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Labneh and generosity in the Middle East

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by Amber Hildebrandt, CBCNews.ca

olives-aqaba.jpg
Containers of olives at a souk in Aqaba, Jordan. They'll likely end up part of someone's mezze. (Amber Hildebrandt/CBC)

Though travel can focus on many things – history, natural wonders, relaxation – my trips inevitably are dominated by food. And happily so.

On a recent trip to Lebanon and Jordan, I did my usual culinary-style touring around the two countries – taking a cooking class, wandering in souks, browsing through grocery stores and gorging on local specialties.

And in my adventure I discovered a few new loves – the creamy labneh and moutabel, the sludge-bottomed Turkish coffee and the tradition of mezze.

Much like Spanish tapas, mezze involves ordering a selection of appetizers plus a main course meat dish for all to share. It’s the perfect mode of eating for a foodie, and it kept me satiated with my daily fill of hummus.

But perhaps the most pleasant surprise of travelling in the Middle East was the sheer generosity I encountered. I received free food samples at nearly every turn:

  • After asking a baker about buying two honey-soaked doughnut holes, he gave me half a bag full.
  • When asking about restaurant specialties, a waiter in Aqaba, Jordan, brought me a free plate of moutabel.
  • In response to a question about what “white coffee” was, a Beirut restaurant worker gave me a sample. (Turns out it’s not coffee related at all, but orange-blossom flavoured hot water.)

Tell me about your favourite discoveries abroad.

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Comments

Daryle

Amber, I love good food stories and especially those foods that I haven't had an opportunity to try and someone else (yourself) has and can tell us all about the culinary adventure.
Thanks for your article.

Posted November 23, 2009 09:07 PM

avicenna

I concur with your assessment of the hospitality of people of the Mediterranean/Middle Eastern countries. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of Moroccans the last time I was there to hike the High Atlas Mountains. I came to be known as the "Canada Dry Girl" (apparently Canada Dry is quite the favoured beverage). Every morning in the "old village" in Marrakech (where my hotel was) those I had made friends with would give me fresh oranges, eggs and delicious bread as I walked the market. I realize a part of it had to do with the fact I have a "moroccan look", and they considered me a local expat of sorts. Amazing people - and amazing food.

Posted November 27, 2009 12:53 AM

Sandra Harrington

Hi. I was reading your article and it reminded me of my honeymoon in Lebanon back in 1997. I can't believe you didn't mention the shawarma's with the homemade fries in them. I was ill most of the 3 weeks we spent there and yet I still managed to gain a couple pounds because they are all about the food. The people were warm and made us feel at home. The fruits and vegetables are on steroids! I cooked a meal for my friends there and could not believe what the produce was like. If travelling to that part of the world wasn't so risky I'd be back again and again. It's too bad that due to the violence the tourism can't thrive there because if it was safe the middle east would be the best place to visit! Thank you, Sandra

Posted December 3, 2009 07:12 AM

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About the blog

From trends and culture to politics and nutrition, Food Bytes serves up tasty tidbits about food and the issues surrounding it that flavour our everyday lives.

About the writers

Amber Hildebrandt Amber Hildebrandt writes for CBCNews.ca in Toronto. Growing up on a farm in Manitoba, she acquired an insatiable appetite, but it was during a stint in Japan that she developed her discerning tastebuds and "foodie" ways.

Andrea Chiu Andrea Chiu is an associate producer at CBC Radio Digital. Though she loves to eat, cook and discuss food, don't ask her to bake. It never turns out well. She tweets as @TOfoodie on Twitter and organizes food and wine events in Toronto called FoodieMeet.

Tara Kimura Tara Kimura is the consumer life reporter for CBCNews.ca, covering a wide range of issues that range from rising food costs and the growing organic movement, to new trends in the marketplace.

Andree Lau Andree Lau is a CBC web reporter in Calgary. Her journalism career includes seven years as a CBC-TV reporter. Her own blog called "are you gonna eat that?" chronicles her eating adventures (including sampling snake and camel hoof tendon).

Jessica Wong Jessica Wong is a CBCNews.ca writer who loves to eat and cook, as well as discuss, read and watch programming about food, sometimes all at once.

Kevin Yarr Kevin Yarr, CBCNews.ca's writer in Prince Edward Island, wrote about food and beer for national and regional magazines before joining the CBC. He acquired a desire for new tastes on his first trip to Europe, and an appreciation of eating locally and in season when he finally settled down on P.E.I.

Elizabeth Bridge Elizabeth Bridge is a writer with the CBC Digital Archives in Toronto. She first ventured into the kitchen as a child to indulge a sweet tooth by baking cookies and making fudge. A student budget compelled her to be a vegetarian (for a while) and instilled in her an ongoing curiosity about food and cooking.

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Taking in the heat of celeb kitchens
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Melon heads
Friday, November 27, 2009
Labneh and generosity in the Middle East
Friday, November 20, 2009
Experiments with slow cooking
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Chinese restaurant awards
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
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