September 14, 2015
Afraa at City Centre – I, Salt Lake invites you to take a trip to the ‘The Paris of the Middle East’, the Mseilha Fort, the Sidon Sea Castle, the Forest of the Cedars of God – Lebanon. This festival not only introduces people to Lebanese cuisine, but also promotes Lebanon’s less touristic, less explored and less known traditional and authentic dishes.
The 10-day long Lebanese Food Festival will showcases the best of Lebanese cuisine, which is known for its rich and flavoured food with the key flavours of olive oil, herbs, garlic and lemon. Lebanese food, like its culture, has a harmonious blend of Egyptian, Persian and Arabian cuisine. The Kabsa Dijaj Biryani, which is considered to be the prima-donna of Lebanese cuisine, is one of the main attractions of the festival.
Traditional healthy soups like Shorba bil laham / dijaj (Lamb or chicken soup) and in Starters like Mezze (Veg / Non Veg), Batata harra, Manakeish bil jibneh, Fatayer B’sabanekh, Jawaneh meshwiyeh, Kibbeh and renowned Musakal will set the mood for the delicacies to follow. In their main course Fish, Chicken and mutton/lamb lovers can have delicacies like Rubian salona, Samak nasaf, Shish taouk and Daoud Badshah which is Lamb and cracked wheat dumpling cooked in tomato sauce, served with cracked wheat. Among vegetarian dishes Salona bamiyeh, Kousa bil laban, Batinjan bil béchamel and Harab is bhah are some of the popular fares.
Lebanon is also famous for its wide range of desserts. Knefeh, made with milk, cream cheese, and semolina, Almasiya, a thickened flavored milk pudding with honey almond and saffron, Baqlawa, a traditional Lebanese pastries filled with nuts and syrup and Om Ali, bread pudding, phyllo, pistachios, pine nuts, raisins, coconut, honey, ice cream are some of the popular desserts.
This time my one and only request to Chef Sandip was that he should cook me the most popular dishes of this festival and he agreed with a smile. Within half an hour he prepared five most demanding dishes of the festival. There was one ‘Mezze Dips Platter’, two starters ‘Mezze – Veg’ and ‘Musakal’, their bestselling ‘Kabsa Dijaj’ in mains and two desserts ‘Knefeh’ and ‘Baqlawa’.
Now let’s talk about their starters, first to arrive was Mezze – Veg actually a Platter of Hummus, Labneh, Moutabel, Baba ghanoush, Felafel, Kabees (Cucumber, Turnip and Chilli) and Fattoush, I requested chef not to include pita bread. Its delight for vegan again, it was soft & aromatic less oily but I felt they were bit dry when I put them in my mouth. But with dips they were just wonderful.
I called their Musakal – ‘some of life’s best things on a single platter’. It was an array of different grilled items (fish, prawn, chicken and lamb garnished with tomato and cucumber) and yellow flavoured rice was placed in the centre to create an array of colours, flavours, textures and aromas.
It was an amazing starter and once you have started eating you can’t stop. Without feeling compromising with our taste buds; the combination goes surprisingly well. Combinations were made after contemplating how one item would fit perfectly with the other.
Heart, tongue, eyes and brain — don’t be too quick to judge less familiar items but Kabsa Dijaj was mind-blowing, out of this world and flavourful, it truly kicks ass. Chicken pieces were also generous, well spiced, and unbelievably tasty. The spices used in Kabsa Dijaj were largely responsible for its kick back taste; these were generally black pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, black lime, bay leaves and nutmeg. Just put it in your mouth and beyond doubt you will found it heavenly and it’s going to capture your taste buds for a long time. The well-executed fusion of flavours leads to unexpected and often delectable results.
Afraa’s Knefeh was one unique and extremely photogenic version of traditional Lebanese Knefeh. The milk was buttered, sugared, and boiled till super dense. Then it’s mixed with cream cheese and semolina, and soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup. The sweetness of the whole dish is balanced out nicely by the zippiness of the cream cheese, making for an incredibly satisfying dessert. I even requested for extra one after finishing my two.
Internationally famous dessert Baqlawa was another masterpiece, looks like miniature traditional Lebanese pastries. At first glance, it’d be hard to believe that this simple dessert laden with chopped nuts with honey and syrup inside, and it’s also hides a sweet core. The filling was incredible, well mixed, and unbelievably tasty. Seriously, you have to try it to believe it and you won’t stop swooning over how good this is.
If you think you’re rather well-acquainted with Lebanese food, allow the unique, lip-smacking food at Afraa to open your eyes. Expect the dishes to be pricy, but they’re truly worth it!