Friday, August 12, 2011

Breaking Fast at Home

Yesterday we hosted iftar.  I was so pleased that our guest said that my pakoras were "true Pakistani". I think that would make my father proud...

The menu: 
  • Juice
Fresh Dates from our favorite veg guys
Eggplant Pakora (also made potato and onion & spinach)

Lentil Soup, a bit runny but still tasty
Mint Chutney (a delicious one made by the Bronx Falcon!)
Jalebi from Baba Sweets
Fruit Chaat from Baba Sweet

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Breaking Fast

While breaking fast is often a family affair done at home, many people enjoy iftar at a restaurant.  Many high-end hotels offer pricy, all-you-can-eat buffets that are gut busting. I often wonder if people truly are fasting – how is it physically possible to eat so much food when you have been fasting all day? Maybe because of my eating habits, metabolism, and dislike for waste, I have a hard time going to these gluttonous affairs.  Note to fans: if you want to prove me wrong and show me a fancy night out at a 4 star hotel iftar, please contact me.

What I like about breaking fast at a restaurant is the anticipation that fills the room.  The tables tend to be already set with the iftar.  However, no one takes a bite until it is sunset, which is usually announced by the wait staff.  There is something about having food sitting in front of you and not digging right in. Torture for some, appreciation for others.

This Ramadan I’ve been to 4 iftars at restaurants.  Here are my experiences:

Noodle House:  offers a 95sr set-menu iftar. 4 courses – appetizer, soup, main course, desert, and choice of soda or fresh fruit juice. This does not include the fresh dates and kawa that are served right at sunset. The best part of this set is the fresh dates and the fresh juice. While not all of the choices are vegetarian, everything is fresh and cooked to order and they gladly accommodate various dietary restricions.

Red Chilli: offers a 10sr iftar.  Note: this is only iftar and does not include a full dinner or buffet afterwards.  The iftar is modest, but just enough for breaking fast.  We had chaana chaat, fruit chaat, samosa (with cashews inside – nice touch!), pakora, and mint chutney. Dates and an artificial type juice (Tang?) were also served.  Best part of this set: it’s 100% vegetarian, the fruit chaat was delicious, and the spice level of all of the food was perfectly spicy. The worst: Tang? - Please. [please note that they are currently closed for renovations and will re-open after Ramadan]

Marhaba: not sure of the price, but their iftar includes a buffet.  The iftar set out on the table had dates, rose water drink, pakora, samosa, 2 types of chaana chaat (one with yogurt, one sweet + sour one with a lot of onions), and mint chutney.  Perfect amount for 3 people.  The buffet included veg and non-veg Pakistani dishes, Pakistani and Arabic salads, and both Pakistani and Arabic desserts.  Best part of this set: the spice level of all of the food was perfectly spicy, the um ali was delicious, as was all of the desserts that I sampled.  While Marhaba is not my favorite Paki restaurant in Riyadh, I definitely recommend their iftar.

La Sani: not sure of the price, but their iftar includes a buffet.  The iftar set out on the table had dates, rose water drink, pakora, samosa, chaana chaat, and mint chutney.  Pampadums with dipping sauces were also present.  This was way too much for only 2 people and pampadums are the kiss of death – so delicious and tasty, but I swear they expand in your stomach.  The buffet included veg and non-veg Pakistani dishes, both Pakistani and Arabic salads, and all Pakistani deserts.  Best part of this set: the buffet was not overwhelming – a good amount of choices, but not too many; desserts were fantastic.  Worst part: spice level was not as good as other spots and I felt like there was too much waste at iftar.  While I like this restaurant for regular dining, I wouldn’t recommend it as a top iftar location.

What's your favorite restaurant for iftar? Hungry people want to know.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Falafel Revolution

To all the Hungry Pakipina fans out there, I am sorry if I have let you down with my lack of postings. I’ve had my share of Arab and non-Arab foods these past few months.  More restaurant reviews are to come, along with my first attempt at bitter melon and a demonstration on making the perfect aloo paratha.

Today, on March 11, 2011, I write to you with an important update. As you already know from previous posts, some eating establishments do not allow women to enter.  This usually includes falafel and shwarma spots, including one of my favorites, Mama Noura.  To my delight, the other day I was allowed entry into the shiny, chromed, famed establishment.    

Ok, let’s back up a minute.  Several weeks ago, The Bronx Falcon noticed two niquabed (fully veiled) women ordering inside. Plus, when we went to another favorite falafel spot, Abu Jabara, we also saw a woman inside.  Is this some type of falafel revolution inspired by recent events in the Middle East? I decided to roll the dice and press my luck. Not only did I venture inside, but I did so without a male guardian.  I was not greeted at the door and not asked to order from the outside as previously experienced.  Being allowed entry I walked right up to the register and placed my order (one falafel sandwich, and two juices – one for myself and one for the fellow driving me about).  After shelling out 10 riyals (the equivalent of $2.66 USD), I took my receipt to the juice counter.  I received one small fresh orange juice (for the driver) and one small orange juice and pomegranate cocktail for myself.  After receiving my juices, I made my way to the falafel station.  I wish you could all see the way the falafel assembler works – he first grabs 3 falafel balls and places them inside thin khubz.  He then squishes the bread so the falafel gets mashed up a bit.  Then come the tomatoes, which he slices at an alarming rate while holding the tomato in the air.  Afterwards, comes hot sauce (optional for some), pickles, tahini, and pickled hot peppers (now, are those really optional?)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Happy New Year!

January 1st marked the New Year for those who use the Gregorian calendar.  Saudi Arabia uses the Hijiri calendar, and the corresponding date for Hijiri 1432 was on December 7, 2010.   February 3rd was celebrated as the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit for the Chinese (Lunar) New Year.  Another birthday passed for me on January 7th.  And the 14th of February marked my one-year anniversary for being in the Kingdom. 

In many Asian cultures, noodles are a significant way of marking the New Year, whether it is a calendar new year of a birth new year.  Noodles symbolize long life in the Japanese, Chinese, and Filipino culture.  In 2011, I have eaten my fair share of noodles!  Unfortunately, I have not been able to find a store that sells soba noodles, so I was unable to have my Japanese new year’s noodles (toshikoshi soba).  I did make pancit (Filipino birthday noodles) for several occasions that recently passed and had lo mein (Chinese style noodles) on February 3rd.  My vegetarian pancit specialties are pancit bihon (they are the thin, glass noodles also known as bean thread noodles or rice vermicelli) and pancit canton (the thicker flour noodles, often a yellowish color).  I often fry up some tofu or put in seitan to supplement the usual cabbage, bok choy, carrots, mushrooms, onions, chilies, soy sauce, some veggie stock, garlic and garnished with scallions and lemon or calamansi juice.

To the Asian brothers and sisters out there, what is your background and what foods do you celebrate with? To the non-Asians, what types of foods do you enjoy for new years and birthdays?
And in the tradition of making a New Year’s resolution, I resolve to be a better blogger and keep you all posted in this year's adventures in food.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Ingredient #1: rice (with vermicelli)

Ingredient #2: two types of pasta
Ingredients #3 & 4: lentils & chickpeas
Topping: fried onions

A humble dish from Egypt, kushari was on the top of the "things to eat" list while visiting family.  Like all unofficial national foods (makes me think of pizza and bagels in NYC/NJ), everyone has her own opinion on where the best kushari can be found.  We did our job and tried as many places as our stomachs would allow so we could judge for ourselves.

Condiments: hot sauce, garlic infused vinegar, sea salt
Add to your liking: tangy tomato sauce

First Taste of Kushari - Leftovers "re-fried" at A+Ls
Before the Condiments Are Added
Take-Out Kushari For a Long Bus Ride, Dahab
 So far, we've like all of the kusharis sampled.  We have not yet made this dish at home (I'm a bit intimidated of crisping up onions for the topping).  Luckily, we have been able to find kushari in Riyadh - the campus restaurant serves up a delicious version and we found an Egyptian spot that serves it up as well.  The downside to the Egyptian restaurant is that it is for men only, so we had to get ours for take-out.  Please try to imagine the torture it is to drive home on the busy streets after midnight during Ramadan, stomach crying out from the smell of garlic and spicy sauce floating in the air circulating in the car. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ramadan Kareem

We are half way through Ramadan, a month of fasting during the day and feasting in the evening.  The eating of fresh dates is traditional when breaking the fast in the evening. 

Dates have many nutritional benefits and are absolutely delicious.  Most readers are probably familiar with dried dates.  In the US, there are limited types of dried dates that are imported.  However, in California, the infamous Shields Date Garden provides lots of information about dates, including a provocative video.  They farm a variety of dates and serve up a mean, thick, rich date shake. 

Here, in Saudi Arabia, the variety of dates is mind numbing - in the most wonderful way.  There are many stores dedicated to dates and grocery stores have special sections for dates and date related treats (date maamouls, dates covered in honey and sesame seeds, chocolate covered dates, etc.).  Lucky for us in the Kingdom, fresh dates are now in season.  We are still going through our first box of fresh dates that we bought a few weeks ago from a man selling them out of the back of his truck in our neighborhood.

Fresh dates are a unique experience.  Look at the photograph of the lovely box of dates.  See the ones that are half yellow and half brown? Those are the very special ones.  The brown part is sweet and melt-in-your-moth soft.  Tastes like a dried date, but more so, like date X 1000.  The yellowish portion is surprisingly crunchy and tart.  At first, we were put off by the combination and would only go for the all brown, sweet dates.  Do not worry, we eventually saw the error in our ways and tried the half sweet/half raw dates again.  The texture and flavor combination is one that we have never had before and we fell in love with them.  Now we only have all sweet dates left in the box because we ate all the half-and-half dates up.

Eating fresh dates with qawah is a treat, especially after fasting all day. But with such a big box, we wanted to do more.  Inspired by our trips to Shields, we've been experimenting with different date shakes - some with yogurt, some with various types of non-dairy milks, and some with vanilla ice cream.  So far, the vanilla ice cream version is the winner.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just Say No to Frozen Veggie Burgers

I've been a vegetarian (ok, a reluctant pescetarian) for 20 years. At first, I was completely appalled by the idea of eating any type of "fake" meat. Why would anyone choose to eat fake meat and be a vegetarian? If I wanted the taste of meat, I'd rather have the real thing. Well, as time went on, I went to the dark side and indulged in all sorts of things found in the frozen food isle and refrigerated sections - "bacon", "hot dogs", and "burgers" were the ones most purchased.  The funny thing is, these were items that I didn't eat much of even when I was a meat eater. It started out with the kitsch factor, and then it was about convenience.

After learning more about what was in these prepared food items (and by learning, I mean simply reading the ingredients on the box) and going on an elimination diet to find out what foods may be exacerbating my hay fever symptoms, I swore off veggie burgers.

But what is one to do when there is a BBQ to attend? There are many options, like grilled vegetables or tofu. Yet sometimes, a burger type food, something that can be eaten with your hands between two pieces of bread product, is the only thing you desire.

Mark Bittman to the rescue! I tried one of his base bean burger recipes and made some for tonight's BBQ. Although we didn't make it to the BBQ, we did cook them on the stove in a pan with olive oil. Simply delicious, ridiculously easy, and so much cheaper than buying pre-made. And the best part of all, you know every ingredient that went into your tasty burgers.

photo credit, DG
 1st Try at a Home Made Veggie Burger (Mark Bittman saves the day!)
  • 2 cups cooked lentils (I cooked mine with a dried lime in the water)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 small red onion (quartered)
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • sea salt + fresh ground black pepper
  • hand ground cumin + coriander seeds
  • cayenne pepper
  • handful of parsley
  • handful of mushrooms
  • some feta cheese
Put everything in your food processor. Pulse until it comes together nicely (don't over do it!) - must be a nice balance of wet and dry or else it will fall apart when you cook and/or the texture will be all wrong. After it's all burger like, let it rest for a few minute. Then shape into patties with dampened hands. Let chill until ready to use. We cooked ours on the stove in some olive oil - 5 minutes per side. You can also bake or grill.  For our next BBQ, I think we will pre-cook our burgers, freeze them, and then grill on-site for easier handling.