Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions
Spring time always inspires me...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Just a Thought

ALL GOOD FOOD STARTS WITH GOOD EARTH, I heard this phrase back when I was in Mexico during the Slow Food Congress held in Puebla in 2007... What this phrase entails is very much what the Slow Food philosophy is about. I believe that it's all about respecting the earth, the way we grow our food, and how we make it a consumable commodity. I want you to reflect on these words and think about what you ate for lunch. Basically this phrase teaches us that when the base (of anything) is solid, the outcome is secured. While our politicians are slowly tearing our country apart, I am cooking compulsively... bread (lots of it), red pepper paste, and many other foods. I'll spare you all the details. It's hard to live on daily basis knowing that tomorrow your life could change and never be the same, and you have absolutely no control over the matter. Personally, I am disgusted with everything. We have a magnificent country which is being slowly but surely torn apart, piece by piece, by hungry individualistic jerks (pardon my French). What are we leaving behind for our children, a history filled with hatred, blood and destruction?

Today, on a lighter note, I have finally figured out the subject of my next book - Not telling just yet! It will deal with a focused study dealing with traditional foods in Lebanon with romantic promenades in the best parts of the country..in the company of exceptional human beings who need to be heard... I shall do it! Please God spare our country from the ravages of war ...Food not War, I'm sure this would put a smile on any politicians face... let me at 'em!!!!!!

Looking through my files, I found the speech I made to the world deleguates in Mexico, I'd like to share it with you, I think it made an impression on everyone... I was very proud to represent my country, the Lebanon.

Good morning, my name is Barbara Massaad. I come from Beirut, Lebanon.What started as a dream has become a reality beyond expectations. Lebanon holds a great opportunity for a rich culinary journey, and thus I set out to learn about the food traditions and the people of my country, Lebanon.

Luckily, unlike the threats in developed countries, Lebanon still enjoys a very rich food tradition. There are distinct seasons and people cook according to each season. Lebanese people are still; in general, sitting down to a home cooked meal prepared with love and care, coming from a vast and rich ancestral recipe. An important characteristic trait of a Lebanese person is hospitality. The best way to show hospitality is through food. All social encounters deal with food. Complete strangers offer food to each other to create a bond to one another. In the Middle East they say, “We have shared bread and salt” meaning that we shared a meal therefore we are close friends.

Lebanese cuisine is an intricate art.  You can see women sorting parsley patiently to make our famous tabbouleh, others stuffing a variety of vegetables with meat and rice, some going to the nearest street corner bakery with a jar of mixed thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac, mixed with olive oil; that has been pressed from olives growing in their groves, to make man’oushé – the traditional Lebanese breakfast. You can see mothers pounding garlic in their wooden mortar to make humus – a chickpea dip with tahini – a rich sesame paste. The list is endless and very rich, full of flavors, colors, and textures worthy of the most finicky eaters.

Lebanese people still prepare diligently or buy from a reliable source their winter’s preserves such as:  jams, pickles, meat confits, dried fruits and herbs, dried yogurt with cracked wheat made into a fine powder which is considered by archeologists as the oldest cheese, grains, and cereals, arak – an alcoholic beverage made with anise seeds, and many other kinds of preserves. This is not done because of scarcity of ingredients, but because it is very much a part of our culture.

YET, Lebanese cuisine demands labor and time. And thus, here lies the issues: will the common threats of globalization, economic situations, mothers joining the work force, and overall culinary negligence threaten our Lebanese culinary traditions?

We, in Lebanon, are living through very difficult times, times of turmoil. We live in a conflict zone where regional and big powers dictate our livelihood.  We are struggling with no hope on the horizon; we need to focus and to put our energy on positive goals. Using the wise words of Carlo Petrini, we need to focus on the good, on the fair, and on the clean.

Our aim at Slow Food Beirut is to work on preserving, cherishing, educating, and transmitting the global Slow Food message to save our rich culinary heritage.

We will work on setting up farmer’s markets in the largest cities in Lebanon.  This will be done to incite people to meet farmers and producers, to buy from them directly, to insure quality fruits and vegetables to consumers, to raise awareness of the importance of  these farmers and producers, and last but not least to provide a continuum in our local food traditions.

We will work on defining our food traditions in order to educate and ensure future generations of the riches found in our culinary heritage. This will be done by activities targeted to schools and universities to include in their programs. We will also educate by research, by visuals including photography and filming to create publicity and talk-about.

What started as a dream has indeed become a reality. With the help of Slow Food, we can make a difference, and I am very proud to be part of this team. Thank you!

1 comment:

linda daou haddad said...

Beautiful "thought" dear Barbara! Wish you all the best with your new book! Big hug! Linda