If you’ve read my article from this past summer, What Do They Eat in Ghana?, you know that I had a wild time sampling all of the delicious foods that the Ghanaian culture had to offer. But what I’m here to tell you today is that the cultural feast didn’t end when I landed back in the States.
One of the students who was part of our team during our trip is an international student from Lebanon who, might I add, is an excellent chef. This past December, in the midst of brisk wintry winds and finals-week cramming, he invited people from our team into his apartment downtown for an authentic Lebanese dinner. This kid cooked for more than 10 of us, guys. And it was incredible.
When we arrived, our “host” of the evening had already set out plates of appetizers for us to enjoy. There were a variety of bread-like dumpling pockets filled with lamb meat, vegetables, and – wait for it – homemade cheese. This guy made cheese. In his apartment.
Naturally, we asked him how he went about, ya know, just making cheese, and he explained the process (as it blew over my head). He did share with us his secret ingredient, however, and that was a type of Lebanese sour cream, which is much thicker and richer than American sour cream. It was almost like a tart cream cheese, and we dunked our American contribution to the meal (Doritos) into the container after the other appetizers were polished off.
For the main course, he made a fresh salad that included parsley, tomatoes, olive oil and a small, crunchy grain that added texture and bite to the mixture of mild, leafy flavors.
Perhaps my favorite part of the meal was the lamb and rice with grape leaves. My friend added a ton of great spices to the tender lamb meat, and, surprisingly, the grape leaves provided a soft yet flavorful casing for the inner rice mixture. Along with these we also had white rice with a stew-like mix of beef, carrots and peas.
As I’m sure you can tell by the menu I just shared, we left his apartment satisfied with good conversation and stuffed with great food. Despite my initial hesitation, considering I had absolutely no clue what people ate in Lebanon as I headed to his home, I left excited to find a Lebanese restaurant in my area.
My advice from this experience? Try every type of cultural food you can get your hands on, even if you’ve never heard of it before. And when your international friend invites you for dinner at his or her apartment, you go. You always go.
All food photos were taken with an iPhone 4S camera.
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