gun for Euro Bar’s cannoli! From there, we went up to Erice, to Maria Grammatico who had made the heart that Mary gave me for my birthday — Mary wrote all about her and her sweets in the brilliant Bitter Almonds. I was hoping to buy a heart but Maria had been travelling, so, we made do with an incredibly delicious Genovese (top picture) plus a whole selection of marzipan sweets for me to take home!