I have recently moved to Sicily in search of sunshine and a place that reminds me of home (Lebanon & Syria) but where I do not have to worry about ISIS! I am being facetious of course but Italy seems a safer bet than the Middle East these days and the great thing about Sicily, apart from the fact that it is very beautiful with lovely people and lovely food, is that the produce is just amazing, and pretty much the same as what I was brought up on, seasonal and supremely flavourful. So, I am now ensconced in Trapani which I like to compare to Beirut but cleaner and better organised, until that is my house is built, and not far from where I live is the mercato dei contadini, ie. farmers market that happens every Saturday; and this last Saturday one of the farmers had the most amazing cicoria or hindbeh that took me straight back to my mother and Jamil, my wonderful driver in Beirut who sadly is no longer with us, who used to bring my mother the most amazing bunches of freshly picked hindbeh which she would then cook in olive oil. And even though my fractured toes are still not completely recovered, I bought some to make myself some hindbeh following my mother’s recipe.
There was a time during the Lebanese civil war and for a while after, when I spent nearly 14 years without going back to Lebanon. So naturally, the first time I went back, I wanted to eat everything I had growin up there, recovering long lost flavours that I had missed in my years abroad. But there was one thing I had lost a taste for and that was raw liver. Like most Lebanese, I ate it from when I could chew — it is a great Lebanese delicacy, often eaten for breakfast from a freshly killed lamb — but my years in London and Paris had made me somewhat squeamish, at least as far as raw liver was concerned although not for very long. After gingerly taking a bite or two, I got used again to the faintly bloody taste and the slippery texture and tucked in. And I now make a pilgrimage every time I go to visit my mother to Qal’et el-Rumiyeh where they rear and butcher their own lambs to eat all kinds of raw meat dishes including raw liver.
I finished the year with my favourite dancer and I start the new one with my second favourite dancer, Samia Gamal, at the height of her fame when she was 30 years old and still had a wonderful body — there were periods when she was quite fat (at least by my standards). Anyhow, her movements are sinuous and graceful, and never vulgar. She did have an irritating habit though and that was her permanent wide fixed smile that seemed silly at times. Not here though!
It is nearly two years since I have been back in Lebanon and the first thing that struck me when I got home to my mother was how much better all the fruit tasted from that I buy in the Lebanese shops in London. I had asked my mother to buy me all that was in season and being the wonderful mother she is, she stocked up on custard apples, jujube, fresh dates and pistachios, khaki, pomegranates and peaches, all of which I adore and all of which I buy in London when they come into season. However, none taste as good there as they do here. Perhaps it is because of the long absence. Or more to the point, perhaps it is because of the time the fruit spend in transit. It could also be the quality. What is exported is possibly not as good as what is sold locally. All I can say is that I will make sure from now on that I go to Lebanon when my favourite fruit is in season. I missed the figs this year. My mother said something very interesting when I asked why she hadn’t bought any. Apparently, they turn sour as soon as it rains. The word in Arabic is ‘bi hammdo’. I never knew that and next year, I’ll be there before any rain spoils the figs!