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!
I live in East London and have done so for the last ten years but for some reason, I still go West for my Lebanese shopping. I could easily go North to the Turkish shops in Green lanes, and I do sometimes but Zeina in Moscow Road remains my favourite Lebanese shop, not only because they have the best and freshest produce and meat but also because they bring in all kinds of wonderful fruit and vegetables when they come into season. You remember the lovely fresh pistachios from a few posts back. Well, the pistachios are even better now. More mature with the shell more open and the nut plumper. I have to add here that my friend Pierre Antaki, the secretary of the Académie Syrienne de la Gasstronomie, remonstrated wtih me for not mentioning that these pistachios were more than likely to have come from Aleppo (the name in Arabic is fistuq halab meaning the nut of Aleppo) where some of the world’s best pistachios come from.
In any case, I went to Zeina a couple of days ago to buy meat to make kibbeh bil-saniyeh (baked kibbé) and they had fresh dates. These have been in season for a while but like the pistachios, they are just coming into their own just now and they looked particularly good that day. So I bought some and I couldn’t resist eating half of them on the tube on the way back home while thinking back to the days when my father used to bring us huge straw baskets filled with the same fresh dates from Iraq where he spent time building roads and bridges. It’s funny, I do not remember eating them, just the sight of the spectacular baskets filled with bunches of gorgeous yellow dates. If you live in London, do go to Zeina or any other Middle Eastern store to buy some dates. And if you would like to read a little more about dates, go to this article which I wrote recently for one of the FT magazines: