Monday, February 25, 2008

in the orient

"Mrs. Halabi says her restaurant is the first outpost of Druse cooking in New York, and I have no evidence to contradict her." (Thanks D.)

Druse cooking from the new Middle East of ethnic states.


Rima said...

"The differences are in the details, like that Druse pita — called sagg pita, after the griddle it is cooked on — which Mrs. Halabi makes daily. It’s thinner than a crepe, as wide as a small pizza and pliable like lavash...."

What do we know--maybe the "Druze pita called sagg pita" is really different from -say shiaa sage pita, or christian orthodox sage and so on..the differences indeed are in the details--just add a small dash of religion and we have a whole new meal to feed the ignorant masses..

Helena Cobban said...

Ms. Halabi's presentation of her khubz, oh sorry pita, as distinctively "Druse" is in line with (and probably a result of) the Israeli establishment's long-sustained efforts at sectarian segmentation of their Arab community. Hence the country has different school systems and curricula for Druze, Muslims, and Christians. Of course, they also have entirely separate school systems for secular Jews, moderately observant Jews, Orthodox Jews, and the ultra-orthodox Jews, too. It is a very bizarre system! (Or rather, a system of segmented systems.)

In the case of Druze Israelis, many of them do serve in the military and make other decisions in which they seem to be trying to differentiate themselves from their more proudly Palestinian-Israeli neighbors.

I guess for Ms. Halabi, it might well also be a marketing/branding mechanism in the New York restaurant market. However, if you read the description of the food she serves, it is completely Mashreqi... Oh-- but served, as the photo caption says, with "Spices from Israel."

Also, I believe that many, many Lebanese restaurants in the US are run by Druze. Not least, the fine old Bacchus in Washington DC, which used to be the very best Lebanese restaurant in town. RIP.

Leila said...

I have an Israeli-American friend I've known for fourteen years. Early on, she invited my parents to dinner at her home. She and I spoke a great deal about our backgrounds and our countries; I thought she understood something about me. She certainly loves me and my parents.

One day about six years after we first met, I referred to my father as an Arab.

"Your father isn't an Arab," she said in surprise. "He's a Christian."

"My father says he's an Arab first, a Lebanese second, and a Christian third," was my reply. My friend was genuinely amazed. She had engaged in difficult conversations with me about Israel and the war of '82 and other matters, but she never understood that my father (and I) are Arabs. In her Israeli viewpoint, Christians and Druze were not Arabs.

I explained to her that we are, indeed Arabs. Then I went on to tell her that in my father's worldview, her father, an Iraqi Jew, is also an Arab. Now this she could not accept. OK, I said. If he thinks he's not an Arab, then fine. But by our definition, he was born in an Arab country, he spoke Arabic until he left for Israel, he is an Arab. An Arab Jew.

My friend is a kindly person who tries to keep an open mind. It was interesting to me to watch her struggle with this world view that so completely contradicted her own.

Yes, it seems that most Israelis harbor some idea that only Muslim Arabs can be Arabs; all the other sects of the Arab world are non-Arabs. Of course our lovely compatriots who call themselves Phoenicians and reject the word ARab have contributed to this confusion.

I have been criticized online lately for "wearing my religion on my sleeve" because I keep discussing my Arab Christian background in American circles. It's all in context with Barack Obama, what is an Arab, what is a Muslim etc. The religion of my ancestors is not so important to me as the cultural implication of being both Christian and Arab. When I assert this dual identity (treble -add my mother's WASP American background) I blow up restricted ideas people maintain. I'm breaking up mental boxes.

The restaurant business - well, you do what you must to survive. Do you know how many Lebanese/Palestinians/Egyptians in America run pizzerias or Italian restaurants and claim to be from Italy? A lot.