Those who are frequent readers of this blog know my most favorite thing… the holiest of grails… is to be invited into someone’s home to share a meal with them. Eating in someone’s house, I often get served dishes that I won’t find in local restaurants, and I invariably pick up on the little customs and habits of eating in that country that wouldn’t be so obvious, say, in the hotel dining room.
In Gaza, Marwan Al Ghoul and his giant extended family opened their apartment doors to us and hosted us for dinner. All the women had been working in the kitchen for two days (the meat needed to marinate, and the salads needed a day for the flavors to combine), and, as in most places including my own backyard, the men handled the grilling of the meat.
When we arrived we were each handed hot kibbeh, a fried football of ground bulgur wheat, minced lamb, and almonds — dense little appetizers that would have made a filling dinner on their own. While we ate we watched a pot of steamed dolma, stuffed grape leaves, turned onto a platter and organized into cute little rows for serving.
The table was set with a selection of salads, flatbreads, the dolma, the kibbeh, and skewers of chicken and beef, hot off the grill. Children ran in and out of the room, helping themselves to coleslaw and an interesting fattoush that had been topped with a mix of local yogurt and mayonnaise.
As we tucked into an amazingly tart tabbouleh, heavy on the lemon and parsley, family members passed around grapefruit and orange juice, and Marwan kept sneaking more meat skewers onto our plates (“Eat! Eat!”).
When we just couldn’t take anymore, the dirty plates were abandoned in the dining room and we took up throne-like chairs in the living room for dessert. On the ornate table in front of us were goblets of jello and fruit, and a large white dessert called “Lebanese nights” – Layali Libnan – a cold semolina pudding topped with cream and pistachios. It was dished out and topped with a rosewater honey.
Then came a round of Turkish coffees, another order to “Eat! Eat!”, and finally, stuffed to the gills, we rolled out of that festive apartment and into the dark night. Leftovers were doled out to family members to take home. With the power outages and the shortage of generator fuel, things don’t keep long in the fridge.
As always, I’m struck by the hospitality here, as in many of the world’s bleakest outposts.
What’s mine is yours, even if I don’t have much, and even if I know I’ll have even less tomorrow.