THE MOVEABLE FEAST : Bringing Lebanon to your table
One of the most amazing executive chefs in Nepal is Suman Napit, who runs Beirut in The Bluebird Food Court for my friend Sanjaya Nangia. Suman, who is sensational, brings Lebanon to your table.
You start with the Mezza or snack platter and as you eat the Hummus Beiruty with Pita Bread that is zingly delicious, you hear young Suman talking about how he went to Lebanon.
“I started from the government training school here, did apprenticeships in 5-star hotels, went to Doha and studied the food and was very satisfied when I won prizes. Mezzas were my specialty.”
The Hummus was a Roman food for the poor and later became a subject of controversy when the Sicilians and the French were fighting and the French were identified because they couldn’t pronounce the word ‘ceci’ meaning chickpeas.
Chickpeas have been around for 10,000 years and in the Mediterranean world, they come mixed with a tahini paste that is diluted with olive oil.
The Pita Bread is small, round and puffy and probably came into being in the early years after Christ, and bread in those days came from the Latin word panis.
Fattoush, an Oriental salad with mixed vegetables, creates yet another tongue tingling salad with chopped vegetables in red vinegar.
Suman echoed several Mediterranean food writers who said, “The people of the area liked their food fresh without heavy sauces and preferred fish and chicken to red meats.”
The Batata is doing well in Beirut and in Bombay, amazing that the potato should have still retained what was probably a trade name from centuries ago to this day. The Batata Ma Moutabbaleh, which is a finely grated potato mildly coarse and slightly sour with coriander, is as fantastic as the beetroot salad which is red and brilliantly seasoned with red vinegar.
You get a little easier taste with the Babaghanoush or aubergine smoked and then seasoned with only a hint of lime.
The lime went to the middle East from India in about 1st century.
While you’re eating, there is what only can be described as a pillar of meat slowly turning and being cooked on the kitchen counter. It is a Shwarma or Doner Kebab. Both have their routes in the spread of the Ottoman Empire.
Today the Doner is popular street food throughout Europe, especially Germany. Like its origin, the Shwarma, it’s deboned chicken, lemon juice, vegetable oil, white pepper, paprika and the seven Shwarma spices which Suman said were cumin, caraway, cinnamon and nutmeg and others. It comes to you wrapped in Pita Bread and it is a Middle Eastern sandwich that ends all sandwiches.
We had Falafel. Says Suman, “Fried crushed chickpeas with onions, coriander leaves, mint, garlic, cumin powder, chilli red powder along with sesame paste (Tahini sauce). I make it like an elongated cutlet which you dip in Tahini sauce.”
And we had the delightful Tomato Rice with chicken. Sanjaya said it reminds him of Hyderabadi Biryani; for me it was like a Spanish rice but much richer. My friend Suman said he used tomato, tomato paste, tomato puree, touches of coriander, garlic and cumin. It was wet, wild, red ride.
You’ve got to go to Beirut and try the dishes I haven’t got around to mentioning like the Shish Tuck with the the fabulous crust of garlic and lime.
Give youself time. Beiruty hospitality goes on especially if Sanjaya and Suman are your hosts. Contact Suman at 9841408475.