Finally back in London and already missing the bustling Arab markets with their abundance of seasonal produce and where I can taste anything I want without any of the vendors being offended as they would be in Europe.
This year, I was lucky to be in the Middle East during fresh chickpeas season, my favourite snack as a child. My mother used to buy us large bunches from street vendors and we would sit on our balcony, popping pod after pod – unlike peas or fava beans, chickpeas come each in its own pod, except for the occasional twin chickpeas in the single pod – to munch on juicy and tender chickpeas.
After I left Beirut for London, I forgot about my healthy snack. No chance of finding any there, not even in Paris where I lived for a while. It wasn’t until I went to Crete, one early summer to research my Mediterranean Street Food book, that I saw them again but they were not so good, rather dry and starchy although this may have been because it was the end of the season.
But this year I struck it lucky in Lebanon. I was driving into Tripoli with my lovely friend, Jason Lowe, who is doing the photographs for my new book and as we approached the Mina roundabout, Jason spotted a woman sitting by a huge pile of fresh chickpeas. We stopped for him to take pictures, and of course, I couldn’t resist tasting them. It was a ‘madeleine’ moment. The chickpeas were as juicy and tender as those of days long gone, and I immediately sat by the lovely vendor popping pod after pod the way I did when I was a child.
Here she is weighing the bunches.
And here are the bunches, nicely displayed on a table next to her for sale at just over a dollar each.
Later, we walked on the beach, with Jason taking more photographs (he took the lovely ones in this post) while I was greedily popping chickpeas out of their pods and into my mouth. There was a lovely, elegant couple sitting under a parasol, sipping coffee. We got talking and I offered them some of my chickpeas. She immediately told me how she used to snack on them as a child and I surprised her by telling her how they were now fashionable in California. I wish I could have told her they were also fashionable in England. Perhaps I should have a chat with the herbs and greens guy at Marylebone’s farmers market and get him to plant some, although I am not sure if the English weather is suitable.