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18
Mar

mutton ribs copy

I love Pakistani food, but it is not often that I can have it well prepared. The Lahore Kebab House in London has expanded and is no longer as good as it used to be and Salloo’s is too expensive and too far from where I live. And I can’t go to Karachi (where I had fabulous food last year) every day, or even every year.

Luckily, I happen to be in Dubai where my brother, a fine gourmet, lives and he seems to have the best addresses. Today, he took me for lunch to Barbecue Delights, a rather charmless restaurant in an equally charmless part of town but where the cooking is just perfect. As usual, we ordered far too much: raita and salad before anything, then chicken tikka, mutton ribs, lamb chops to start, followed by lamb biryani, potatoes, spinach, daal, and kulfi to finish.

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Every dish apart from the lamb chops (tough and not so tasty)  was scrumptious but my favourite was the mutton ribs. They reminded me of my mother’s dale’ mehshi (ribs stuffed with rice and minced meat). After lunch my brother showed me where he lived, on the 41st floor of a tower opposite the DIFC overlooking a good chunk of Dubai and the sea. Sadly, the light was not so good but the photograph below gives you an idea of how amazing the place is. I guess there are some consolations to being here.

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Near Lamcy Square, Oud Metha, Dubai, Tel: +971 4 335 9868 or 9870



8
Nov

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzsRTTiwWb4[/youtube]

I was exchanging tweets with Heidi Leon about belly dance — she has just taken it up — and I thought I’d tell her about Nadia (actually I meant Samia, see ps below) Gamal, possibly the greatest belly dancer of her era, perhaps of all times, and my favourite. I also have a weakness for Tahiya Carioca if only for the name which always made my sisters and I giggle when we were young in Beirut. She was our reference for anything vulgar. Am not sure why. She wasn’t, as you can see from the video below. We must have been stuck up bourgeois girls.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xM_E3ca7Rs8[/youtube]

In any case, I googled Nadia and found various links and videos. I like this one best. She is still very young and gorgeous, slim without being skinny; and as a bonus there is also Sabah in the video, also still very young and pretty.

In my days, there were two singing divas in Lebanon. Feyrouz, a heavenly voice but ugly with crooked teeth, and Sabah, a glamour puss with a sexy voice. Both are still alive and are old versions of their young selves. Feyrouz less scary than when she was young and Sabah still trying to hold on to those gorgeous looks with some help, and not from her creator! Watching Nadia and Sabah reminded me of my youth in Beirut when I hated both Arabic music and belly dancing. I only liked western pop music and to my shame, it was mostly French pop. Now, I love Omm Kulthum, Nadia Gamal, even Sabah but only when she was young and many others. As for pop music, it has been replaced by classical and opera. I wonder if I should look at myself closely in the mirror to see if I have aged like Sabah! As for gorgeous Nadia, she died quite some time ago, without I think turning into a caricature of herself. Have to check on that. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this snippet of Egyptian high life when it was gay and sophisticated.

Ps. A Lebanese friend drew my attention to the fact that the dancer I am thinking of is not Nadia but Samia and here is a video of Samia Gamal. I can’t work out if the first video is Samia or someone else who’s almost as good but called Nadia. perhaps one of you will be able to tell me.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJNHfmETiVk[/youtube]


1
Nov

little birdies 4 copy

It’s been two years now that I happen to be in Lebanon and Syria during fig season. I didn’t plan it. It just happened but this meant that I could eat kilos and kilos of the most amazing figs; and more importantly, I could also feast on dozens of the tiny little creatures that feed on them.

Now, many of you will be horrified at the thought of eating little birds but I have to confess that I’ve been eating them from when I was a tiny tot, albeit a chubby one — always loved eating. The birds I ate then were shot by my uncles. I often accompanied them on their shooting expeditions, up in the mountains where the fig orchards were. And while they did the killing, I  would go round looking for ripe figs to eat straight off the trees — the main reason why I went with them. Once my uncles shot several dozen birds, we’d drive back home and I’d help my mother, grandmother and aunt pluck and gut the tiny bodies, still warm from having just been alive while my uncles lit a charcoal fire. We kept the birds’ heads on but snipped the beaks off. Then we washed and seasoned the birds before threading them onto metal skewers to grill them over the charcoal fire. Every now and then we took the birds off the heat and pressed their bodies against pita bread to soak up the fatty juices. Then came the moment of ecstasy — a little exaggeration here although not far off — when I popped one whole little bird after the other into my mouth and crunched on the heads first to release the juicy brain.

eating birds at the club d'Alep -- photo taken by Anna Sussman

At the club d’Alep: holding a little bird for Anna Sussman to snap

There has been talk for quite some time now of the birds becoming endangered, and of course, shooting them is illegal in Europe (although I did once eat ortolans in France) but this doesn’t stop them from being on the menu year after year, both in Lebanon and Syria. Here are a few photographs I shot in the last month. The best birds were not at Halim in B’hamdum, the temple for these creatures, but at a rather disappointing new Lebanese restaurant in downtown Beirut called Lebnaniyet (ex La Posta) where the birds were just perfect despite the fact they had been sautéed (I prefer them grilled). Everything about them was right: the size (not too big and not too small), the amount of fat (enough to make them really moist without them being too greasy), and the chef had kept the heads on — they take them off now at Halim.

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The different sizes you can order at Halim’s

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a little out of focus but it gives you an idea of how many birds get served night after night at Halim’s

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When they are grilled, the birds are served on marquq (handkerchief) bread

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Or you can have them sautéed in pomegranate syrup

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The simple mezze at Halim’s, with my beautiful mother looking a tad out of place in the modest café.

I guess I should really feel guilty and not eat these tiny creatures but they are one of the most heavenly foods ever, and to use a cliché, you only live once!


20
Aug

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I had some friends over for a Lebanese dinner last night and as usual, I went to Zen on Moscow Road to do my shopping. It’s my favourite Lebanese shop in London, owned and run by three charming brothers who are incredibly friendly and attentive. It is very rare that I have to wait to get served there but this time it was different. There was a lady there, wearing the most impossibly high heels with mid-calf white leggings. She seemed to be a regular client and a flashy one at that judging by her fancy mercedes parked in front of the shop (as if her clothes did not give that away), and she was happily chatting away to Mario, the younger brother, while filling a large bag with fresh pistachios — the season is just starting. I kept making faces at him behind her back, not only to see if he could rush her but also to stop her from taking all the pistachios but she was going on and on, and Mario was too polite to say anything. I thought she would never stop. She did eventually and thankfully, she left some pistachios which I pounced on before someone else did.

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She paid and got into her mercedes, and I finished my shopping and went back home, tucking into my fresh pistachios on the tube, leaving some for my guests of course. They were all curious about them, having never seen fresh pistachios before and naturally, they loved them. Apart from being great just as a snack or with drinks, they are also lovely added to a fruit compote or a fruit salad. The only problem with the latter is that if you are greedy like me, you won’t be able to stop eating them while shelling them. Totally irresistible.