Lebanese food is famous throughout the world, but some of my most curious discoveries here have involved trying foods I grew up with but in a different form.
As a child I remember we kept a bottle of rose water in the bathroom. A drop or two would be added to a hot bath or to the iron, like lavender oil, but never to pastries or hot water as in the café blanc. We had plum trees up the garden and I often fought off wasps to eat the bursting ripe ones. Here plums are often served sour and dabbed in salt. Almonds, too, are often presented unripe, a milky white kernel in velvety green casing.
Aubergine (eggplant) comes in all the sizes imaginable, starting with these just 5cm long used to make maqdouss (pickled aubergine stuffed with garlic and walnuts). They are not the only thing which come in miniature; cucumbers and courgettes (zucchinis) do too, while “olive” tomatoes are the size of cherry tomatoes but either olive or bowling pin shaped. Bread may be the main staple, but labneh isn’t far behind; this thick yoghurt is often topped with olive oil, salt or zaater, but never with anything sweet.
Thyme is mixed with olive oil and sesame seeds and spread on bread dough to make mana’iche. Sesame seeds, which for me featured mostly in sweet sesame snaps, come as creamy pastes in tahina or taratour or in zaater.
If you were lucky enough to grow up on this food and haven’t had it in a while, you are probably feeling homesick right now. Food has a surprisingly deep seat in our hearts. Which I suppose is why, despite this delectable fare, I still yearn for a roasted parsnip or a cream tea every so often.