Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Middle Eastern Food: Three Peculiar Names

I like food a lot. I think about it often. Before I drift off to sleep, I think about what I want to eat for breakfast. After I’ve had breakfast, I think about what I want for lunch. Sometimes during tutorials, my mind wanders off to Foodland and my tutor’s head transforms into a Subway cookie or a falafel patty. Food hallucinations are not limited to animated cartoons, that’s for sure. I often consult Google too, with: “What should I have for lunch?” or “What do I feel like eating?”

I’ve spent a lot of my life eating Middle Eastern food. I’ve also spent a lot of my life pondering really mundane and trivial things. Including the names of several Levant foods. 

1. Fattoush: The Salad With a Redundant Name
What is it? A green salad mixed with fried or toasted pita bread.

Fattoush is simply a garden salad with toasted pita bread pieces tossed in it, with, perhaps, a few other spices. There isn’t much that distinguishes it from a typical garden salad, which is why I have never understood why it has its own name. We already have a name for garden salad - 'salata'. If chicken was added to a plain garden salad, it would still be called 'salata'. No fancy name.

But salata is no longer salata when pita bread is involved. It’s fattoush. La dee da. Call me crazy, but whenever I see a bowl of fattoush, I can’t help but think “You pretentious salad, you”. 

Deep down inside, 'fattoush' is just salata m3 khubz (garden salad with bread) to me. But to avoid weird looks from older relatives and family friends (who would have a field day and poke at my generation if I ever asked someone to pass me 'salata with bread') I just play along and call it fattoush.

2. Znoud El Sit: The Lebanese Sweet With a Metaphoric and Somewhat Cannibalistic Name
What is it? Fried phyllo pastry dough filled with clotted cream.

Znoud El Sit is mouthwateringly delicious. Pair it with mint tea and prepare to have your mind blown by a foodgasm of epic proportions. Perhaps I am hyperbolising a little over here, but it's hard to stop at one. Whoever came up with the name is a food poet. Znoud El Sit literally means lady’s arms in Arabic. The imagery is a bit morbid (tucking into human arms and such), but when you are a lover of words, the metaphor is refreshing and makes the clotted cream experience all the more lovely. We should have metaphorical names for all foods. I patiently await the day 'spaghetti bolognaise' is scrapped and we go with 'intestinal worms'.

3. Makloubi: The Palestinian Rice Dish With a Literal Name
What is it? A rice, eggplant and lamb casserole.

Makloubi is my number one favourite food of all time. Of all time. It is amazingly good. Makloubi literally means ‘upside down’ in Arabic. Once the rice and ingredients are cooked in the pot, it is flipped over onto a dish for serving. It's a loopy name, no doubt. It'd be a little like calling soup ‘stir’. Or lasagne ‘layer’. Naming the dish after one part of the preparation process is a bit hipster. Food minimalism taken to another level?

Methinks makloubi is representative of Palestine's state of affairs. Palestine was invaded and dispossessed sixty-three years ago and three-quarters of the population was expelled. Add military occupation, apartheid and no right of return to the equation and hell yeah, things are upside down. Upside down and topped with pine nuts.


Khaldoun Hajaj said...

My preferred name for Makloubu is "Chicken Turnover"...yes its sublimely wonderful!!!!

Anonymous said...

Nothing beats the makloubi! When I wet overseas I just couldn't have enough. znoud el sit has to be by far the best dessert I have ever tasted. Especially the ones at the balhas :) YUM!

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