On one occasion during our trip to Jordan in 1974, my wife Janet and I were invited to lunch, but we were taken to two different houses. Mohammed Kamal said that we would be lunching “with a typical Arab family”. Janet was among a group that were predominantly women. It was clear that Janet was the centre of attention. We were both provided with a typical Arabic lunch.
In my case, I was with a mixed group of men and women. It was quite clear that I was the guest of honour.
We dined in a large room which was in a basement. A large table took up most of the space. Around it there were about sixteen people. This was not a typical Arab family.
The food on offer was wonderful, all the delights of the Arabic food table. There was far more than we could eat. It was pointed out that the same food would be offered at the same table later in the day, together with something new. This, they said, was their habit.
The table was strewn with plates. There was Mutabbal, a paste of aubergines, tahini, lemon juice and yoghurt with a garnish of parsley, chopped tomato, olive oil and paprika topped off with black olives.
Hummos bil tahini, chickpea paste with tahini, which is a paste made from sesame seeds.
There was a Lentil and Rice dip. This recipe resembled the fast food version available all over Egypt.
Labnah , a yoghurt dip, and Waraq ainab, better known in Greece as Dolmades.
Falafel, a mixture of chickpeas, dried broad beans, garlic, onions and spices. All this is ground to a paste and then fried in olive oil. This recipe is one of the most popular meals sold in the bazaar in Cairo. In Egypt it is called Tamia. Here’s a recipe:
Ingredients: 225g chickpeas. These are available cooked and canned. 225g fresh or dried broadbeans (soaked overnight if dried), 4 crushed cloves of garlic, 6 tablespoons of chopped sping onions, four tablespoons of Parsley, 2 tablespoons of chopped Coriander, 1 teaspoon of Cumin, 3 tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper and oil for deep frying.
Using a food processor, convert the chickpeas and broadbeans to a paste. Add the remaining ingredients.
Mix the ingredients thoroughly. If the mixture remains loose, add some more flour.
Place a deep frying pan on high heat. Form the mixture into small balls and deep fry them in the coking oil. They are cooked when they become brown and crisp. Drain and serve.
There were lamb sausages, sautéed liver, called Kibdah makliya, served with Arabic bread, which is, of course, something like Pitta bread.
The centre-piece was Mansaf. Mansaf means “large tray” and the meal is meant for a large gathering at some festivity or another. It consist of layers of bread, rice and lamb pieces with a sauce poured over. It is a feast in itself.
I sampled everything I could. That night, when I met up again with Janet, she told me about her lunch. It was almost the same as mine.
Next chapter: Chapter 70: “Gahwa ‘arabiyah”