Phoenician Gods & Meksayta
"Ready for what you crazy fool, it's not even six yet. Let the kids be. Don't you dare wake them up. It's their day of…..f."
Too late! Like a deranged prisoner behind bars, I just had to break free.
"Let's get Msabha and Fool. Let's go to the vegetable market to buy all the green stuff on sale. Let's hit the mountains for a good old-fashioned B-B-Q lunch."
After procuring the fresh provisions we headed back home (more on the veggies later). The day started rather nicely, a plate of Msabha followed by another of Fool with onions, pickles, bread and unlimited refills of hot tea. Dazed and burping, I sat on the balcony to wear off the bucketing (تسطيل) effect. It took me a luxurious while to get on my feet again.
"Have you noticed how nice he talks when he wants us to do something for him which we do not want to do in the first place?" That was kid #2 to kid #3. Kid #1 would not budge. There was no way on earth to convince her to come along.
I should've made that short joy trip to the town of
The Phoenicians inhabited the Syrio-Lebanese coast from
We reached Fawanees (Lanterns) the small restaurant in the center of town recommended by a local friend in forty five minutes. We walked in the modestly yet tastefully furnished room and immediately liked it. "I am Abufares", I told the owner/waiter. "I’m a friend of Abu Hasan". "A Hundred welcome Ya Estaz (Master), any friend of Abu Hasan owns this place". We had a simple Mezza, the most scrumptious B-B-Q’d chicken and soft drinks for Om Fares and the kids. I deservedly imbibed a Batha (1/4 l.) of pure homemade
Lulled by fully satisfied bellies we quietly rode westward in the afternoon. Another brief stop by an old stone shed where the mouthwatering smell of fresh bread on the Tannour (an oven made of baked mud with an open top and fueled by dry olive wood) permeated the air. "You would not leave until you taste this Khebez b Flayfleh" (bread with hot red pepper paste) swore the old Tannour lady. God Almighty this is so delicious…indescribable.
Lucky beyond dreams I jumped back in the car with 20 breads and 2 kilos of mature Shanklish. "How could you eat more", queried Om Fares, "after the huge lunch we just had". "Relax Baby, we still have dinner ahead and I can’t wait to eat the Meksayta ( مقصيته ) we bought this morning".
As I was contemplating this post I made brief online inquiries to find out the English names of some local herbs and vegetables. For multi-lingual translation I depend on what is certainly the best international source provided by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. Meksayta, however, eluded me. I very much doubt that Syrians who are not from the coastal region and most homebred Tartoussis know what Meksayta is. It’s a short-lived wild seasonal herb (spring), when cooked the right yet very simple way, turns to be one of the most delicious vegetarian food to exist on our green planet. An herbal expert might recognize it from the (above) photo and provide us with its proper scientific and English names. However, for now, it is Meksayta and I wish there was a way to make a giant bowl so that I invite all of you to taste it.
In our cock-crow marauding of the vegetable market, Om Fares and I bought some Chicory ( هندباء), Watercress ( قرة ) and Meksyata. Om Fares then cleaned them thoroughly with running water and drained them completely. After cutting them up in small pieces she Separately fried two chopped onions in ½ cup of virgin olive oil in a large pot until they turned into a very light gold tint. She then added the (salted) chicory, watercress and meksayta on top, mixed them well with the olive oil and onions, turned the heat down to minimum and covered them for an 1 ½ hour. That’s all it takes to cook this feast. An occasional mixing of the ingredients is not a bad idea but the most important thing is not to add any water. They will exude their own juices and the feeble fire will turn them into an unimaginable delicacy. Meksayta and her friends are served cold and eaten with pita or better yet tannour bread. I usually shower my plate with some hot olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice then mate each bite with a nibble of green onions. What more can I say; this is simply heaven on earth.
Just as it started with a bang the day ended in a grandiose fashion. The kids, having sacrificed (as they’d put it) their day off to indulge my sense of fun, demanded ice-cream. We rode together to Citysweet where we each chose our two balls of flavors. A couple of hours later I slowly drifted into sleep, happy with the choice(s) I made. You’re all eager to know, aren’t you?!
Blackberry and Galaxy Chocolate ice-cream.