What lamb in Arabic? If you don’t know it will not help you to sat baa. Ogden Nash wrote about the language of dogs. They bark differently in different countries. Woof is not universal. French dogs do not necessarily “bow wow.”
When I arrived in Jeddah I could not speak Arabic. And I still cannot. Thankfully all the Filipino waiters speak English. We tried a Malaysian restaurant the other night. Tried. Failed. The staff looked vaguely oriental which meant to me that they were likely Filipino. Nope. My nurses were embarrassed. They could not speak with or get a translation for the menu. We were stuck in a place with cuisine I was not familiar and with no one to guide us. We went to an Indian place instead. My nurses have never eaten Indian food. Imagine? I ordered us up some good vittles. Mmmm….
This picture? I was in the mall. I saw someone eating. It was a stew that was eaten with fresh made flat bread. I went to order up some too. And the Arabic speaker behind the counter was mystified. We could not speak. At all. I pointed. He shrugged He asked in Arabic. I pointed. I said baa. I said moo. He smiled and shrugged again. I got beef. They don’t serve pork. And I never clucked.
Now? I get on the phone to my assistant. I tell him and he speaks on my behalf. A lot of hospital staff have asked me for help and I use this method to be sure I am understanding the problem. No, I did not learn enough Arabic to be conversant. Yes, I am shameful. I still eat well. And mostly Filipinos wait on me. I am not learning a new language but I have adapted. Bow wow.
There is a style here. Dinner. It’s traditional. Which is to say that after the first several times I attended, it has a recognizable pattern. This typical dinner in my compound was attended by men. Females, even physician colleagues are not invited. A lamb is prepared – grilled – and then served over rice. Picking at the meat with your bare fingers to get to the succulent parts is an accepted norm. Eating with your fingers is common. Forks are provided. No knives. The usual dessert is a sweet semolina cake that has cream or mozzarella cheese in between the layers. In Mexico it’s called arepa. My friend Nasser – we call him Kideida – dressed in traditional formal garb in celebration of the occasion. I wore my golf shirt. Ha! I don’t golf.
I attended a welcome dinner. Two physicians joined our department. I live modestly in hospital housing. This was an opportunity to see how the other half lives. It’s a separation of sexes. No females were in attendance. Someone brought their son. Otherwise it was a banquet of males. Lamb is roasted on a skewer. Standard fare. The sides included lots of rice, salad, and fruit, followed by dessert. Afterward our host played traditional music accompanied by his son. From the outside, the walls are high and drab. Inside, the accommodations are quite the opposite. Elaborate and ornate, it reflected a long life of collecting the trappings of wealth and success. Me? I’m living in two suitcases, ready to go if it’s imperative. The bulk of it will be my dive gear. I’m of the opinion that you can’t take it with you…but…. you can sure store it somewhere else. To be fair, I’ve got a lot of junk sitting around somewhere else… Please don’t laugh too hard.
Ok, I’m stretching here. I’m desperate for a post? I have lots of images. Good ones. Great fish pics. I’m bored. Too much fish. My attention is wandering. Or I am separating? I will secretly admit that I do not prefer to eat fish. Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks with tartar sauce, is my most vivid childhood memory. Yes, I ate American cheese sandwiches too. And that’s not cheese! Geez! And, I won’t eat cheese whiz; it’s not real food.
Kale is one of the veggies not in my diet. I don’t and have never sought it out. We have lived apart and quite happily so all of my life until now.
The picture does not do the dish justice. I’m not a food photographer. And I was using available light. And well, you know, the food was too good to start styling it at the table. So the picture is not particularly special. But the memory, that’s a different kettle of fish. Fish? No, it’s just another American slang saying. Like… “I’ll meet you at the pass…” Don’t ask. But Jennifer knows.
Describe it? It’s deep fried. That is enough information right there. Stop! Deep fried? Yes! Stunning what you can do with leaves. The rest is history. There are dollops of mustard mayo and you can see the onions. But the crunch and the texture and the flavors are not translatable. You just have to eat this. The picture is a mere shadow of the real thing. Which is more important? The picture or the story? …you gotta try this!
…Chinese restaurant the I will never return to eat in again. I’ll start with an aside. I don’t eat sushi. But when David graduated from USC we had dinner where my niece’s boyfriend worked. It was the best sushi ever. Perfect. After that anything else would be downhill. Bonnie made a touching random act of kindness and invited me to dinner. She had told me the food was outstanding. It was. Even the rice was soft and fluffy. I don’t wax on about rice. But the very basic staple of every Chinese meal was done to perfection. The noodles are hand pulled. Or, as her husband, Daniel, said – “homemade.” Big difference. But same. (He’s German – language/translation ww) The noodles start as a ball of dough and then as a lump it is pulled into a single thin long noodle strand. The trick it is to find the two ends before you eat it. That would be “Chinese luck.” Suffice to say the meal was outstanding. Rosewood Hotel – Noodles – Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. No, you can’t go either. Travel visas are hard to get. Which means that most folks will never get to eat there either. I don’t show you any food pics. It was not that kind of meal. The other gal is Jen, my OR nurse. We almost did not eat there. My colleague Farid was invited. He does not like Chinese food so we were almost set to go to a Lebanese place. But as it turns out, he had to go to parent teacher conference and the invitation was aimed at me. So, yay! We ended up in the best place I will never return to eat. No pictures of the food. What you really remember is the company. Now, read between the lines. When I was studying English and literature, we had to parse the meaning out of everything the writer was saying, analyzing what was not on the written page.
Eating is sport. Run, dodge the traffic.
The first months I spent in Jeddah were pretty clueless as I look back in retrospect. I had no transportation. So I walked around in the high heat and ducked into any willing A/C place. Traffic is all fast. They swerve to avoid you. It’s so they don’t have to do paperwork. Guys get run over all the time. It’s a video sport too. Hit the dashing pedestrian. The ladies in their abayas are bulletproof. They step off the curb and mosey, just saunter into the street, and the traffic all swerves magically to avoid them. I like to walk with women! The malls all have food courts. And for a long while when I first arrived in Saudi, I ate in them each night. I was not cooking. You had portioned meals, vaguely healthy, and the prices were not too bad. After my first six months I have not really eaten in a mall again. It gets tiring and boring in a hurry. Also, I eat way less salt and sugary drink that way.
Recently I had to walk through this mall. Revisit. Almost four years later, this was a nostalgic trip. Most of the fast food places had closed and been replaced. One or two remained. Same place, some of it same, much of it changed, I was curious but not sad that I no longer get sustenance there. The crepe place is a standard around the world. Nice. I like chocolate and banana. Closed. Gone. Hmmm….wonder where to go?
Eating is sport. Do not underestimate the folks in Jeddah. There are those who know how and where to eat. Churrascaria is Brazilian style. Bring an appetite and expect to eat a lot of meat. It starts with an extensive salad bar. Fill up, but save room. And then there is a disc – red or green side. Red light green light. Go. They bring cuts of meat right from the grill.
The server slices it off and straight onto your plate. Eat till you are full then red light. They grilled pineapple covered in cinnamon sugar for dessert.
This night Faisal was the host. Great guy, wonderful sense of humor, He’s part of the morning exercise group. This night – eat! Keep the grill coming. For some reason it’s like a rite – men, meat, caves. There is a family section. But this is more a gathering of men and appetite – guys night out.
I love the graphics of this wall in a Manhattan restaurant that closed before I ever got a chance to eat there. Open – close, restaurants have a short survival. Some, less than others, close pretty quickly. Ambience is a big factor. So this place is stunning. Midtown Manhattan, great location, plenty of foot traffic, it is a sure fire deal. Nope! Gone in a year. I don’t know why. Bad food. Failed health inspection? Who knows? Another will replace it shortly. But I was very surprised it was shuttered the next time I passed. Of course, I had never personally been in there myself….
In Jeddah restaurants come and go too. Junk food rules. McD forever! A great concept place shuttered – Churros! They were terrific. Good stuff, great confection, fattening, sugary, cinnamon, chocolate dipping sauce – how could it possibly fail? Shuttered.
There are restaurants way overpriced. They don’t last. Two Italian restaurants sat side by side in Jeddah. The pricey one was just gone one day.
Location – if you are in the traffic pattern, lots of people see you and come to visit. My current favorite restaurant is relatively out of the traffic eye and has few customers. I hope they last. But it’s never a good sign when I am usually one of few customers eating and the waiters know you by name.
Which came first? The chicken or the egg? I confess that now when I dive I compose a post to go along with the fish I shoot (images of). 99% never make it to post. Forgot. Too many images and only one post a day. I don’t try to do more. It’s TMI. And besides, who’s looking? Thank you to you kind readers who put up with me.
This mundane photo is like Proust’s Madeleine. It’s a BLT. Uniquely of my childhood. And beside it is a latte. Uniquely of my past two years. The BLT was in my life from childhood. My mother made them. Bacon was ok to eat then. She even did deep fried shoestring potatoes in the grease. I ate them whenever we traveled to Morgantown, WV for my orthodontist appointment. There was a diner. I ate one and if I could – two. My treat. I don’t know why I needed a treat. It was someone’s mom or my own who had to drive all the miles to the dental appointment.
And second, when I was in college and off to school, my mother would make BLT’s for lunch every Sunday. It was like clockwork. A habit. And I remember them fondly enough that the method and recipe remain about the same. The essentials are the bacon, tomato, and miracle whip. Yeah, yeah…but that’s how I ate them. So change the bread and do a different lettuce….
Third…latte. Didn’t know what one was till a couple years ago. Starbucks, not me. Didn’t go. Immune to coffee. I like the aroma. Never drank the stuff. I either slept or stayed awake but did it without coffee. Now we have a machine. I get flavored latte. Maple syrup, chocolate, hazelnut, and all other manner of tastes. Actually, the best coffee I ever noticed was Kona. Hawaiian. Grown on the Big Island. Smooth, no after taste. Expensive. Usually sold cut. So there’s Kona with 5% real Kona. Don’t fall for it. And so I’ve become a latte fan.
Where is this all going? I take pictures of everything. So here’s the picture. I was editing my recent trip to Chicago and this is a shot from home. I’m far from home again. This is a reminder of fond memories I left behind.
Ethiopia is just across the way from the Middle East. And, I traveled to Chicago to eat in an Ethiopian restaurant. The sites on the ‘net recommended it. The food is typical. It has a pancake bread called injera. It’s a sourdough tasting spongy kind of pancake looking bread. That help? You gotta try it. My kids don’t like the taste of the bread. So you order up. The stuff comes on a large flat pan with injera as the base. You get extra injera to dip and eat with. No forks. Fingers! It’s communal. Sharing. You dip in and go. There is an option for gluten free injera. You don’t go away hungry. The place was packed and they’ve been in business a long time.
Did I tell you my birthday adventure many years ago in NY. There was an Ethiopian restaurant a few steps from where I lived. It’s still there. I’m not. I liked it – the restaurant. The family did not like the taste of the bread. So we never went after our initial adventure. On my birthday I was instructed to dress for dinner out. Then I was blindfolded, led down the elevator, and we all got into a waiting cab. The destination was whispered so I had no clue. After a few minutes we arrived in front of the restaurant. Surprise! Sometimes your family makes sacrifices. It was the last time we ate in this restaurant. Fortunately, they did not depend upon us to remain open.
Sadly, a very nice Italian restaurant has closed in Jeddah. It was expensive and had a great veal dish. Their high price was too much for them to survive. Many a night I walked past them to eat in the cheaper Italian place next door. Yeah, cheaper by half. I did have a very nice meal there before it closed. Restaurants come and go in Jeddah. You have to have customers in order to survive. Many a time I have been in places that are nearly empty. Perhaps I go to eat too early.
Conclusion: Ethiopia is a long way away. I stopped there in the airport on the way to Tanzania. I did not eat there. And otherwise my experience with Ethiopian food is less than once every ten years. Don’t bother to leave the light on for me.