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eG Foodblog: Hassouni (2012) - Beirut and beyond


Hassouni
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Really enjoying your foodblog, Hassouni! I've always wanted to roam Beirut.

Re: The Menu item, Disciplinary Kafta sounds, well, troubling...

Carry on.

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

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Well the agenda for today was: get stuck in snow in the mountains for several hours, finally after lots of agony bail out, attempt to go to Saida instead, and give up on that too because of the MISERABLE traffic in Beirut.

So all I did - and ate) between breakfast and now (8pm) is hit up another of my favorite places for some needed relief about 2 hrs ago:

Ka3kaya (or, as I might write it, Ka'kaya), a very homey but hip low key café in Hamra (guess what my favorite neighborhood is!), whose specialty is ka'ak, or what can best be described as the Lebanese cross between a soft pretzel and a bagel. It's round, flattish, crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, studded with sesame seeds, and can be stuffed with anything, but usually cheese or za'tar. Also, usually they're sold from street carts. Sadly I didn't have a ka'ak, or kalleeta, as they call them*, because it was getting late and I'm planning on kabab tonight. They have a pretty good menu besides ka'ak though - I got some mixed nuts plus carrots, and a ginger & steamed milk tea, while my dad got a blueberry cheesecake and cappuccino:

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A word on the carrots and nuts: Ka3kaya doesn't serve alcohol, but these are VERY typical bar snacks in Lebanon. If you order a beer anywhere, you usually get carrots and nuts for free. The nuts usually include, at a minimum, peanuts and addictively salty pumpkin seeds in the shell (which I eat whole). The carrots are the real treat - long slices of carrots, doused in fresh lemon juice, and sprinked with salt, or in this case, cumin. I WISH bars at home did that!

I really love Ka3kaya, and hopefully this won't be my only time there.

*to those who may know more than me: what is a kalleeta? how is it different than a ka'ki? Also, how is it written? It's only in English on the menu, and I assume it's كلّيتا, but I somehow think I'm wrong.

Edited by Hassouni (log)
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I want a place like Al-Falamanki in my neighborhood, too!

That's quite a menu. I notice that among the salads are a couple featuring "wild thyme." What kind of a salad green is that, it isn't just the herb, is it? Also, what do you get when you order "sizzling birds"?

Summer Savory, onions, Sumac, salt pepper and olive oil. Usually served with grilled meats.

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Hey ChefCrash, where would you recommend in central Beirut for mashawi? My thought was (don't laugh!) Kababji, but I'm open to suggestions.

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What a timely and fun blog Hassouni! We'll be in Lebanon this June and this just makes me look more forward to the visit. Have you thought of heading over to get Armenian Basturma sandwiches in burj hammoud? If you are in the area definitly stop by Bedo for some. BTW, I love the kabab mashwi sandwiches at Abu Koko in the Dora area. I posted about it a while back here. They changed locations since then, but they are still in the same general area.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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What a timely and fun blog Hassouni! We'll be in Lebanon this June and this just makes me look more forward to the visit. Have you thought of heading over to get Armenian Basturma sandwiches in burj hammoud? If you are in the area definitly stop by Bedo for some. BTW, I love the kabab mashwi sandwiches at Abu Koko in the Dora area. I posted about it a while back here. They changed locations since then, but they are still in the same general area.

Problem is Dora and Burj Hammoud are kind of far (I'm in 'Ain al-Tine, and am at the mercy of my dad for driving anywhere, and he's not used to trekking all across town -in horrific Beirut traffic - for sandwiches!). Also, it's hard for me to go to Burj Hammoud and not gorge on the falafel at Arax, which, dear readers, ties with Sahyoun.

However, Elie, if I find myself out that way, I'll definitely see what I can do! I was actually invited for coffee in Dora today but I have no clue how I'm going to get there (expensive taxi ride!)

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So, with my mom and grandfather away overnight on business, I asked my dad if he wanted to go out or have dinner at home last night. Given the crappiness of earlier yesterday (see above), he chose out, and asked for kabab. Now, Iraqi kabab culture is very similar to Iranian, and not very similar at all to Lebanese. That being said, there's a famous chain called Kabab-ji (meaning "Kabab-smith," as it were) here, so I figured, "they're decent, they specialize in grilled meat, and they're cheap, so let's do it." It's interesting, a full on Lebanese meal out consists of mezze plus mashawi (grilled dishes) - two nights ago at Abdel Wahhab we filled up on mezze, so I figured kabab sounded right last night.

Kababji's a chain as I said, but it's really a good place, and has several convenient locations (which was the main impetus for the visit). Their claim to fame is numerous kinds of ground meat kabab, usually called kafta in Lebanon, but, curiously, generically referred to as kabab here as well as in Iraq. No matter. On their menu for the ground meat options are: Istanbouli, Antepli, Urfali (all Turkish, eh?) Halabi (from Aleppo), Khashkhash (not sure what that is), plus ones with pistachio mixed in, eggplant mixed in, etc etc.

So, we got some fattoush, waraq 'enab, and muhammara to start, plus chicken, istanbouli, antepli, and urfali kababs. I had what turned out to be an enormous glass of arak, and my dad had a fresh lemonade. Finished with a Turkish coffee each. Total damage before tip: $38. Not bad at all!

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the arak filled about 2/5 of the glass before water was poured in...

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The muhammara was nice, though it's not something I have that often, so don't have a huge list of reference standards; the vine leaves were really nice and quite lemony, and the fattoush was simple but good. Interestingly, it had among the greens purslane, which is not super common. Lots of nice cucumbers though!

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Platters of mashawi always arrive like this in Lebanon, on top of a piece of bread, garnished with grilled tomato and parsley, and topped with some bread spread with hot pepper paste and more parsley.

Peel slowly and see:

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I THINK the order was antepli, istanbouli, chicken, and urfali. The three lamb ones were all pretty similar though - ground lamb with various spices. All were billed as "spicy" but actually the muhammara was the hottest thing.

and on my plate:

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and to finish, of course:

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It's worth noting that Turkish coffee should ALWAYS be made to spec re: the customer's desired sugar level - but most places here don't do that, and bring you plain coffee with sugar on the side. That's a BIG no no in my book. Kabab-ji asked for my sugar preferences! Yay! So I got a nice medium-sweet one.

Breakfast this morning was more foul and labna at the hotel.

Edited by Hassouni (log)
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Headed South chasing the sunshine today - went to the ancient Phoenician city of Sour (Tyre), which is actually more famous for its Roman ruins than Phoenician ones, and just barely made it before the thundershower began. High-tailed it back to the Phoenician city of Saida (Sidon), where, if not raining, the weather was cold, windy, and crappy, so ducked into a covered outdoor café that I'd been to before along the Saida Corniche:

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Got hummus, mana'ish with cheese & sujuq and cheese & za'tar. Nice late afternoon snack

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Oh yeah, there was a castle in view too...

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As I'm sure I've mentioned elsewhere, mana'ish (singular: man'ooshi) are sort of a cross between a pizza and a crepe - there are two kinds, ones made in the oven, and ones made on a saaj. The former are more pizza like, the latter more crepe-like. I prefer the latter, but that tends to be found mostly at take-away places - if a sit down place has mana'ish, it'll be from the oven. Oh well!

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This is turning out to be one of the more fascinating food blogs. Like the National Geographic of food. What is "Grill-fried service" (bottom of third picture)?

There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw
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Just a beautiful blog -- transporting. To think of being able to drive to Tyre: it blows my mind. Thanks for breaking down all the history, ethnicity and flavors of one of my favorite cuisines.

(One of my dorm mates at McGill was the daughter of the former American ambassador to Turkey, and she had the full Turkish coffee setup in her room. Perhaps it's because I don't like sweet coffee, but it put me off Turkish coffee for life.)

Growing up in, of all places, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, half my friends were Lebanese Canadian -- all those Baraketts and Aboubs and their mothers' exotic cooking.

Margaret McArthur

"Take it easy, but take it."

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Great blog, very interesting and makes me want to make the pilgrimage to Auburn in Sydney which is one of our Middle East enclaves.

Thanks to wikipedia, I've found out that foul is fava or broad beans, can you let us know how they are prepared?

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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This is turning out to be one of the more fascinating food blogs. Like the National Geographic of food. What is "Grill-fried service" (bottom of third picture)?

So, in Arabic it's more clear, it says "grill or fry service for fish" - what's common here, especially in the port towns like Saida, is to buy your fish at the port from the fisherman, and take it to a restaurant to be cooked. My friend does this all the time, and it's quite delicious. He's badgering me into coming down for a fish lunch tomorrow so you may get to see the full splendor of a grill-fry service :smile:

Just a beautiful blog -- transporting. To think of being able to drive to Tyre: it blows my mind. Thanks for breaking down all the history, ethnicity and flavors of one of my favorite cuisines.

(One of my dorm mates at McGill was the daughter of the former American ambassador to Turkey, and she had the full Turkish coffee setup in her room. Perhaps it's because I don't like sweet coffee, but it put me off Turkish coffee for life.)

Growing up in, of all places, Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, half my friends were Lebanese Canadian -- all those Baraketts and Aboubs and their mothers' exotic cooking.

It's funny, Tyre used to be an island, which I forgot about until I realized I was surrounded on 3 sides by water....By the way, Turkish coffee doesn't have to be sweet - the standard options here and in Turkey are plain, little, medium, or lots of sugar. Quite often here, as I've mentioned, it's served plain, for you to mix in the sugar, which is all wrong, but you might like it that way!

Great blog, very interesting and makes me want to make the pilgrimage to Auburn in Sydney which is one of our Middle East enclaves.

Thanks to wikipedia, I've found out that foul is fava or broad beans, can you let us know how they are prepared?

Honestly I haven't a clue. I think it's just boiled up and simmered for ages like any other bean - I don't know a soul who doesn't make it out of a can though, though I'm sure restaurants and such make it from scratch. But be advised - there are 2 (or 3) canned products - canned plain foul (just the beans), canned foul + chickpeas (OK), and canned "foul medammes" - avoid the last one as thats the entire dish popped into a can, spices, oil, and all. What I do is either get the plain beans or the ones with chick peas, pop them into a pot with some cumin and garlic, with liquid and all, let simmer for about 15 minutes, then mash about half the beans up - I like it texturally halfway between refried beans and soup beans.

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Sabah il-kheir! (Good morning!)

Last night featured two dinners - a light one at home, then a snack and dessert + tea and argile at Ka3kaya (see earlier post)

Dinner at home was: more pickles, more salad, some sliced beets, veal escalope (which my family seems to love), baked pasta, cheese and vegetables (ditto) - and, on the Arabic side of things - dolma aka mahshi* aka stuffed vegetables of all sorts - swiss chard leaves, tomato, onion, and tiny eggplants. Dolma is possibly my favorite food, and I could literally eat plate after plate of it, so I had to restrain myself since I knew I was going out immediately.

The pasta. I don't know if other Iraqi families do this, but this seems to be something of a staple with us. It's not my favorite because usually the pasta and vegetables are WAY overcooked - today it was better.

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The dolma. Droooooool. Stuffed with rice, meat, onions, and spiced. There also seems to be a stuffed potato there. Framing it are bowls of yogurt. I wish i had a better picture, but it wasn't very photogenic. Delicious, though...

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Escalope, pickles, and beets

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My plate - lots of dolma, some beets, and not shown, later, salad.

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Chez Ka3kaya:

An kashkawan "mashrouha," which is their term for an open-faced, thin ka'ak (or kalleeta as they call them. I asked my Saidawi friend, and he had no idea what this word "kalleeta" is, by the way). This was, to quote from the biography I'm reading, "insanely great." Crispy, cheesy, melty, chewy, I could eat three of these in one sitting. God. This PLUS dolma? Happy Hassouni.

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For dessert, chocolate and halawe "kalleeta" aka ka'ak. I forgot to take a pic until the last portion was left, but the whole thing is round, about 7" in diameter, and cut into quarters. It was gooey, crispy, and luscious. Did I say in the earlier post how much I love Ka3kaya? I always really liked it, but as of tonight, I love it to bits. If only they had a bar…

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Also ordered an anise tea, which came in a teabag (man, Lebanon, why must you use teabags for everything!?), but the homemade way is to lightly crush a spoonful or two of aniseed, and steep in boiling water for a few minutes, and add sugar (it needs it). That being said, the teabag version was fine.

*A note on terminology, etc: Dolma, of course, comes from the Turkish dolmak, "to stuff," and is the generic word in both Turkey and Iraq (and Iran, I guess) for stuffed vegetables, although out of context it often means grape leaves or as is more common in Iraq, swiss chard. Getting more specific, stuffed grape leaves in Turkish are called yaprak sarma, or "wrapped leaves," and in Arabic are waraq 'enab ("grape leaves"), which I've mentioned before. The generic term for what I'd call dolma in Lebanon and most other Arab countries is the Arabic word mahshi, which just means "stuffed," in the same way that mashwi just means "grilled." So you can say mahshi and mean stuffed vegetables in general, use it as an adjective after a vegetable to imply that veg. was stuffed.

For the record, while I love dolma of all kinds, with meat or vegetarian stuffing, my all time, hands down, desert island favorite is vegetarian grape leaf dolma aka waraq 'enab. To add to the linguistic fun, this is called "yalancı yaprak sarma" in Turkish, or "false/lying wrapped leaves," because of the lack of meat! Quite often in Lebanon and Syria this vegetarian version is just called yalanji, but other times, "waraq 'enab bi zeit," or, in [olive] oil. While other vegetables are fine by me with meat or without, to me, grape leaves HAVE to be vegetarian, as all but one time I've had them with meat, they sucked.

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Breakfast today was the standard labne sandwich at the hotel, but when I got to the flat, lo! we suddenly have a cheese board!

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Halloum, shari, and some kind of sheep's cheese I guess.

And of course:

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It's a good think I have a "skin" cover for my keyboard because I have been drooling on it.

I too prefer the vegetarian dolmas - usually the only kind I prepare - but I like stuffing with meat for other vegetables, zucchini, little eggplants, frying peppers, etc.

I love your descriptions and translations. Very informative and I'm sure will be helpful when I next visit the local middle eastern store. Besides the canned products, they sell some great deli items, including a lovely bean salad made with foul, chickpeas, tomatoes, cukes and parsley, lemon slices and spices.

I also buy the canned foul, usually plain but I also have a can with olive oil and one with tahina. I did have a can of foul with hot peppers but used it in a combination dish with rice and chickpeas, which toned down the pepper heat.

(Harvest brand from Egypt)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Great week so far hassouni, kebabji in ashrafieh was around the corner from where I lived and I was on first name terms with their delivery men to the extent they would even deliver glasses of arak! Wish "chains" like this were more frequent elsewhere. also love the fact in

Lebanon you can get almost anything delivered at almost anytime, which for someone who works odd hours and is extremely disorganised is a life saver. Planning my next trip hopefully for may/june and will have this blog until then :-)

"Experience is something you gain just after you needed it" ....A Wise man

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How nice to read about Lebanon and hear about Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Syria. Beirut has always been a cultural center for the people of a huge area. Man does that food look great. All the ethnic influences and language lessons are thought provoking.

World peace through breaking bread.

Loving the blog, sir.

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Thanks for the compliments, eGulleteers!

This afternoon went into one of the more famous mountain towns in the hills above Beirut, Beit Mery. It's a beautiful town sprawled across a ridge overlooking Beirut, with views on one side of the coast (some of the best overhead views of Beirut), and on the other side, this time of year, of an amazing valley and snowcapped mountains. One of the problems with these mountain towns, once you get outside the Beirut suburbs, which go straight uphill, is the paucity of decent casual eateries. It's either grand restuarants, often in hotels, or take away mana'ish type places. Beit Mery is no exception. Lunch today was takeaway mana'ish, plus some baked goods and sweets from a European style bakery across the road.

The mana'ish was good though, and made entirely from scratch to order - many places make a bunch and then reheat them when you order. Not here:

Getting slathered with cheese and za'tar w zeit:

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Into the oven:

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Burn baby burn! Za'tar inferno!

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And done:

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Massive quantities of za'tar:

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Goodies from across the street:

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Edited by Hassouni (log)
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Hi Hassouni

Really enjoyed the images in Saida. Glad you were able to make it there. That road (at the castle) had been pelted by 20 ft waves the day before, and was impassable. Al Baba's Sweets (Hilwayaat El Baba) would be a good place to visit if you go back to Saida. There are two locations, one by the sea and one on the main hwy in town. The latter is better.

Kaak el qalleeta, قليطة pronounced "alleeta" refers to one of two kinds (can't remember which) of snacks peddled on the streets. One is pictured below along with a photo of what they could be served with. The other ( which I haven't seen on recent trips), is the same but without the hole, twice as thick and smaller in diameter.

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Really enjoying your blog - thanks for taking the time to share with us. I've spent time in Israeli and Egypt but not Lebanon -- it's really interesting to see how many things are so similar, yet different.

Language question: is zeit the general word for oil or is it specifically olive oil?

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Hi Hassouni, so "grill-fried service" is where they cook the fish for you. What a great idea. I suppose the fish you get there should be top quality, given where you are. Somehow I don't think a restaurant like that would work down here in Australia, although one might think it would.

There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw
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Hi Hassouni

Really enjoyed the images in Saida. Glad you were able to make it there. That road (at the castle) had been pelted by 20 ft waves the day before, and was impassable. Al Baba's Sweets (Hilwayaat El Baba) would be a good place to visit if you go back to Saida. There are two locations, one by the sea and one on the main hwy in town. The latter is better.

Kaak el qalleeta, قليطة pronounced "alleeta" refers to one of two kinds (can't remember which) of snacks peddled on the streets. One is pictured below along with a photo of what they could be served with. The other ( which I haven't seen on recent trips), is the same but without the hole, twice as thick and smaller in diameter.

P7063922.jpg

P7074011.jpg

I actually go to Saida quite a lot, typically once or twice per visit, as my best friend here is from there and lives there (though works in Beirut). I really love it. Al Baba is the BEST! And yeah, the weather here is a mess...

Thanks for the "2allee6a" info! (I hate the numbers, btw...but god do the Libnenis here love em). The ones without the hole are abundant in Tripoli, btw. I'm guessing sans hole is 'alleeta, since the ones at Ka3kaya are hole-less.

Really enjoying your blog - thanks for taking the time to share with us. I've spent time in Israeli and Egypt but not Lebanon -- it's really interesting to see how many things are so similar, yet different.

Language question: is zeit the general word for oil or is it specifically olive oil?

Zeit just means oil. Zeit zeitoun is olive oil - zeitoun being olive, obviously the words are connected. However, when something is referred to as "bil zeit" it almost always means olive oil as that's the one used in almost all cooking, when butter or clarified butter is not used.

Hi Hassouni, so "grill-fried service" is where they cook the fish for you. What a great idea. I suppose the fish you get there should be top quality, given where you are. Somehow I don't think a restaurant like that would work down here in Australia, although one might think it would.

Yeah, the seafood here is great. To be honest, the food quality here is superlative. So much is grown, farmed, or caught a stone's throw away. I suppose this is what produce in the Central Valley of CA must be like!

Edited by Hassouni (log)
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    • By Duvel
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      OK, let’s skip this part. Long story short - my wife and me are fully vaccinated, as are >90% of the people we care about in Catalonia. After some discussion (after all, Germans tend to prefer to be on the safe side of things) we simply fueled up the car, got each a test (for the transit through France) and started to drive …
       
      After a leisurely 11h drive we arrived at a small fishing town somewhat north of Barcelona around 3.00am. We unloaded the car and my wife an the little one went straight to bed. 
       

       


      I found an expired beer in the elsewise pretty empty fridge and enjoyed the cool breeze on the terrace. Holidays, here we come …
       

    • By liuzhou
      Last week, Liuzhou government invited a number of diplomats from Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar/Burma, Poland, and Germany to visit the city and prefecture. They also invited me along. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday introducing the diplomats to the culture of the local ethnic groups and especially to their food culture.
       
      First off, we headed two hours north into the mountains of Rongshui Miao Autonomous County. The Miao people (苗族 miáo zú), who include the the Hmong, live in the mid-levels of mountains and are predominantly subsistence farmers. Our first port of call was the county town, also Rongshui (融水 róng shuǐ, literal meaning: Melt Water) where we were to have lunch. But before lunch we had to go meet some people and see their local crafts. These are people I know well from my frequent work trips to the area, but for the diplomats, it was all new.
       
      So, I had to wait for lunch, and I see no reason why you shouldn't either. Here are some of the people I live and work with.


       
      This lovely young woman is wearing the traditional costume of an unmarried girl. Many young women, including her, wear this every day, but most only on festive occasions.
       
      Her hat is made from silver (and is very heavy). Here is a closer look.
       

       
      Married women dispense with those gladrags and go for this look:
       

       
      As you can see she is weaving bamboo into a lantern cover.
       
      The men tend to go for this look, although I'm not sure that the Bluetooth earpiece for his cellphone is strictly traditional.
       

       
      The children don't get spared either
       

       
      This little girl is posing with the Malaysian Consul-General.
       
      After meeting these people we went on to visit a 芦笙 (lú shēng) workshop. The lusheng is a reed wind instrument and an important element in the Miao, Dong and Yao peoples' cultures.
       

       

       
      Then at last we headed to the restaurant, but as is their custom, in homes and restaurants, guests are barred from entering until they go through the ritual of the welcoming cup of home-brewed rice wine.
       


      The consular staff from Myanmar/Burma and Malaysia "unlock" the door.
       
      Then you have the ritual hand washing part.
       

       
      Having attended to your personal hygiene, but before  entering the dining room, there is one more ritual to go through. You arrive here and sit around this fire and wok full of some mysterious liquid on the boil.
       

       
      On a nearby table is this
       

       
      Puffed rice, soy beans, peanuts and scallion. These are ladled into bowls.
       

       
      with a little salt, and then drowned in the "tea" brewing in the wok.
       
      This is  油茶 (yóu chá) or Oil Tea. The tea is made from Tea Seed Oil which is made from the seeds of the camellia bush. This dish is used as a welcoming offering to guests in homes and restaurants. Proper etiquette suggests that three cups is a minimum, but they will keep refilling your cup until you stop drinking. First time I had it I really didn't like it, but I persevered and now look forward to it.
       

      L-R: Director of the Foreign Affairs Dept of Liuzhou government, consuls-general of Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos.
       
      Having partaken of the oil tea, finally we are allowed to enter the dining room, where two tables have been laid out for our use.
       

       
      Let the eating, finally, begin.
       
      In no particular order:
       

      Steamed corn, taro and sweet potato
       

      Bamboo Shoots
       

      Duck
       

      Banana leaf stuffed with sticky rice and mixed vegetables and steamed.
       

      Egg pancake with unidentified greenery
       

      Stir fried pork and beans
       

      Stir fried Chinese banana (Ensete lasiocarpum)
       

      Pig Ears
       

       
      This may not look like much, but was the star of the trip. Rice paddy fish, deep fried in camellia tree seed oil with wild mountain herbs. We ate this at every meal, cooked with slight variations, but never tired of it.
       

      Stir fried Greens
       
      Our meal was accompanied by the wait staff singing to us and serving home-made rice wine (sweetish and made from the local sticky rice).
       
       
       
       
      Everything we ate was grown or reared within half a kilometre of the restaurant and was all free-range, organic. And utterly delicious.
       
      Roll on dinner time.
       
      On the trip I was designated the unofficial official photographer and ended up taking 1227 photographs. I just got back last night and was busy today, so I will try to post the rest of the first day (and dinner) as soon as I can.
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