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.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Ethnic Food Aisle

The ethnic food aisle is an interesting place.  Who determines what is "ethnic" and when does an ethnic food item become mainstream (or "normal" as some may say)? In the USA, often foods identified as Chinese and Mexican are in a separate aisle, usually close to the pet food section.  Depending on the location of the grocery store and whom the store is catering to, things get categorized differently.  Why is the Old El Paso brand in the "normal" aisles while the Goya are "ethnic"? The list can go on and I'm sure you can come up with your own contradictions and observations.

I'm happy to see this recent story on The Huffington Post that illustrates this issue from a different standpoint - what happens when "American" foods are in the ethnic aisle?

More posts later on what is in the ethnic food aisles here in the kingdom.  Would love to hear from you - please take note of what is in your grocery store's ethnic food aisle and comment here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tabouleh, another gateway food to vegetarianism

The origins of tabouleh (spelling varies depending on transliteration system used) are decidedly Middle Eastern.  Exactly where is up for debate, although Lebanon is claiming the titile.  If a restaurant serves mezes (appetizers or small dishes), then they serve tabouleh.  Tabouleh is a lovely and refreshing salad that is perfect for the hot desert climate.  I remember as a teenager making tabouleh out of a box (gasp!).  In NYC, tabouleh is plentiful at falafel or fast food type spots that serve Middle Eastern and Israeli cuisine.  What I love about the tabouleh in the Kingdom is that the focus is more on the fresh herbs - the mint and the parsley is the star of the show and not the bulgur wheat.

Serves 8 (if you are serving it as a meze)

1/2 cup of bulgur wheat
1-cup water
2 tomatoes, diced
1-cup of fresh parsley, chopped (stems and all)
1/4-1/2 cup of fresh mint, chopped (leaves only) - optional
1/2-1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of one red onion (finely chopped) or some scallions (whites and greens, chopped)
Fresh ground black pepper
  •  Heat the water and pour it over the bulgur wheat.  Cover and let sit for 15-30 minutes.  All of the water should be absorbed and the wheat should be tender.  If it is too watery, drain the excess water.
  • Squeeze half a lemon and the olive oil into the prepared bulgur wheat, stir.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients, stir.
  • Taste!  If the salad needs more acidity, add the other half of the lemon.  More olive oil can be added if necessary.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What you can buy with 10SR

It's Thursday morning, the first day of the weekend. At 10:30am the temperature is already at 108ºF. I'm set on making a couscous salad today and need to run out to get a few more ingredients. Raisins could not be found at either of my local small grocers [which actually is quite fine since I really don't like raisins and was thinking of eliminating them from the salad to begin with].

I walk into the local vegetable store and did not immediately see the shop keeper, as he was sitting on the floor surrounded by beautiful bouquets of mint that were about 2-3 feet in length. As he was smoking a cigarette, he was gathering and tying mint bunches together for smaller bags for sale. The smell of the shop was quite nice and not very strong - the mint was actually overpowering the cigarette smoke. After Arabic pleasantries were exchanged (good morning, how are you, I'm fine, how are you, I'm fine, thank you, thank you, your Arabic is very good, thank you and thanks to god, etc.), it was time to get down to business.

All in all, a bag of radishes (roots only), 7 lemons, 5 tomatoes, a large bunch of mint, and a large bunch of parsley were all purchased for 9SR (Saudi Riyals), which is equivalent to $2.40. Perfect - with one riyal left I could get my fix of fresh bread. I walked to the bakery next door and had to make a difficult choice: whole wheat or white, large or small? After staring at the recently packed bags of bread that were still hot, I choose the small sized whole wheat khubz. Seven pieces for 1SR.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Radish Radish

I am amazed by the quality of produce available here.  I mean, I am in the middle of the desert and can find beautiful, fresh and tasty produce for less than half of what I used to pay and in much greater quantity.  As in most mega marts in The States, the produce in grocery stores here are usually not as good as the produce found at smaller fruit and vegetable stands or street markets. 

The curse/blessing is that when buying vegetables you get a lot of vegetables for a two-person household.  And because of extreme heat, they do not stay fresh for very long.

I had a beautiful bunch of radishes – so spicy and crisp.  What to do?  And the leaves were in tact as well, which were looking leafy and ready to be eaten.  After a brief internet search, I found that radish greens could be braised similarly to any other greens. 

First, I made a simple salad with the root part of the radish.  I like to use my secret weapon with radishes, which I refer to as my “Secret Indo Salt”.  It is a combination of sea salt ground in a mortar and pestle with toasted cumin and coriander seeds.  I tossed the sliced radishes with the salt, then added a dash of sesame oil and some acid (either lemon juice or a vinegar).  Throw in a bit of fresh coriander (also known as cilantro), and you have yourself a fresh salad.

After washing the greens, I roughly chopped them and put them in a pan that already had some garlic toasting in sesame oil.  Some dried red chilies, and maybe I even threw in an onion or some scallions.  After tasting, I knew it needed a bit more something, so I added some store bought black bean sauce.  Perfection!

It was a last minute decision to try putting the greens in some fresh bread made by our local Egyptian baker.  I don’t remember the name of this bread, but the closest thing it looks like to the western eye is a hot dog bun.  But please, it is nothing like a hot dog bun in taste – only in shape.  The taste is delicious and fresh.  After my first bite, I reminisced about having bánh mì in Hawaii.  At first glance, the combination seems odd, but when together it makes so much sense.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Spice Route

Being in the Arabian Peninsula, one has easy access to spices from around the world.  Food is quite international, with neighboring countries influencing one another along with the large amount of expats from India and other South Asian countries.  I have yet to visit the major spice souq (seller/store), but still have had plenty of spice choices.  Easy access to quality spices is one of the things I was looking forward to upon preparing for my first trip to the Middle East.  I am still asked by my father about the prices and quality of the saffron, and when will I be shipping some over.  [Sorry Dad, I am still looking for the best deal…]

In every neighborhood or town, it seems as if there is a local dry goods shop, featuring spices and nuts in bulk.  Our local shop is right next to a major park that also caters to families and children, keeping the sodas and candies towards the front of the store.  Towards the back is a tempting display of various nuts, spices, and coffees (Turkish and Arabic beans).  We have purchased whole bean Arabic coffee and whole cardamom pods.  While the store clerk can and will grind coffee and cardamom, I prefer to grind them myself.  Coffee and cardamom, like other spices, taste better and are closer to their original state when ground just before use.

Even in New York City, one must know exactly where to go for bulk spices: in Hell’s Kitchen a friend of mine introduced me to an amazing bulk store for za’atar, and I would go out of my way to the Indian neighborhoods in Jackson Heights, Queens or by 28th Street for Indo-Pak bulk spices.  Growing up with a family who heavily relies on spices, I was taught that one must go to specialty stores (or “ethnic” stores as some may say) for quality goods.  I admit that I am disturbed that people purchase and use spices from the spice isle of their grocery store or mega mart.  It has been instilled in me from a young age that those pre-packaged spices in the little glass jars are overpriced and stale.  Growing up, our coffee grinder was not used for coffee, but for grinding spices such as coriander, cumin, black pepper, dried chili peppers, and other non-coffee items.  I was taught that whenever possible, spices should be bought whole and ground according to the chef’s preference.  However, I understand that for an unfortunate portion of the population, spices do not extend further than salt and pepper, or maybe some dried mélange of “Italian” spices tucked in the back of the kitchen cupboard.

To my delight, in every full sized grocery store that I have been to in the Kingdom, there is a separate dry good section that sells bulk spices and nuts.  This section is in addition to the typical, Western spice isle that has your pre-packaged spices with the McSpice label in the glass jar.  The grocer’s spice section is similar to your deli section – a separate counter person is in charge of scooping and weighing out customers requests.  Several varieties of cardamom, saffron, peppercorns, za’atar, other spices, dals, nuts, and other dried goods.  Unfortunately, my Arabic is not good enough to identify the items that I am unfamiliar with.  The amount of products available is overwhelming and I often get lost just staring at the options.  I cannot adequately describe the joy I have when standing in front of all of these bins.  I guess it’s like being a girl in a spice shop…  What to do with blackened, dried lemons?  Do I need a half-kilo of sumac?  The nut offerings are much more than salted or unsalted, shelled or whole – there are spicy almonds, lemon pistachios, raw pine nuts, sesame crusted  whatnot, Brazil nuts, and all manner of sweet, savory, salty and in-between.  As with our local dry goods shop, there is a grinder for coffee and cardamom.  But why get anything ground when I would much rather grind them myself, allowing the perfume to fill our home.  Besides Arabic coffee and cardamom pods, we have purchased lemon almonds, popcorn, za’atar, turmeric, chili powder, black peppercorns, black mustard seeds, cumin seeds,  coriander seeds, black chickpeas, couscous, lentils, tamarind paste and shredded coconut.  I have my eye out for the pistachios of different flavors, saffron, and red za’atar, which I believe has more sumac than the green variety.  As in the west, grocery stores also have separate deli sections that include meats, cheeses, and pickled goods.  It will take several months to try all the varieties that tempt me from behind the glass.  To date, we have had purchased varieties of labneh (a thick yogurt, almost like a paste), olives from Turkey, Jordan, and beyond, and “feta” cheese that is not quite as crumbly as I have had in the USA, but just as salty and strong with flavor.  Oh, and all items may be sampled before purchase!

We didn’t pack many kitchen items with us.  In the spice department, we only brought our electric coffee grinder and quickly determined that a suitable mortar and pestle was essential for cooking.  I have been partial to Japanese varieties, and had a small porcelain one back in NYC.  While waiting for the perfect tool to present itself, we settled for grinding our spices by hitting them with the side of a cleaver between pieces of paper towel. Although not the ideal or safest method of spice grinding, the flavor is still superior to pre-ground spices lurking in the back of the cupboard.  Our new mortar and pestle was purchased in the food section of a pretty famous outdoor market here in Riyadh (unfortunately, I did not visit this market as I was abaya shopping).  It is made of cast aluminum, and is heavy with high sides, keeping those pesky seeds inside when smashing them.  I’ve never used a metal mortar and pestle before, but I must say that I am quite happy with the switch.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Time for Coffee

Ever since that first cup of coffee with dates on the airplane, I have been thinking about making my own Arabic coffee, or qahwa/kawah arabeeya.  The scent is incredible and the flavor is amazing.  I've tasted several versions of qahwa arabeeya  while on the ground in KSA and it was all tasted in one day.  My first taste was at a colleague's home.  His wife poured us small cups of the greenish colored liquid.  It was thick and flavorful, just like the coffee I had on the plane.  To accompany the coffee, we had dates that were covered with sesame seeds and stuffed with almonds.  Later that evening, I went to a park where my colleague's wife was meeting her family for a picnic.  As you can see, there were no shortage of beverages.  I believe I missed one urn in this photograph, as I can only count seven and I believe every family that came to the picnic brought two urns each - one for the kawah and one for the shai (tea).  The slight differentiations in each family's kawah was subtle to my untrained palette, and I was more than happy to continuously try the different varieties that was offered to me.

At work, I have been strictly drinking coffee from Dr. Cafe (see the "Recnetly Dined At" sidebar).  It is your typical, western style coffee shop that serves espresso based drinks and American style coffee.  I have a cup every morning of the workweek, Saturday to Wednesday, bringing my favorite thermos to get filled.

Today, I went to the grocer and decided that I must try my hand at ARabic coffee.  At the spice section there are two types of beans you can order - Arabic and Turkish.  I ordered up some Arabic coffee, which I had the spice guy grind for me since I do not yet have my personal coffee grinder.  I also purchased some cardamom seed pods, having the choice of two different varieties.  I choose the less expensive of the two.  The spice guy offered to grind the pods, but I decided to leave them whole. 

My unofficial guide to making Arabic coffee:
  • Boil water
  • Add Arabic coffee and cardamom seeds - they can be ground or you can open up the pods and put the shells and small seeds in together.  One internet resource suggests a 2-part coffee to 1-part cardamom ratio.
  •  Boil together for 5 minutes or so
  • Pour and add sweetener if you choose.  I neglected to buy sugar, so I added a bit of honey
The resulting Arabic coffee that I made at home was flavorful and lovely smelling, but not as thick or strong as what I remember enjoying.  I think I will add more coffee into the mix next time.

Friday, March 12, 2010

bread / khubz

Whenever I really like something, I try to learn how to make it myself so I can enjoy it whenever I fancy.  One treat that I became quickly addicted to is zaatar bread.  Popular in the Arabian Peninsula and Middle East, zaatar (also written as za'tar) is a mixture of various dried herbs, usually ground thyme, oregano, marjoram, sumac, toasted sesame seeds, and salt.  Each region, country, and specific household will prefer their own blend.

My first try of za'tar bread was at a lovely Middle Eastern restaurant in NYC called Moustache (see link under "Recently Dined At").  While not exclusively vegetarian, there are enough options to fill even the hungriest vegetarian diner.  In addition to za'tar, they have humus, felafel, foul, and other dishes that either have been or will probably be featured here on this blog.

Spice markets are easy to come by in NYC, and there is a well stocked one in Hell's Kitchen that sold za'tar in bulk (I will update this post with the exact location and name of this place once I remember it).  To make your own za'tar bread the easy way, simply by the spices from a reputable shop, get some fresh pita, and good extra virgin olive oil.  As your oven pre-heats, pour a generous amount of olive oil on your pita, smear it around with your fingers (or use a pastry brush if you don't want soft hands0, and then liberally sprinkle the spices on top.  Cook in the oven until the bread is hot and the olive oil is bubbling.

Being in the Arabian Peninsula, I was not surprised to see za'taron the menus at at the market.  I found two different varieties at Tamimi's, purchasing the greener one, saving the reddish version for another day.  I made my own za'tar bread here in my dorm-like kitchen, with ok results.  The bread here is called khubz and is thinner than your traditional pita, but is just as tasty.  I need to adjust the time due to the thickness of the bread, along with the fact that I'm using and electric oven.

Another khubz-based item that I am in love with is labneh with honey.  Trusty Mama Noura was my introduction to this item on their "pastry" section.  Labneh is a very thick yogurt, even thicker than that Greek yogurt all the kids are eating now.  This paste is oven eaten with bread and served weet or savory - sweet with honey and savory with za'tar.  At Mama Noura, they smear the labneh on their freshly baked khubz, drizzle honey on top, and cook it in the oven and roll it up.  This is one of the best things I have ever eaten - warm, comforting, sweet, filling, and very simple.  Simple enough to even make in a dorm-like kitchen?

At my last grocery outing, I got the courage to belly up to the deli counter.  Overwhelmed with the choices of labneh, olives, and various pickled items, I asked for the Turkish variety for no reason other than it was one of the lower priced plain varieties.  I bought my freshly baked bread from the bakery section and honey from the condiment isle.  The honey took a bit of time, as I wanted to purchase local honey and many of the jars were imported from the USA, Australia, and countries in Europe.  I finally found a jar that was produced in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Like my za'tar bread making experience, I didn't have the electric oven temperature mastered.  However, it was not a bad first attempt.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Cure to Homesickness Pt.2, Grocery Shopping

I have shopped at three different grocery stores since my arrival and each one is very different. As you may have already known, I am very particular with my grocers (see""Shopping for Groceries on the right hand side bar).

My first grocery experience is on the compound. It presents as quite basic, smaller that a full grocer, but larger than a bodega. The compound grocer does have some basic non-food items as well, such as household stuffs, perfumes, and small toys.  In addition to Arabic food items, there are Filipino products to cater to the large number of staff who live and work on the compound.  To give you an idea of what this grocer is like, I’ll share a partial list of items I have purchased at this grocer: stuffed grape leaves in a can, green olives in a can, popcorn in a can; bean thread noodles, scallions, upo (Filipino squash), cabbage, toilet paper, sponges. 

My second grocery experience is off the compound (or “off campus” as I like to say). Although it is only the equivalent of a few city blocks away, it is a bit challenge to get to as I have to cross a very busy street and pedestrians do not have the right of way in the KSA.  This grocer is decidedly more “Arabic”. Less random household items and a nicely stocked deli counter filled with a variety of olives and cheeses and a separate spice section where one can buy bulk items. Items I have purchased here include bananas, cauliflower, garlic, pasta, olive oil, toothpaste (*note, the toothpaste cost more than the olive oil), cotton swabs, laundry detergent (Tide for general stuff, and a special abaya wash for the delicates – it keeps your blacks staying black!), stuffed grape leaves in a can.

My third grocery experience is also off campus at a place called Tamimi’s. It is actually SafeWay, which I am told is an “American” grocer, but I have never seen or been to one before.  It is a very large, suburban type grocery store – wide isles, large carts, and they also sell more than food items like household items, small toys, and such.  And for reasons I am not sure of yet, you do not have to wear your headscarf inside. Special sections that I took notice of are the nice little plant section, a date section, a well stocked deli with olives, local cheeses and imported cheeses, and an extensive spice and bulk bean section.  Inside my grocery bag: my first house plant, zatar spices, ginger, silken tofu, a broom & dustpan, general household cleaner, flat bread, dates.
Today I decided that I had to cook something, despite my meager, dorm-like kitchen. Menu: pancit. For those of you not in the know, pancit is Filipino noodles.  My mother makes a delicious vegetarian version and I honestly do not have to cook it much as it has always been so easy to go my parent’s to have some home cooking.  In my battle to fight homesickness, I tried my hand at making some pancit.  The kitchen is small and at the moment I don’t have the proper pots, pans, or even a chopping board.  So, did what I could and the results were pretty tasty. The recipe below is quite basic – I could not find shitake mushrooms in my adventures, which I really missed. Please be creative and add your own twist.

How to make:
1. Soak bean thread noodles for about 5 minutes
2. Meanwhile, chop up your favorite vegetables. I used baby bok choi & cabbage.
3. Sauté some tofu in oil with ginger and garlic.  It is preferable if you use regular or cotton tofu as it stands up to the sautéing more. However, I only had access to extra firm silken tofu, which did work out nicely.
4. Pull tofu out and set aside.  Keep any remaining oil in the pan.
5. Put in more garlic, then your veggies. Add a bit of salt and sauté until wilted. Pull out your soaked (and now softened) bean thread noodles and put inside your pan. Continue to sauté and add some soy sauce and a good squeeze of lemon juice.  As the cooking nears completion, add some scallions and your reserved tofu. Heat through.


Masarap! (Delicious!)

Monday, March 1, 2010

The gateway food for vegetarians (Or... I can't find my mama at Mama Noura’s)

I have identified as a vegetarian for more than half my life. One of the first “vegetarian” foods I remember being told about was falafel. This is the perfect gateway food as it is fried, flavorful, and very cheap. In NYC, there are so many falafel spots to choose from – from restaurants to street carts. I have tried falafel at two different places since my arrival here in the Kingdom. The Mama Noura Juice Center is truly a special place (see link also under “Recently Dined At”). While I have never been inside as it is for males only, I have eaten their falafel plate and falafel sandwich. The plate is pretty much a deconstructed sandwich that includes more pickled items, including pickled hot peppers. They also serve wonderful fresh juices and make blends upon request. I have had the half-blackberry, half-strawberry blend as well as the straight up pomegranate. From what I can see through the window, they also have raisin, banana with milk, and mango. Mama Noura also serves shwarma and other meaty treats for those who are interested. At the compound restaurant, they also serve falafel. To my surprise, it is only served for breakfast. So, what’s a hungry girl to do? Although a bit weary at first, I am completely sold on falafel sandwich for breakfast. It is less than $1USD (cheaper than the date twist and croissants at my coffee shop) and more nutritious – packed with veggies and protein. For 5SR (just over $1USD) you can get a “mixed” falafel sandwich, which includes egg and various salads (like tabbouleh and baba ghanooj). I am hungry for breakfast, but not that hungry.


Several faux pas made today during my lunch hour. I needed a break from the staff cafeteria (as you can see from my Twitter feed, I've been eating a lot of vegetable curry and lentils), so I decided to go to the "campus"restaurant. I have been here before with a male colleague, so I thought I knew how to handle myself. I went on the line, which is buffet style, and got my Lebanese fish with rice. I was then handed a tray with a bread and a plastic utensil set, as I neglected to pick them up when I entered. I paid for my lunch, then looked around. Oh, I should go sit in the ladies section! So, | bring my tray to the ladies dining section and could not figure out how to enter, as there is a maze of screens to protect the diners. I then notice that there is another buffet line in this room and a register. Oh! I was supposed to order, pay, and dine in the separate section! I ate my meal alone, noticing that it is very nice to have olive oil as a condiment choice at my table as opposed to ketchup. I packed my leftovers in a to-go container, picking up my tray to put it away. More confusion - I was supposed to leave the tray on my table and not take it with me. My tray was quickly taken by a staffer whose job it is tend to diner's needs (e.g., get hot sauce upon request, give diners to-go containers, replace tissues, etc.). I walk through the maze to get to the "public"ladies section. I then notice that there is a totally separate entrance for women, which is not labeled. I guess I was just supposed to know - I will for the next time.

Friday, February 26, 2010

the cure to homesickness

Back home, I have been very frugal with my coffee. I would make my coffee at home, put it in my coveted thermos, and bring it to work. I hated the idea of spending money for coffee that I could make myself, exactly the way I like it. Since moving to my new home, I have not yet purchased a coffee maker, so I am now visiting my local coffee shop. I have had the pleasure of being served by the nicest baristas! There is an on-site coffee shop where I work, and the baristas are all Filipino. After good-naturedly grilling me about why I don’t know Tagalog, then grilling me about me using my reusable thermos instead of a disposable cup, I have been making this a daily routine. They also have treats – my favorites so far are the “date twist” and “zaatar croissant”. The other day I decided to try out another coffee shop. I met a Brother from India, who cooked up a nice cup of Turkish coffee for 5SR (about $1.33 USD). We ended up talking about a variety of topics – how long he has lived in the country, his goal of going on the Hajj with his mother, religion in India, how Muslim women dress in the USA, life in Saudi Arabia, and the like. But the biggest surprise was when the barista asked me if I had breakfast yet. I thought he was trying to get me to purchase a food item. Then, he walks out of the back room with his aloo paratha. He says that it is “Indian Breakfast” and asked if I would like some. Now, obviously this man did not know who he was talking to! I told him about my father’s and how I was taught how to make it as well. In the end, despite me trying to not accept the treat, I walked out of the coffee shop caffeinated and with a bag of aloo paratha and some halva! Now, it may be homesickness, but this Brother’s potato bread was the best I have had in a long time. Before I left the USA, I really wanted to get a thorough lesson about how to cook all of my favorite Pakistani dishes. There was not enough time to do this, but we did cover aloo paratha (or as we have Americanized it to be “potato bread” or “potato treat”). Watch and learn…

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Dates on a plane

I love plane food, especially when it involves international flights. Unfortunately, my last few adventures have not gone so well as I have been having difficulties with obtaining my vegetarian meal option. This time I thought I was well prepared. I ordered my "Asian Vegetarian" meal well in advance, double checked once on the telephone, and triple checked at the check-in counter. Unfortunately, "these things happen", the flight attendant said. My meal was not on-board and I opted for the fish, since I have been a wavering vegetarian (I know, I shouldn't even call myself vegetarian at this point). The best part was our first treat. A date skewered on a toothpick was served with a small cup of Arabic coffee. I originally thought this was thick tea, as the coloring is not dark brown like American coffee. The date was absolutely delicious and a bit cold from being refrigerated. The tea was served in a very small cup and was heavily scented with cardamom. We then were given juice choices - I had the mango. My main meal tray tray comprised of: a salad – tomato, iceberg lettuce, one olive, shredded carrots, and Heinz Italian dressing; roasted eggplant and baked fish with spicy garlic tomato sauce over rice with parsley and mustard seeds; potato salad topped with two fresh shrimps (this dish reminded me very much of a Japanese dish, right down to the mayonnaise salad); caramel cheesecake; a roll with butter; and bottled water. For breakfast the next day, I choose the cheese omelet with hash browns (I discarded the non-pork sausage link). Served alongside was fruit – grapefruit, grapes, pineapple, honeydew; a croissant; one roll; a wedge of foiled soft cheese, two jellies; orange juice; coffee; and bottled water. To end it all, when the plane was coming in to land, hard candies were passed out to help with the ear popping. I choose grape (purple).