...Of course the food is amazing...
Maqlobe - "Upside down"
Lunch, considered the main meal in Al's family, was the traditional Palestinian dish called Maqlobe, or "Upside Down". This dish is slow cooked in a big pot that is ceremoniously turned upside down onto a plate before serving it. Al's mum was happy with the result as nothing (or very little) stuck to the bottom of the pot. Once served, on top we had pieces of chicken and aubergine sitting on perfectly steamed rice. On the side we had tomato and cucumber salad, and yoghurt.
I have heard a lot about this dish and had been looking forward to it for a long time - and it definitely didn't disappoint. The main spice used in this dish is nutmeg, and although it is not an unusual spice, I don't think I've ever eaten anything which was very specifically nutmet flavoured. It was so delicious and not salty either.
I'm not usually a slow eater, but with all the excitement about meeting the family, I finished last. This seems like a good tactic to reduce portion sizes rather than having to politely refuse seconds.
I'm sure I will get to learn how to make this dish at some point - after which I will post more about it.
Following the Maqlobe was some arabic coffee. I thought I knew my coffee but obviously not. This coffee is so delicious as it is spiced with cardamom and is served in expresso-size cups. It is so thick and delicious that I really don't need any other coffee here - gone are the days of the cafe latte.
This type of coffee is often served with dates, and when we bought some in the local spice shop, not only did they give us this coffee while we were looking around, but they also let us try a type of small date that is covered with chocolate and ground almonds. What a way to lift the spirits and get us to buy some more for home consumption... just in case we have guests coming over.
Roasted chickpea pods
Third up was a snack made of roasted chick peas. Chickpea pods are also in the banner of the page and I'm a little bit ashamed that I never really thought about what chickpeas look like in their original pod form. I've only ever seen them in a can.
This healthy snack is prepared by roasting the fresh chickpeas in the oven, with some salt and other spices, until the pods are brown. Because it is the end of the season, some chickpeas were a little dry as a result, but the perfect ones were a little soft and still completely green. Lovely when eaten warm.
Al's mum gave us a number of things to take home and have for breakfast, as we have not had time to go shopping for groceries yet. She gave us a selection of vegetables, cheeses and spices. Of particular note is a vegetable that looks like baby cucumbers but that has a much thinner skin and is just eaten on it's own as a snack. it's is very fresh and crunchy. The cheese is very salty and I still need to find out what the spice includes, but it will be familiar to most westerners as "Dhukka", here named "Za'atar".
Other items include stuffed and pickled aubergines (Maqdus) that tasted a lot like garlic, and cut up fennel and very delicious pitta bread which tasted so much better than the ones we get in London. I'm trying to find a wholemeal variety as well...
We like our breakfast with eggs and turkey breast (a healthy alternative to bacon) as well, and of course some arabic coffee.
This beer is famous around Palestine and internationally, and it deserves to be. I had heard a lot about this beer, but it exceeded my expectations. It tastes like it is made from high quality ingredients and has that certain 'boutique beer' feel - which does not come without a pretty steep price tag. It was so refreshing after a day of trying to communicate with Al's family. There are four varieties, all worth a taste... Golden, Amber, Dark and White.
During October fest, locals and visitors both head to the village where this beer is produced (25 minute drive from Ramallah), and party together.
I wonder if we can go there outside of the annual festivities and do a tour or tasting. The brewery has started producing wine as well, which is definitely on the list of things to try very soon.
"Mahshi wa dawali"
- filled zucchini and aubergines and stuffed vine leaves
This is Al's favourite dish and his mother loves making it for and it consists of aubergines, zucchinis and vine leaves stuffed with a mince beef and rice mix. The stuffed vegetables are cooked in the pot on a low temperature for several hours. To add flavour to the outside, a piece of meat is also added to the pot during cooking.
The vine leaves came directly from the garden and taste so much better than the usual stuffed vine leaves that you get from the deli. It is in season only during the warmer months, but Al's mum puts some vine leaves in the freezer (with his name on it) to prepare the dish in winter as well.
This is a starter in which chickpeas are replaced with a indigenous plant similar to spinach. It is cooked for a little while and then mixed with tahini, lemon and garlic, and served with some olive oil on top as a dip.
"Musachan" - Palestine's answer to Pizza!
Musachan is a very special Palestinian dish, which attracts a lot of interesting folklore.
The base is made of Taboun bread, which is like extremely fluffy pitta bread and get's its name from the oven in which it was traditionally baked.
The bread is covered with a mixture of caramelised onions and sumac spice, and topped with pieces of chicken that have been boiled and then roasted, and roasted almonds.
There is also a lot of oil involved, and the traditional way is to add enough oil to the bread so that it runs along your forearm and drips onto the floor from your elbow.
Luckily Al's mum knows that I'm not a fan of too much olive oil, so she reduced the amount for me! I was honoured by the adjustment, especially since Palestinians take this dish very seriously.
First and foremost, this dish can only be eaten when the weather is right - not too hot and not too cold. This is because the oil can affect you in unexpected ways based on the temperature, and as such a mild climate is recommended. I was asked to bring a jacket so that cooler wind that appears in the evening would not hit my stomach and make me feel sick (presumably because the oil may turn solid if the consumer gets too cold).
You also need to consume 3-5 olives and a few spoonfuls of yoghurt following the meal to calm the stomach, just in case.
As I write this post I am feeling fine... it was delicious but definitely to be reserved for special occasions only.