I guess it’s easy to write about conflict in the middle east. After all, there’s so much of it. Without getting too political, it’s my belief that if we could send all the extremists on ANY side to Elba, then the folks remaining would live together in relative peace. And the amazing thing is, though you may not hear about it on the news, there are plenty of examples of normal folks living together in peace and just wanting to experience life uninterrupted. The Arab village of Abu Gosh outside Jerusalem is a place where commerce and hospitality trump politics. On weekends, Jews from the city and nearby settlement crowd the Arab restaurants in Abu Gosh, and with good reason — the food rocks.
One of the restaurants is the straightforwardly named Lebanese Food Restaurant. The food is fresh, strongly flavored, and served family style at a large scale. The restaurant is a machine in terms of serving large quantities of great food to many many hungry diners. It’s hard sometime to even conceive of ordering a ton of food or big dishes when the standard starters fill you up so well.
Soon after we arrived we were joined by a basket piled high with hot fresh pitas, bunches of Middle Eastern style pickles, a bowl of crispy falafel balls with little sparks of flavor, thick and hearty chummus, and the tomato based slightly spicy matbucha salad. Positively enjoyable. You really don’t need much more than this (other than possibly the pitcher of lemonade we got) to stuff yourself silly. But we weren’t done.
I like eating at Arab restaurants because a) they offer delicious food, and b) the food is a great point of comparison for the Israeli food that has been so influenced by the culinary culture of its neighbors. Falafel is a great case in point as the Lebanese falafel, while extra tasty, it was different than the standard Jewish falafel. Likely it was made with a mix of chickpeas and fava beans instead of chickpeas alone.
Even more interesting was the Chicken in Tahina. Normally tahina, a sesame seed-based sauce, is a condiment. (And a damn fine one.) Even though there is an almost undertone of the paste, when done right it’s creamy with a unique tangy spike of flavor. But this dish was made up of wonderfully grilled chicken swimming in tahina. I couldn’t even fathom it, but once I took my first bite it all made sense. A little tahina is good. A lot? Great! The kebabs that came were also juicy and savory. I admit to dipping them in the tahina as well. The flavor of the grill inundated the meat and it was better for it.
Dessert was no slouch either. Chocolate Mousse came accompanied by Sachlab, a regional specialty is a thickened milk custard-like dessert. We didn’t really know what it was but next to the item on the English version of the menu it said “orchards”. Eventually we realized that we were victims of poor translation services… what they meant was orchids. Sachlab is thickened and flavored with the crushed bulb of an orchid — orchis mascula to be specific. Very subtle and sweet. The super fresh slabs of watermelon weren’t bad either. Especially complementary after all that meat and spice.
If you’re in Jerusalem on a Saturday you’ll find that the city is closed down for the sabbath. If you don’t mind hopping in your car I highly recommend a trip to Abu Gosh and one of it’s many good restaurants. Go to the Lebanese Food Restaurant and you won’t be disappointed.