Category Archives: Food

The culture of ordering food

The Soup Nazi is a very mean but the best soup cook character that appeared in Seinfeld TV Show. If you don’t know this character then watch this clip before continue reading:

 

For those who don’t know the Soup Nazi character is a depiction of a real Middle Eastern restaurant owner in New York. Although, The Soup Nazi character is exaggerated but it has some truth about how business and customer service in the Middle East is conducted. There are stories about some restaurant owners refusing to serve people or telling them that they don’t want to sell some individuals anymore.

Ordering food in the Middle East is totally different than in America. In the Middle East, the customer looks at the menu and order. Neither the customer nor the server needs to say more. Some restaurants they don’t even have menus; the waiter tells customers what they have verbally. In Jordan, for example, you order a Falafel or a Shawerma sandwich without specifying what should be in your sandwich. Everyone knows what is inside a Falafel or a Shawerma sandwich. Although, not every restaurant have the same ingredients but we don’t complain. Rarely, a customer asks for one ingredient to be left out of his sandwich. In general, we all eat the same sandwich and we are very happy and satisfied about our sandwiches. It is nothing like ordering your sandwich Subway style in which you decide everything from the type of your bread to everything in between including the amount of salt and pepper.

On the other hand, in America ordering food in restaurants is much more complicated than in the Middle East and may cause lots of confusion for new non-American customers. Language proficiency is not always the barrier in communication sometimes it is the exposure to a new culture that causes the confusion. The first time I ordered food at an American restaurant I was bombarded with difficult questions by the server. Every time I answer a question the waitress would ask me another one, all related to my order.

The most interesting question in American restaurants especially for Arabs is when someone orders meat. The first time I ordered a hamburger in a restaurant the waitress asked me “How do you like it cooked?” Although, I heard the question very well I couldn’t understand what she meant. As far as I know people choose to go to a particular restaurant when they know that it serves good food. Hence, the task of how food is cooked should be determined by the cook not the customer. You will never hear this question when you order Kofta or Shish Kabob from a Middle Eastern Restaurant. Anyway, I found out that Americans cook their meat very rare, rare, medium rare, medium, medium well done, well done. The reason why Arabs find asking how we like our meat cooked strange is because our grilled meat is cooked one way; “well done” only.

Unlike in Arabia, ordering food is a long process. You don’t just order food; you decide how you would like it cooked, you determine if you want to add more ingredients and choose two sides among the many different sides offered. After I made my first crucial decision of how I like my hamburger cooked (unlike most Arabs I like mine medium or medium well) I was asked if I want to add cheese to my hamburger. This was trivial for me since I like cheeseburger. But when I thought I am done with answering questions another question came. “What type of cheese you like?” the waitress asked. Again, I learned that you can also determine the cheese you like on top of your hamburger. Typically, the cheese could be American, Swiss, Provolone, or Pepper-jack.

The first time I ordered a steak I was happy that I could answer quickly how I like it be cooked. But it seems regardless of what you order at American restaurants there are always more questions. After I answered “yes” to whether I want salad with my steak I was asked what salad dressing I like. Again, I didn’t understand the question since we all know that the only salad dressing exists is olive oil, lemon and vinegar. But not when you are in America. I asked what salad dressing you have and the waitress quickly recited more than ten salad dressings. I was able for some reason to remember Italian salad dressing which ended up on my salad. In the picture, Salad Dressings aisle at Walmart. Yes, infinite number of Salad Dressings.

Now, one could say that Americans are either very picky or that they have the best customer service in the world. In my opinion, they are not picky but they got used to been treated as royalties. And of course they don’t know it until they visit some other country, even a European country, that they realize the difference in treatment.

For my dear Arabs visiting the U.S. now you know what type of questions you will be asked in American restaurants. And for Americans visiting the Middle East although we have a reputation of bad customer services, I assure you the food you will eat there is out of this world. It is not just hummus and falafel as many Americans think. Think of your experience as ordering food from the Soup Nazi, excellent food but not so much good customer service.

Peace, food and fasting

The 3-year-old son woke up in the middle of the night and begged his mother to feed him. His mother hugged him tightly while crying hysterically out of hunger. She was also starving and tired. She cried as well but silently while she was trying to put her son to sleep again. Her crying was not only because she was tired and starving but also because she could do nothing for her son. Her eyes were so dry to shed any tears. They both have been walking in the desert under the burning son for more than a week. But they are not alone; they are accompanied by more than 70 people from her village. They were forced to flee their homes after a severe drought killed the village’s animals and left them without food and water.

During the long journey the villagers have already buried three children. They all witnessed the extreme stages of starvation were death is inevitable in such case.

The exodus of people is heading to a UN camp that will provide them with food and water. The small portion of food and water left can barely sustain them for the next two days before they reach the camp as they hope.

The mother tried very hard not to think of what may happen to her only child. She knows that nothing in the world could be compared to seeing her own son dies in front of her because she could not provide him with food. She closed her eyes and wished for a decent death for both of them. She could not handle it any more. Under such severe situation she just wanted to end her and her son’s suffering.

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[Source: A snapshot from a video by nytimes]

The above, is just an imaginative story of what might be happening during such weeks of long walk in the heat of the desert from Somalia to Kenya seeking “peace and food.”

In about 10 days hundreds of millions of Muslims are going to refrain from eating and drinking starting from just before sunrise to sundown in a period of 30 days. Unfortunately, many Muslims think of Ramadan (the month of fasting) as the month of Taraweeh (a 60 to 90 minutes prayer after the last obligatory prayer) only. Many believe that the more we pray the better Muslims we are forgetting that performing our obligations to Allah are not enough since we have also other obligations toward our brothers and sisters. In Islam, one is not considered a good believer if he or she doesn’t do good deeds to others.

We fast 30 days to learn about how those less fortunate live theirs during the entire year. Hence, we get a better understanding of their lives and try to help them more.

Dear Muslims, every day before you break your fast remember those people who are forced to fast not because they choose to. Remember that while you managed to fast for 14 or 16 hours those people are fasting for days.

Dear Muslims, let us not overindulge ourselves with many dishes and desserts when we break our fast. We need to remember those who are starving to death, those who don’t know when their next meal will be. Prophet Mohammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: “The human being has never filled a container worse than his stomach. Hence, it will be sufficient for the son of Adam to satisfy his hunger with a few bites to strengthen his backbone. If he must eat his fill then he should allow for one third food, one third water, and third air.”

This Ramadan try the following:

1. Eat less meat. You don’t have to be a vegetarian but try to be one for couple of months or weeks or even days. I once did it for three consecutive months and I liked it. Being vegetarian for a period of time is much easier than you think.

2. Cook two dishes one with meat and one without meat. Give the one with meat to the poor and experience the satisfaction of doing good while eating your vegetarian dish.

3. When you invite people keep in mind that satisfying Allah should be your first goal then satisfying your guests.  Don’t cook food for five times the number of guests, Allah does not like wasters.

4. Let your stomach eats, not your eyes. You don’t have to try all the dishes. The next day, you can try the dish you didn’t try the day before. Refrigerators work like magic when it comes to preserving food for few days.

5. Invite single expats to your house. If you are in Jordan, invite an Egyptian worker or a Malaysian student (if there still any) to break their fast with you. If you are in the Gulf invite a single expat to your house. I am sure there are millions of them in the Gulf. If you are in the US, invite a single Jordanian student to break the fast with you. I am so lucky to have friends who invite me to their houses for the whole 30 days of Ramadan.

6. Sharing is the key in this month. Eat less, distribute more.

 

Islam came to break all barriers between races, colors and social classes. Consider the mother in the above story your sister and pray for the millions of people like her in Africa. You would do all you can to help your sister or brother if in trouble, wouldn’t you? I wish I know how to help those people. I really don’t know how. I can’t imagine what they are going through. My life is so shallow, I take eating, drinking and peace for granted and worry about what electronic gadgets I can’t buy.

 

Ramadan Mubarak!

Please pass the salt

One day you read that caffeine is not good for your health then you read in another study that caffeine is good for you. Chocolate has the same debate like tea as well. And the list goes on and on. For this reason I stopped believing these health studies and now following the only fail-proof study; moderation intake. Common sense says too much coffee is not good same as no caffeine is also not good, at least not for your morning spirit.

Only when it comes to salt my consumption is lower than average. I got used to it in a way that my guests ask for the salt when I cook. These studies got me very cautious when it comes to salt intake. But today I read one of those unproven studies that low salt intake is even worse than above average intake???

 

salt-cnnDoctors and public health officials have been telling us for years that eating too much sodium can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke by raising blood pressure to unsafe levels. So how to explain a new study that suggests low salt intake actually increases the risk of dying from those causes?

The study, which followed 3,681 healthy European men and women age 60 or younger for about eight years, also found that above-average sodium intake did not appear to up the risk of developing high blood pressure (hypertension) or dying of a heart attack or stroke.

Slightly more than 6 percent of the participants had a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular emergency during the study, roughly one-third of which were fatal. Those who consumed the least salt had a 56 percent higher risk of death from a heart attack or stroke compared with those who had the highest consumption, even after controlling for obesity, cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and other risk factors. [source]

Food, Culture and War

Question I

When I saw these pictures of the “kill team” who went on a shooting spree, killing at least four unarmed civilian Afghans, mutilating several of the corpses and chronicle their savage killing by taking scores of photos I was so enraged. I wanted to vent out loud. I wanted to analyze and condemn the American soldiers’ violence behavior. I wanted to call it an ethnic or a religious cleansing or whatever an angry person would say out of disbelieves. But then I watched some YouTube videos, that I wish I have not saw,  of people of the same race, religion, language, and same everything kill their own countrymen in a cold blood. What is happening in Libya and Syria is far more inhumane and cruel than what those American soldiers are doing to people of different race, religion, language and culture.

If group killing is not based on ethnic or religion cleansing then what is the purpose of this irrational killing of unarmed people?

Question II

During the British colonization in Africa, an English lieutenant accompanied with his soldiers entered a village of cannibals and asked to meet with the chief. When they meet the lieutenant commanded the chief to surrender but he noticed a rejection and some kind of hostility from the chief and the villagers. To look more convincing of his request, the lieutenant told the chief that his soldiers brutally killed all the people in the neighboring village. The chief reaction was something unexpected and out of this world. He said surprised “did you eat them all?”

The question now is who are more evil people who kill for land or those who kill for food?

Question III

This question comes from one of my favorite TV personality, Anthony Bourdain. His show, No Reservation, is not just about travel and food it is about culture. If you don’t watch this show then start watching it you will not regret it. Anyway, when he visited Laos he ate with a family and had this to say:

I think Americans, every American, should see the results of war.

You know, it’s not a movie…

Well, what do you say to this?

What do you talk about with a guy who lost his arm, his leg, his self-image, his livelihood, his pride to a bomb that your country dropped over 30 years ago?

“Sorry about the limbs”? “Pass the fish”?

Answer

I believe that evil has no race or religion but I came to conclusion that man is evil.

 

Peace

Will Eat for Happiness

If I have to choose between buying a piece of cloth or going to a new restaurant, I chose the later. In a year you will forget about your new shirt or pant but you will always remember the place where you ate something new. Wearing a new garment is not an experience as it is for sitting in a nice restaurant trying a new dish that you have never had before. This habit became part of my lifestyle because I chose a new experience that will create a happy memory over a nice compliment on my new shirt or suit that will make me smile momentarily only.

 

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American: Fuddruckers

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Hamburger is my favorite American food and they know their beef. At Fuddruckers you can order your burger 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 or 1 lb grilled rare, medium, medium-well, or well-done (the way 99% of Arabs eat their meet). I like mine medium to medium-well, a burger has to be juicy.

Although not a Mexican but Taco Bell is one of the most popular Mexican fast food restaurant chain in the US.

My favorite is Chicken Quesadilla.

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I like cooking but I enjoy more cooking something with a different taste or from a different cuisine. For this reason I don’t repeat  cooking the same dish for a long, long time.  My three favorite cuisines are Middle Eastern, Italian and Indian. Three distinctive tastes but they have one thing in common; they take their time when they prepare and cook a dish. They are not your 30 minutes Rachel Ray’s meals. But I am always up to new food experience. Believe it or not but in my first year in Malaysia before I know the language I used to go to a nearby cheap Malay restaurant and order food from the menu  without knowing or asking for the dish’s ingredients. Of course there were good and bad moments but at least I learned different tastes. Beside the chewy octopus I would say it was a good experience. At least I know how octopus tastes now; rubbery.

Here are some of my recent home cooking experiments that I remembered to take picture to. Maybe I should start photo chronicle my cooking success:

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French Egg Soufflé
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Italian Lasagna
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I made it today
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Moroccan Chicken
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Indian Chicken Tikka

Crustless Quiche

I like Mark Bittman, aka The Minimalist, because of his short video recipes. This is something similar to my favorite breakfast here in the US, it is Panera‘s egg souffle. My favorite one at Panera’s is spinach and artichoke egg souffle. Don’t worry Asiago cheese bagel you know you and your mate (i.e., coffee) are still my favorite. Bye bye hummus & falafel.

Crustless Quiche

[video]