Labneh and generosity in the Middle East

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.