Tag Archives: Travel

Dubai and Doha Detour

23 Jun

My travel westward to London included a necessary stopover in the Arabian Gulf to look for a new job opportunity. However, this brief pause in adventure travel wasn’t without a few interesting food discoveries. After all, I still had to eat.

Over the course of eight days, I fleeted across many offices to sell myself to potential employers. Working out free wi-fi hubs within the air-conditioned malls meant that healthy options were going to be difficult to find. This was even more challenging in Doha where buckets of fried chicken, burgers and pizza were in abundance. On most days I skipped lunch, opting for a Starbucks “light” frappuccino of some sort. However, dinner usually included something more substantial and by then I would be famished, especially if I’d been running in the desert heat.

In Dubai where I had already been twice, we dined at Meshawi a renown Lebanese Restaurant where the stand-out dish was pan-fried chicken hearts with a pomegranate molasses sauce. However, the tuna steak at the Belgian Beer Cafe, ravioli at Rosso and noodles at Wagamama were at best average. In Doha, we focused on regional food including Mamig Armenian/Lebanese, Alsoo South Indian and the delights of Yemen at Bandar Adan. All three restaurants were fantastic and possibly the best in their category. I also tried camel at a Moroccan restaurant in the Souq which I can only describe as being similar to goat, but only much softer.

My overall food experience made me think about reevaluating my food expectations in preparation of a move to the region. The fortunate thing is that the availability of organic produce and ingredients are on the rise so cooking the dishes I love will be possible. In terms of dining out, I will definitely have to lower my expectations and be prepared to try many restaurants. You may have noticed that very few vegetarian options were mentioned. This is representative of the regional consumption habits. Here vegetarians need to either choose from the limited options on the menu or request that they omit meat where possible.

I’ll leave you with a few photos. Unfortunately I wasn’t armed with my camera in every occasion so I wasn’t able to show you all the dishes. Have you unearthed anything interesting food lately?

Next stop London…stay tuned

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Mexico revisited – Guacamole

4 Jul

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I started liking guacamole when I first dined at a small ‘hole in the wall” restaurant named Hot Salsa Kitchen in Annandale in Sydney (now closed). I had previously tried it many times but until that occasion, I had only disappointed my taste buds with bland, uninteresting or unauthentic guacamole which was usually suffocating in sour cream. Theirs was simple, creamy and balanced. This was until of course until I tried the one at El Asadero in Tulum. That’s when I went from liking to falling in love with guacamole.

True guacamole in my opinion starts with the aguacate (avocado). The aguacate must be of the highest quality, not bruised or scared, ripe but not overripe or soft and preferably of the creamier type like Hass or the buttery type like Shepard. The rest of the ingredients are there to decorate, accentuate and elevate the aguacate.

Some people like to add garlic and ground cumin, I believe both are unnecessary. White onion is already featured and cumin is likely to form one of the spices in the accompanying dishes especially if its Mexican. To soften the intensity of the onion, I usually rub with salt or sprinkle with salt then beat a few times with the pestle.

  • 4 Hass Avocadoes
  • 1/4 white onion diced finely
  • 1/2 a bunch of coriander chopped roughly
  • 2 tomatoes skin removed, deseeded and flesh chopped up finely
  • 2 small limes
  • Salt

If you have a mortar and pestle (molcajete) use it. Otherwise mash using a fork. Those who choose to use a blender should not refer to it as guacamole but rather blended avocado dip. In my opinion, it loses its character if blended. Blending will ensure that it is void of the various lumpy bits of aguacate which contrast well with the coriander and tomato embodied within the mole.

Start off with the coriander and onion. Sprinkle say 1/4 of a teaspoon of salt over the onion, then beat lightly until the juice is released.

Add avocado flesh, squeeze the limes and continue mashing.

Add tomatoes, beat a little and then switch over to a spoon. Mix it together.

Taste and add more salt or lime if required.

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Mexico revisited – Frijoles Refritas (Refried Beans)

26 Jun

The colonial city of Oaxaca was the standout city of all the cities which I visited during my travels in Mexico. The opportunity to explore its gastronomical delights was complimented by its backdrop of vibrant coloured homes, museums, colonial architecture, cobble stone streets, archaeological sites and flea markets.

Exceptional dishes were sampled on the streets and in restaurants of which many will remain etched in my memory for years to come. Tlayudas, memelas, mole (pronounced mo-lay), quesillo and hot chocolate made from freshly ground cacau beans to name a few. Oaxaca is also home to Mezcal a variation to tequila which in my opinion is an essential digestif and indispensable companion with the rich Oaxaqueña cuisine.

At a cantina in the heart of this city, I recall having the best refried beans to date. We were scouting for a late breakfast and whilst the cook was actually preparing almuerzo (lunch), she still greeted us with her warm hospitality and encouraged us to sample the buffet as the dishes were being laid out and garnished. The refried beans sat proud, clearly elevated and still bubbling in their earthenware dish, two servings and I couldn’t resist the temptation to ask. The key she told me was to use lard or bacon, especially if its smoked bacon. Up until that point I had avoided using lard for health reasons but with one mouthful, I began to understand why people would risk cardiovascular disease for these beans. Vegetarians may use ghee, butter or oil to saute the onions and the result will be similar but without the bacon flavour, and, of course meat free 😉

  • 200g of Pinto Beans or Black Beans (I used black because I was out of Pinto)
  • 1/2 white onion, diced finely
  • 100g of streaky bacon, diced finely
  • 4 Tablespoons of ghee, butter or lard

Soak beans in cold water for 24hours, then rinse, add to a heavy based pot or pressure cooker, cover with cold water, bring to the boil, cover and simmer until they are cooked. Do not add salt at this stage as it will retard the cooking of the beans and they’ll end up crunchy on the inside ;).

Saute onion in a non-stick or heavy based pan in at least 4 tablespoons of melted lard, butter or ghee, add a good pinch of salt to ensure onions don’t brown. Then add the streaky bacon, saute until the fat in the bacon has melted away and fused with the rest of the ingredients.

Once the beans are cooked, ladle into the pan straining off the water and mash with a wooden spoon. Repeat gradually until you have mashed up all the beans adding water from the pot until you get the desired consistency. Alternatively use a blender and add water gradually. Either way will yield tasty refried beans.

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Mexico revisited – The sequel

20 Jun

Following on from Sunday’s menu, I’ve decided to fill in a few blanks and elaborate on my initial post Mexico revisited. The dishes that I cherish most and frequently cook are those that I almost prepare instinctively. I often ring up my mother for guidance on some of the complicated Lebanese dishes and ask her for the recipe. Her response revolves around something like “Let me have a think. Its one or two cups of this, a few teaspoons of this, a pinch of that…”. Its no surprise, she’s been making those dishes for over 40 years. So here goes, just like my mother, I’ve tried to retrace my footsteps and included as much detail as possible.

Click below (I will post recipes shortly):

Pollo Pibil

Carne Asada

Frijoles Refritas

Guacamole

Pico de Gallo

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Mexico revisited

17 Jun

When it comes to cooking (and other things too), I often wonder why I can’t do things half way, why it always has to be a multitude of dishes instead of the basic few. It probably has to do with two things: influences and experiences.

My upbringing has a lot to do with my influences, particularly in relation to offering the utmost level of hospitality. My family background is Lebanese and ever since I could remember sitting around a table, almost every meal was elaborate, varied and complete. Elaborate because dining is sacred, varied because not everyone likes the same thing and complete because one must tantalize with a starter, enjoy the main(s) and end off on a sweet note, dessert.

Experiences? Besides offering a satisfying meal, I feel it’s vital that I share my dining experiences with my guest and try to recreate with as much authenticity the dishes that I have indulged in. I have traveled to several countries and almost on every occasion emphasis has been paid to food ahead of sight seeing, and, souvenir shopping. From street food to fine dining, local markets to supermarkets, sipping on the local street beverages to the luxurious rooftop bars, I believe it’s a must that we delve deep into the gastronomical zone as it gives a greater understanding of the culture. It’s what makes us culturally different that is of great interest and food definitely forms a great part of people’s culture and must not be overlooked.

So what’s on Sunday’s menu? Pollo Pibil, Carne Cozida, Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Corn Tortillas and Frijoles Refritas inspired of course by the streets of Mexico from Mexico City to Oaxaca and of course the Yucatan.

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