Well, the title is slightly misleading but this feast I was invited to in the desert in Doha last week was very close to Christmas and just as festive even if a lot more exotic than a Christmas meal. I had been to the same farm before but at a hotter time of the year and not for a full meal. This time the weather was just fabulous and the meal totally amazing.
I have a story in the Saveur March issue about Iranian food. My first ever Iranian meal in London may have been an impossibly glamourous one at Ava Gardner‘s house (cooked by an Iranian friend of hers) which I describe at the beginning of my piece or it may have been an almost equally glamourous one at Alidad‘s house (cooked by his mother). Both meals were totally delicious. Since then, I have had many more fabulous Iranian meals — it is one of my favourite cuisines. Anyhow, the story is not yet online but it will eventually, like my previous one on Ramadan and Emirati food. Until then, I thought I would post a clip of bakers making lavash (or perhaps it’s nan-e taftoon; the difference is slight with the latter being a little thicker) in Tehran. Like elsewhere in the Middle East, bread is an essential part of Iranian meals and they have several different kinds. This one can be baked on a hot plate like the one in the top clip or in a tannur oven as in the clip below.
It’s nearly forty years since I left Lebanon. There were many things that I hated about Beirut and many that I loved. I still feel the same although much of what I loved is disappearing, like the ambulant vegetable and fruit vendors who sell their produce off wooden carts which they push through neighbourhoods while shouting out their wares. A guy like the sombrero-wearing man below would belt out “yalla ‘ala banadurah, yalla ‘ala khiyar” to let everyone know he had tomatoes and cucumbers which he may have just picked from his fields. I loved listening to their cries and always followed my mother onto the balcony to watch her bargain with the vendor to get the best possible price.
Very soon it will be the month of Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset, not letting even a drop of water go through their lips. After hard days’ fast come nights of feasting and socialising when people visit each other, bearing gifts and sweets. And if there is a sweet that symbolises this month in the Middle East, it is qatayef (pancakes similar to Scottish muffins but thinner).
You can have them plain, topped with qashtah (clotted cream), pinched half-closed to make them look like cones and drizzled with sugar syrup (in the fancy sweet shops they’ll be garnished with orange blossom jam). Or you can have them filled with cream, walnuts or unsalted cheese, then fried and dipped in sugar syrup. I love them fried, especially if I am having them at my friends, the aptly named Ramadan brothers, whose stall is at top of souk Madhat Pasha on Straight Street in Damascus.