Saturday 29 June 2019

Hero of Waterloo Hotel guided tour

A friend asked me to go along on a tour, held on Thursday, of this historic Rocks pub. There are a number of different pubs in this part of town that claim to be the oldest in the city. One is the Hero of Waterloo, another is the Lord Nelson Hotel, which is down the road and further west, along Argyle Street, and another is the Fortune of War Hotel on George Street, also in the Rocks. A woman who lives nearby who was with her husband on the tour told us that the Hero of Waterloo is the oldest of the three but that it wasn’t licensed for the first year of operation, so the Lord Nelson is actually the oldest licensed pub in the country. They’re all marvellous.

The tour the two of us took part in was the first of what is intended to be a regular event and it was organised by Kazuko Nelson, who is the licensee of the Hero of Waterloo. Kazuko is a dapper woman who seems passionate about her business, as the ambition embodied in the tour implies. She gave her guests blue or green wristbands to split them into two groups so that individual party numbers would not be over-large. An early point of call on the tour – the building’s cellar – is a bit cramped and not more than about 20 people can comfortably fit in it at any one time.

The tour guide was a gentleman wearing period military costume, including a red coat with brass buttons, that reminded guests of the era – the first half of the 19th century – when the hotel was built and first operated. He called himself Captain Nash and he displayed an impish relish when he put a pair of antique iron handcuffs on Richard, who with his wife had been talking with me and my friend shortly before. A man, like himself, of mature years. Our group trouped outside and “Captain Nash” told us some things about the pub, pointing to some painted windows on its the northern side facing Windmill Street. They had been built without glass because of the window tax that applied in the UK at the time. Apparently “daylight robbery” is an expression that derives from this wrinkle in one page of British history.

The Hero of Waterloo, we were told by the dapper Nash who, a bit like a pirate, had an antique pistol tucked into his belt, was originally built at the request of the soldiers of the Rum Corps using sandstone left over from the construction of a church that stands nearby on Lower Fort Street. Like the NSW Parliament, the pub is a Georgian structure and belongs to a period when building design still had the kind of clean lines that were swept away by the more ornate Italianate style of the Victorian era. If you are in Sydney and you want to see an example of the latter style you can easily go and have a look at the Town Hall in the centre of the CBD.

The stories that our red-coated guide told us when we were in the cellar of the Hero of Waterloo added to my store of local lore, as did the ghost stories he told us once we had climbed the staircase inside to reach the pub’s top floor. As he reached each dramatic point in his delivery at this point I felt shivers on my neck. Rather than alarming, it was pleasurably thrilling.

There is a dining room there up the stairs and the pub serves hot food as well as a wide range of beers. Fortunately for me, in the main bar downstairs they have on tap my favourite beer, Toohey’s New, so I was able to enjoy a schooner of this traditional Sydney brew ahead of the tour. If you take a seat at a table in this part of the pub you are right next to the bare stone of the building’s fabric, darkened from contact with the shoulders of generations of thirsty patrons.

At the end of the tour Richard’s wife chatted with us again, and she told us that she had been raised in a Dutch family in the Sydney suburb of Sutherland. Up to the age of five she had spoken nothing but Dutch, she said, as there had been a dozen or so Dutch families living in the area. She asked me if my accent was influenced by Dutch and I tried to answer her but I couldn’t account for her observation. Later I recalled that I had had a Dutch friend at Honeywell in the 1980s, but whether that had affected the way I speak is a matter for experts to puzzle over.

There were a few working journalists on the tour including Helen Pitt from the Sydney Morning Herald. With her were at least two other women who looked like professionals but I didn’t talk with any of them. Among the other visitors were a group of four teachers from the Central Coast, all women who had ridden the train to the capital with the express purpose of going on the tour. 

Friday 28 June 2019

People do prefer their own kind but are they racist?

This week I’ve had two conversations on Twitter that hinged on the issues of tolerance and belonging. In one conversation someone tweeted a clip from an article by academic Clive Hamilton that in part pointed toward John Howard’s hefty increases to the immigration rate and how that had changed the feel of Australian cities. “Is Clive Hamilton saying he agrees with the view that (non-white) immigration has made cities ‘feel alien’?” this person said. In response to this, another person, who I follow, tweeted, “This is literally the definition of xenophobia.”

I thought this was a bit extreme and I said, “Especially older people in some suburbs, who rely on shopping outings to supply them with social interaction, can feel excluded when most of the shops are occupied by, say, Chinese or Korean operators.” “Diddums,” was the reply. “They’re only choosing not to make friends because of racism.” A bit put out, I responded again saying, “Well, often it's because the shop staff don't speak English very well. This was chronicled in Campsie when I lived there, by the local paper. They ran stories about it. Personally I loved living in Campsie.”

I had uncovered a morass of bad intentions and typical progressive intolerance of differing opinions. The person I was talking with in this case is a journalist who specialises in technology. He is very forthcoming on Twitter and has a lot of followers. I let the matter rest.

The second conversation began when NME, the music magazine, tweeted, “Morrissey: ‘Everyone ultimately prefers their own race … does this make everyone racist?’” Someone I don’t follow tweeted, “(1) No we don't. (2) If you do, yes it does.” Again, I thought this was a bit preposterous given the tendency of people from the same cultures to congregate in certain suburbs, and I pointed this out, saying, “So why do migrants congregate in specific suburbs in our big cities? Ever been to Hurstville or Lakemba?” The conversation that resulted from this exchange turned out to be quite long and rambling and hinged, on the part of my interlocutor, on the difference between cultural background and race. He insisted that what I was talking about wasn’t about race but about cultural affinity, which I thought was splitting hairs and I said so. In the end he thought I was supporting his theory when I gave him some basic facts about the Chinese, who we had ended up focusing on to prosecute our arguments.

These conversations showed me two things. One is that if people feel strongly enough about something they will do anything in their power to avoid acknowledging the truth of a fact that contradicts their belief. Any stray or elusive piece of information that even tangentially supports their position will be marshalled in an effort to prevent the edifice they are trying to keep intact from falling apart. You see this from governments and you see it in the behaviour also of individuals. Nothing is too recondite or rarefied that it cannot be turned into concrete proof of what they have just said or affirmed in the ongoing argument. And we wonder why it's so hard to get people to accept difficult ideas like global warming. We are hard-wired to be stubborn for in persistence lies survival.

The other thing that became clear to me is that people on the left are willing to accept racism (or xenophobia or chauvinism) when people from other countries practice it, for example Chinese people who live in one of the places in Sydney where there are lots of Chinese restaurants and shops that cater to this nationality, but they are absolutely unable to accept it when people of their own kind practice it. The double standards are stunning and clear to see. It’s fine to be bigoted if you are a Muslim and will only live in Auburn among your own kind but if you are bigoted and Anglo then you are persona non grata.

Thursday 27 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, nine: Beverages

This is the last in a series of posts about food in the Middle East that is based on material collected during the trip completed in May and early June. In this new series, so far I have written about breakfasts; lunches and dinners in Jordan; sweets; pickles and olives; lunches and dinners in Jerusalem; street food; lunches and dinners in Istanbul; and lunches and dinners in Abu Dhabi.

On 19 June, on the day the first post in this food series went up, I posted on Facebook: “I'm going to do a total of eight individual food posts based on the Middle East trip. The first one was on breakfasts (today). The second one will be meals in Jordan. 3 will be sweets. 4 will be drinks. 5 will be pickles and olives. 6 will be meals in Jerusalem. 7 will be street food. 8 will be meals in Istanbul and Abu Dhabi.” The plan was based on the photos featuring food that I had extracted from the daily storage folders I had brought back with me from overseas. Looking at the photos I thought about what I would write and my plan derived from those thoughts.

So, the post you are currently reading was intended to be the fourth in the series but over a period of hours and days as I thought about what I would write I realised that it would probably turn out to be the longest and most complicated one of all. Which is in fact what transpired; the post you are currently reading contains around 3400 words. The other thing that changed from plan to execution is that I ended up splitting Istanbul and Abu Dhabi lunches and dinners into one blogpost for each city.

But to the point … I got back to Sydney on 3 June and my bowels had settled down a bit by 13 June but flared up again a couple of days later and then quieted down on 25 June. You can’t drink tap water in the Middle East although bottled water is available in many shops in areas tourists use for very little cost at all hours of the day and night.

The following photo shows me sitting in the lobby of the Jumeirah Hotel in Abu Dhabi on the homeward leg before getting the car to the airport. On the table in front of me is a bottle of water that had been brought from my room to drink in the interval between checking out and leaving the establishment. It is an Etihad branded bottle with a gold label

Normally, during the trip, we would buy a two-litre bottle of water or two at the end of the day and take them back to our rooms in preparation for the evening. Most evenings in the hotel I wrote down my posts and put them on the blog along with the photos I thought best illustrated the day’s events. In the posts in this new series on food I have drawn on those chronicles to talk about the meals we ate, including breakfasts, and so have touched on a number of different beverages already. I might go over some of the same material again in this post if it appears to warrant a new look in this new context. 

In Jordan they will often put a small bottle of water on the table for each person dining as soon as you sit down and before you have had a chance to order. They will charge you for this water so if you go there and this happens, don’t be surprised.

The other thing that struck me about the Middle East in respect of drinks is the fruit juices that you can buy all over the place. With comestibles, you notice the mezze and flat bread that is available everywhere, and the wide array of dairy items on offer, especially for breakfast. But when it comes to potables, to drinking something with a meal, or as a refreshment on its own, fruit juices reign supreme in this part of the world. Part of this is to do with the Muslim habit of not drinking alcohol. (In addition it was Ramadan when we were there, so the restrictions were sometimes more complete.) But as a general rule I think it goes deeper than that as you can get fruit juices just as easily in Jerusalem as you can in Amman.

The above photo shows a cup of pomegranate juice that my friend bought to drink in Jerusalem on day four in the city. The beverage cost 24 new Israeli shekels (A$9.60) at a shop that also sold pasta and salads. 

Fruit juices are available simply everywhere. In Petra on day two, the day we were walking almost continuously from 10.30am to 6.10pm, we did stop several times for refreshments, one time buying a cold bottle of Lipton tea and a plastic cup full of freshly-squeezed orange juice (5 Jordanian dinars, or A$10 in total). 

I bought a bottle of Barakat-brand mango juice in the airport in Abu Dhabi on the outward leg. We also had glasses of mango juice on floor 74 of Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi on the way back to Australia. There is a circular space up there that is accessed using a very slow lift that the staff will help you to use. To get up there in the first place you have to prove that you are a guest in the hotel (we went up after we had checked out and before going to the airport). You sit in lounge chairs in front of the view of the city and the surrounding desert, as well as the Persian Gulf (see photo below). In addition to the staffer who stands at the desk in the lobby, on the ground floor of the building, that serves the observation deck, there are several staff up on the observation deck itself who prepare food and drinks, and who serve customers who come up to enjoy the view.

The following photo was taken in Wadi Musa, the town that services the ruins of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra, which is in the south of Jordan at a distance of about 250km from the capital of Amman. This photo was taken on day one of our stay in the town and shows a drinks cabinet by the side of the road outside a shop. You can see a wide range of non-alcoholic drinks on offer in this refrigerated cabinet with its signage in Arabic and English. The drinks on display had been brought from all over the place, including Europe and the Middle East, so that people can get refreshment in the hot weather. 

Jordan is very dry and hot in the summer – we were there in late spring – and even though people are not supposed to drink or eat anything between sunrise and sunset, some do at least drink from time to time. The driver who took us from Amman to Wadi Musa, whose name was Umar and who was Palestinian although he had been born in Jordan, was aged in his late twenties of early thirties. We left the hotel at 8.30am and at 10.10am we stopped at a rest house to use the conveniences. Umar had a coffee and the two of us had cups of what turned out to be quite bitter cappuccino, which was served in tiny paper cups (2 Jordanian dinars, or about A$4, for two).

Soft drinks (or “soda” for Americans) is usually available in shops and restaurants, as for example in the Afra Restaurant and Café where we stopped on day two in Amman. In the photo below you can see in front of me on the table a can of Pepsi. This kind of drink can offer a good way to allow you to take in some calories if you are tired from walking. In Aqaba on day three in Petra, Khalid our driver found a Pizza Hut that was willing to serve us food during the daylight hours and he brought us cans of soft drink as well, which we drank in a park next to a road as we ate our food. On that day at around 3.30pm it was still 38 degrees C in the shade.

I talked about breakfast coffee in an earlier post in this series of blogposts. Here I want to look at the coffee culture of the countries we visited more generally. You can get cappuccinos all over the place in the Middle East although such antipodean specialties as the flat white are not available; you will also struggle to find a place selling a café latte. 

In Amman on day two we visited Rainbow Street and dropped into a cafe there to have something to drink. The waiter who came to greet us asked us to sit inside as it was Ramadan, and we got to a table at the back of the dark space. The place was named Cafe Nara and it had big flat screens on the wall that were showing a man in a traditional Jordanian headdress talking to the camera. After I had paid (9 Jordanian dinars, or about A$18.20) and as we were walking to the front door, the waiter who had shown us to our table proceeded to raise the blinds that had been closed while we were in the shop. We left the café and set off along the street. 

The photo below shows the cappuccino I drank in Café Nara. You can see the masses of firm froth that cover the coffee and milk mix. This is the regular way that cappuccinos are served in the Middle East. They are usually not as good as what you can easily find in Australia as they are often weak or not hot enough. But the froth is very good.

In Abu Dhabi on the return leg my friend had a cappuccino in the Palace Hotel when we went there for lunch before boarding the flight back to Sydney. The photo below shows the gold flakes that they put on her beverage. It was priced accordingly but was a special treat; she had identified this restaurant and this hotel on the internet before leaving Australia. 

You can get other types of milk drink in the Middle East as well. In Amman on day three in the city we ventured away from the area the hotel was located in to Boulevard Abdeli Mall, a shopping centre. There, we went through a security scanner to get into a restaurant named Cafe Italia. A man in a neat black suit used a metal detector to check my torso. We had a conversation with the waiter and sat down and ordered drinks. Until 9.30pm you could not order food. I ordered mineral water and a frozen peppermint chocolate. The drinks came and then after a while a waiter brought the menus again and we ordered some pasta. The frozen beverage I had ordered was very good and the pasta was not.

On day four in Istanbul near the Pera Museum we went into a cafe at about 7.10pm, and ordered what was advertised as a “green juice” and a cappuccino, which came to 27.5 Turkish lira (A$6.80). ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ in a cover version was playing at one point on the stereo.

In Turkey this kind of option is common but here you have an especially strong coffee culture although the native type of coffee is very different from what we are used to. The photo below shows the courtyard of a café we stopped at near Ayasofya on day three in the city. The tables were placed on a walkway or footpath that went around the perimeter of the space inside the high walls, with the garden laid out in the middle of it. In this café we had a Turkish coffee and a rose tea, that for both cost 10 Turkish lira (A$2.50). The coffee of course contained thick grounds at the bottom and was black and very bitter.   

On day four in Istanbul we went to the Pera Museum near Istiklal Street on the north side of the Golden Horn. In this tall building there are a number of different floors and in one space there was a display of objects relating to Turkey’s coffee culture. The following photo shows part of that display. In it you can see a coffee pot and a number of different glazed ceramic coffee cups that were traditionally used in the kahvahane (coffee houses) in the country. The glasses that they serve Turkish coffee these days also don’t have handles. 

The display also contained a picture of what one of these traditional establishments would have looked like as late as the 19th century (see photo below). In the text accompanying the displays, you learn that coffee houses first appeared in Mecca, Cairo, and Damascus in the early 16th century. They had arrived in Istanbul by the middle of that century. There is a chronicle of the time that says that two Arab coffee makers arrived in Istanbul in 1554. Their names were Hakem of Aleppo and Shams of Damascus. They opened a coffee house in Tahtakale and coffee houses soon became important social magnets, drawing people together to talk and offering an alternative to the traditional spaces of home, market, and mosque. Because politics was often discussed in coffee houses (as happened later in places such as England) the authorities tried to ban them periodically, according to the Pera Museum’s display text.

The following photo shows a man in traditional Turkish dress drinking coffee. In the foreground of the shot there are also some utensils made from glazed ceramic that were traditionally used to serve coffee. This photo, like the two that come before it, were taken in the Pera Museum in Istanbul.

Beverages have a social function in every culture and in the Middle East it is no different to anywhere in the West although giving you a free drink in the ME might as often as not be intended as the prelude to a commercial proposition. 

To curry favour with you, the customer, they often offer you apple tea on the house when you dine in a restaurant on the tourist strip on the peninsular south of the Golden Horn, where our hotel was located. Mezze and flat bread before the main course and tea and baklava after it are routine parts of your meal if you are inclined to accept them. They will often be served up without charge if you ask for it to be that way. 

Free tea can be used as an opportunity to strike up a conversation with you in Wadi Musa. When, on day three in Petra, we went to Wadi Rum, a sandy place with strange sandstone cliffs that are often featured in Hollywood movies, we were taken to a Bedouin tent (see photo below). In the middle of the floor was an open fire that had hot coals with, on top of them, a teapot. There, at 12.20pm we drank a cup of tea made from cardamom, sage and cinnamon. 

A group of about 30 Italians arrived in three of the “jeeps” (Toyota Hilux diesel utilities) that the drivers in Wadi Rum use to transport people around the dunes, and piled into the tent we occupied. The man in charge of the operation at this point went around the whole collection of tourists placing a dab of myrrh on each person’s hand. This was an invitation to browse the shop’s wares, which included such regular tat as scarves and necklaces. The country is saturated with this kind of stuff. The Italian guide translated the word of the scent for the benefit of his charges.

The previous day in Petra we had also been offered free tea, this time by the operator of a store named Lawrence of Arabia, who told us many things about the Bedouin that we hadn’t known before. His English was perfect, and I thought he was Australian at first, but he was Bedouin and he said that when he was young his people would move to different places and live in tents during the harvest (wheat and barley). They also, as is more commonly known, run sheep and goats. He gave us some delicious tea and then (unsurprisingly) tried to get us interested in some tours he could organise for us if we wanted. We declined and headed back to the refuge of the hotel where we knew no-one would try to sell us anything.

Beer was easy to get in Jerusalem and in Istanbul but a bit harder to get in Jordan. The photo below was taken on day two in Amman in the Pasha Hotel’s restaurant. You can see the “Petra” brand beer bottle and, in order to disguise the beverage due to Ramadan, the mug they gave me to drink it from. You can also see the orange juice my friend ordered at the same meal.

I went to the Pasha Hotel the next day as well after a difficult cab ride where I thought the driver had taken us on an unnecessarily long route in order to increase the fare. After getting out of the cab and back to the hotel, I left a little later and walked to the Pasha Hotel and asked the guy at the front desk if I could drink a beer. He said to get in the lift and go up to the fifth floor, then walk up to the sixth. The flight of stairs had walls covered in graffiti that had been made by people from all over the world. I asked the guy I saw near the top of the stairs if I could have a beer and he said, “Sure.” He showed me to a table and I sat down facing east and ordered a bottle of Petra.

The day before, the hotel owner had said that he had animals other than the chipmunk he was playing with in the hotel lobby, and on this day I saw them. Ducks, chickens, a rabbit, and a guinea pig trotted peacefully around the roof of the building between the feet of visitors seated at tables there. The wifi password was “savethetrees”. The tab came to 6.3 Jordanian dinars (A$12.80).

The following photo shows the view from my hotel room in Jerusalem, once we had moved to the Alon Hotel. Here, the internet was not very good and I had to use a mobile hotspot on my phone in order to do the posts I made at the end of each day (or, sometimes, on the following morning before going out). But you can see the small shop or kiosk with the blue awning across the street, which is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare. This shop was where, at the end of the day, I would buy beer, usually Maccabee brand and sometimes a stronger Maccabee with 10% alcohol. At about 5.10pm on day two in Jerusalem when we were still staying in the YMCA Three Arches Hotel, I headed downstairs and bought two bottles of Goldstar beer for 44 new Israeli shekels (A$17.50), which was pricier than the kiosk across town later in the sojourn charged (about 22 ILS, or A$8.80) for two regular strength Maccabees. The kiosk also sold such foreign brands as Carlsberg and Tuborg. 

In Jerusalem there are craft beers made locally that you can get with your meal in some (better) restaurants. The price for a craft beer in the Rimon Bistro was about 25 new Israeli shekels (A$10), which is comparable to what the same kind of establishment in Sydney would charge for the same kind of beer.

In Istanbul in the evenings after dinner I would go to a convenience store near the hotel and buy a couple of bottles of Bomonti “Fabrika” beer, which was better, in my estimation, than Efes. The Bomontis cost 10 Turkish lira (A$2.50) a bottle. Both brands are brewed in Turkey and both are unremarkable from the point of view of taste. The same shop sold some foreign brands of beer as well. 

I drank very good white wine at two restaurants and I have talked about those beverages in the posts detailing lunches and dinners in Abu Dhabi (this Lebanese restaurant served a Lebanese wine) and Jerusalem (which sold a dry Israeli wine and a local dessert wine as well). 

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, eight: Meals in Abu Dhabi

This is the eighth post in a new series based on the Middle East trip that I completed in May and early June. The first posts in the series covered breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Jordan, sweets, pickles and olives, lunches and dinners in Jerusalem, street food, and lunches and dinners in Istanbul.

We stopped over in Abu Dhabi for one night on the outward leg and on the homeward leg. The hotel in both cases was the same 5-star Jumeirah Hotel that is owned by Etihad, the airline we used for most of the flights on the trip.

On the way to the Middle East, we had dinner in our rooms on the day we stayed in the hotel. We were tired from the long-haul flight over the Indian Ocean and just wanted to relax. I had a burger with chips and my friend had something with prawns that came with a sauce. The bun that came with my burger wasn’t all that fresh but the meal did the job it was intended to do. I remember thinking that it was a bit pricey but I don’t remember the exact price of either meal and I didn’t make a note of them.

On the homeward leg we checked in in the evening and had a late dinner in a Lebanese restaurant in the hotel’s basement. We had soups each and then a main course which we shared. This main was grilled meat and it was, like the soup, very good. We also had a green salad that we shared and the meal came with small dishes of mezze and flat bread. I had two glasses of a Lebanese white wine and my friend had a bottle of still mineral water. The photo below shows my friend’s soup. You can also see in the frame the mezze dishes and the salad.

We put the meal on the hotel tab and I don’t remember how much it cost but it was something like 600 UAE dirhams (A$235). I didn’t pay much attention because it was so late in the evening and because, anyway, you don’t have many options in a hotel like this. If you want to go out you need a taxi and then the question of where to go arises. There is no central tourist area or shopping district in Abu Dhabi, as there is in Amman or in Jerusalem or in Istanbul. The hotel is a little oasis and if we didn’t eat in one of its restaurants we would have been thrown back, again, on room service. It was around 11pm by the time we sat down to eat. We asked the waitress about the time and whether it was too late but she said that due to Ramadan the restaurant stays open until the early hours of the morning at that time of the year.

I have described the breakfasts in the Jumeirah Hotel in another post in this series, so I won’t go over that ground again here. There was one lunch however that we ate on the day we stopped over in Abu Dhabi on the homeward leg, and this will be dealt with in what follows. 

On the morning of the day we were due to leave the city we did a bit of sightseeing, visiting the Presidential Palace, then we headed to the Marina Mall, a shopping centre, where I exchanged some Turkish lira for UAE dirhams. 

We considered the possibility of eating in the shopping centre but there were no signs indicating where the food court was located. There didn’t seem to be many customers around the place, either. We rattled around a few corridors on our way to the currency exchange kiosk but, eventually, left the building. Outside, in the humidity and heat, there were about 40 taxis lined up waiting for fares on a driveway that sat on a local road. 

We got in one cab and asked the driver to take us to a local tourist attraction named the Heritage Village but he didn’t understand what we were saying or else he didn’t want to take us there. We thought it was close by and it might have been that he didn’t want such a short fare. In the end we decided to cut our losses because the hotel staff had told us that the Heritage Village closes at 2pm on Fridays and it was already after 1pm. So, we got out of the cab and into another one and told the driver to take us to the Palace Hotel. 

This institution is located just across the road from our hotel. It took a while before we got to the lobby. The driver was originally from sub-Saharan Africa, so he was from out of town, and he had been on the job only for a week or so, so he didn’t know which way to go to get to the driveway in front of the hotel lobby; there are no signs that might help you to get there. In the end we did a loop and made a U-turn before finding the right driveway and then pulling up at our destination. Paying for the ride was, as usual in the UAE, easy. Taxis in the country always put on the meter when you get in so there were no dramas in Abu Dhabi as there had been in the other cities we had visited during the trip.

One of my friend’s shoes gave up the ghost as we were walking into the lobby but we successfully managed to get past the lobby to the restaurant that is located at the far end of the ground floor space. We had been told at our hotel that you need to book to get into the restaurant in the Palace Hotel but we had not done so and had decided to just rock up unannounced. Not only did the maitre d’ show us to a table immediately but he also kindly agreed to find some hotel slippers so that my friend would have something to wear on her feet when we got up to leave the place after lunch.

The food on offer varies and there was also a buffet that we decided to avoid. The menu had a range of different Middle Eastern and Western options and I chose a burger with chips and a Coke. My friend ordered a seafood roll and a bottle of mineral water. The first photo below shows my friend’s meal and the second one shows me heartily tucking into my chips, which came in a little metal basket on the plate with the burger. The burger was very good and the bun this time was fresh. 

The tab was hefty (partly due to the gold-coated cappuccino my friend ordered; more on this in the next post in this series) but, again, by this time we didn’t care very much. It came to about 250AED (A$97) but I didn’t make a note of the cost, as I had for meals and beverages that had been bought in other places we visited during the trip. Anyway, it had been a treat to eat in this sumptuous hotel, which is enormous. It takes a bit under five minutes to walk from the front door to the restaurant through the lobby, past the front desk, and through a series of spaces, occupied by sofas and chairs and tables and vases, that are for guests and their visitors to relax in.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, seven: Meals in Istanbul

This is the seventh post in a new series based on the Middle East trip completed in May and early June. The first posts in the series covered breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Jordan, sweets, pickles and olives, lunches and dinners in Jerusalem, and street food.

This time I want to look at lunches and dinners in Istanbul, which was our last stop before the stopover in Abu Dhabi on the homeward leg. Our hotel was called the Sebnem Hotel and it was located on the peninsula south of the Golden Horn near a major tourist street named Akbiyir Street. This street is lined with restaurants and convenience stores. There is also a currency exchange office there that tourists can use to get Turkish lira to use in the shops.

We landed in Istanbul at the enormous airport at 4.30pm and caught a taxi to the hotel. By 6.25pm we were in our rooms and later we went out to Akbiyir Street to get some dinner. A man in front of a restaurant asked us if we wanted some food, so we got to talking with him. He had studied in the UK and his English was excellent so we went inside his restaurant. We ordered a seafood casserole, a mixed grill, and a plate of rice. The meal came with a complimentary dish of hummus and one of black olives, and flat bread. After we had finished our waiter brought us some apple tea. I had two beers with the meal, which altogether came to 213TL (A$53).

On day two we stopped by the hotel briefly after a morning of sightseeing then headed out along Akbiyir Street to get some food. As usual there were a lot of men touting restaurants and at 2.15pm we sat down at the Babylonian Pub Restaurant. We ordered a mixed grill, which is mainly grilled chicken, beef, and lamb. It also comes with rice and a pizza-type bread. They gave us a complimentary mezze to start which was half a kind of chilli and tomato dip and half a dip made from yoghurt. This came with pita bread. I had two Efes beers and we also ordered a small bottle of water. They gave us two baklava to finish the meal with and this was also on the house. The tab came to 237TL (A$56) which sounds cheap but for Turkey was expensive. The first photo below shows the mixed grill and the second shows the mezze that came ahead of the main course.

We had a wander in the afternoon and got back to the hotel at 7.45pm then 10 minutes later sat down in a Korean restaurant on Akbiyir Street where we each ordered a bowl of wonton soup. We also ordered a salad made from tomatoes and cucumbers. The meal came with complimentary side dishes containing pickles. The tab came to 61TL (A$15).

On day three my friend went off by herself to visit a hamam (Turkish bath) and at 1.45pm I sat down to have a cheeseburger and a Coke in a restaurant on Akbiyir Street. At 2.13pm my friend came back to the hotel and then we went out to find some food for her. We headed up to Divan Yolu Street and went into a restaurant we had seen the day before where they display food in the window. This is a “lokanta”, which is a type of restaurant in Turkey that sells ready-made food or “azir yemek” that is laid out in dishes kept warm on hot ash or in a bain-marie. The word in Turkish is “lokantasi” where the “-si” at the end of the word is the suffix “-like”. The word is based on the Latin word “locandus”, which means “inn”. 

The advantage of lokanta is that there are no touts out the front trying to get you to sit down. They are also a lot cheaper than the restaurants that cater mainly to tourists. This time, my friend’s meal came to 65TL (A$16). The photo below shows the crowd of people outside one of the restaurants on Divan Yolu Street in the evening after fasting has ended.

The photo below shows the window of another restaurant on the same street. This establishment is displaying food that should be first cooked before being eaten. 

A lokanta displays food in its window that has already been cooked, as shown in the photo below.

We went back to the same restaurant after 8pm on day three in the city. We had three dishes with lamb, potato, eggplant, and minced beef predominating. The meal came with two types of rice, one of which was plain white rice and the other of which had been prepared with a kind of tomato sauce. We also got a Coke and an extra bottle of water (a large one), plus a bottle to drink at the table with the meal. The place was full of families breaking their fast, and we also asked the staff working there for the standard plate of salad (cucumber and tomato, grated carrot, and chopped iceberg lettuce) that the other diners were enjoying. The whole lot came to 90TL (A$23), which was very cheap.

On day four after visiting the Istanbul Archaeological Museum we stopped at a nearby restaurant at 4.10pm. I ordered an Efes beer and we also ordered eggplant kebab and some pomegranate juice. The meal came with mezze and bread. The dip was made from black olives. The tab came to just 103TL (A$26) but the meal took ages to arrive. The waiter kept putting us off, telling us that eggplant takes a long time to prepare, but we sat there for almost an hour before getting up and paying.

When we arrived back at our hotel after visiting another part of the city, we rested for a while then went out to the Korean restaurant near it, arriving there at about 8.40pm. We ordered kim chee soup, beef with chillies, and mixed veges. I also had a beer. The meal came with complimentary pickles and we also had two bowls of rice. The tab came to 156TL (A$39) and then we returned to the hotel.

On day five at 5.08pm we got in an empty cab that appeared out of the heavy afternoon traffic outside the Dolmabahce Palace, where we had been sightseeing. The driver took us to Mesrutiyet Street and at 5.20pm, on a nearby street, we sat down in a lokanta after ordering food at the front of the shop. We had eggplant stuffed with minced beef, green beans, and sardines with rice. I had a Coke and the tab came to 52TL (A$15), which was cheap.

We got back to Hagia Sophia at 9.10pm and then walked to Akbiyir Street and sat down in a restaurant on the corner of the street where the hotel was located. The meal we ordered was simple. It comprised a rocket salad (which turned out to have no rocket in it but plenty of tomato), an Adana kebab, and some water. This restaurant served no alcohol. The staff also brought us a complimentary mezze which was a spicy vege dip that came with flat bread. The tab came to 72TL (A$18) and I left some change in the envelope when we left the premises.

On day six at 2.30pm we queued at the entrance to the Balkan Lokantasi Restaurant in Serkeci to order some food, which we did at the front of the shop. We chose eggplant stuffed with rice, a spinach dish, Brussels sprouts, and chicken cooked with potato and carrot. It came with two dishes of rice. We also bought a Coke and a bottle of water. The tab was 41.5TL (A$11), which was very cheap.

At 7.40pm we sat down at a restaurant and ordered a sejuk pide (a kind of Turkish pizza made with spicy sausage), a mix kebab, and two glasses of red wine. I also had a beer, and the tab came to 195TL. The wine came in enormous balloons and was quite good. We got back to the hotel at 8.35pm.

On day seven we went into a restaurant on Divan Yolu Street for lunch and it cost 110TL (A$28). We finished eating at 12.35pm. We saw the dervishes that evening then again had dinner in the Sultanahmet area. 

Monday 24 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, six: Street food

This is the sixth in a new series of blogposts based on the Middle East trip, which took placer mainly in May. In the first five posts in this series I talked about breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Jordan, sweets, pickles and olives, and lunches and dinners in Jerusalem. 

This blogposts will be short because of a decision I made with definitions. In Istanbul there are restaurants called “lokanta” that serve ready-made food which is displayed in the shop window. We ate at this kind of restaurant several times but I am not going to classify it as street food, although some might think that it is. In this current blogpost I am just going to talk about the kinds of fast food that you can get in Australia that you usually eat walking on the street (although, as you will see, sometimes these establishments have tables on the pavement for customers to use).

I didn’t see any street food establishments in Jordan, although some of the restaurants in Wadi Musa have tables set out on the pavement in front of the shop. In Jordan you normally sit down and order food and when it comes time to paying you ask for a “check” (a bill) that they bring to your table so that you can pay. Some restaurants in Australia use this system but in the main it is an American custom and all the proper restaurants we came across in the Middle East, including the lokanta, use it. With street food places you pay when they hand you the food and then you take it away, either to eat it while walking on the street or else to eat at one of the tables the shop staff have put on the pavement for paying customers to use.

I’ve already talked about the Jerusalem bagel shop in the post about breakfasts but I want to go back to it because it is precisely this kind of dining experience that is so popular with Israelis. The climate is such that in summer people are out late at night eating and talking and socialising. Although the bagel shop was open early in the morning to catch the breakfast trade, they also stayed open late as well to catch the dinner trade.

The bagel shop had a glass display window that doubled as a counter. Through the glass you can see a range of different dairy options as well as a few protein options (smoked salmon, tuna salad) and a range of different vege options. You had the choice with a standard bagel of a spread plus something else to put on top. The spread would be a dairy spread and the thing to put on top might be grilled eggplant or a salad. If you wanted to add one more option the price would go up slightly. In the back, attached to the wall behind the counter staff, were several baskets containing the different kinds of bagels on offer. You might choose (as I did) one with sesame seeds on it or you might choose a wholemeal bagel to have as your base. They also serve coffee made with an espresso machine. Outside in Ben Yehuda Street were tables where you could sit and eat your meal if you wanted.

Ben Yehuda Street is a pedestrian mall and so are some other streets surrounding it. At the bottom of it, toward the old city, is Jaffa Street, where the light rail runs. In the space between Jaffa Street and King George Street are these pedestrian streets with lots of restaurants, including (in the above photo) this chip shop (or, for US residents, a shop selling French fries). It’s called “King of Fries” and it also sells soft drinks. Below is another shop on the mall, a shawarma shop. In Australia shawarmas are usually called doner kebabs, to use the Turkish name for the dish. It is a disc of unleavened bread containing grilled meat – beef or chicken, in many cases – as well as salad items such as tomato and lettuce. 

In the photo below the man with the big hat is a religious Jew. You see men dressed in this kind of black 19th century suit, often with a Stetson or sometimes with a big, round hat like this, going about their business on a daily or hourly basis. The religious women who are married likewise cover their hair, either with a snood or with a tichel (scarf).

In Istanbul there are fewer street food vendors but there are a lot of these corn cob sellers (see photo below) with their carts along Divan Yolu Street up near Sultanahmet Plaza. They charge a few lira I guess but I didn’t ask. You can buy grilled corn cobs like this in Japan in summer from street vendors.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, five: Meals in Jerusalem

This is the fifth in a new series of posts based on the Middle East trip I completed in May with a friend. This series has already touched on breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Jordan, sweets, and the matter (an important one) of pickles and olives in ME cuisine. 

This time I want to talk about the lunches and dinners that we ate in Jerusalem, where we stayed for a week. We were in two hotels during this time as the first hotel we chose, the YMCA Three Arches, didn’t have availability for all of the days we planned to be in Israel. So on day four we moved to a kind of studio apartment setup called the Alon Hotel which is located nearby but a bit further north in the centre of West Jerusalem.

On the first day in Jerusalem we had lunch in the hotel restaurant. I had maklouba with chicken (a dish that mainly features a type of savoury rice that we had eaten on the first day in Petra for lunch) and my travelling companion had spaghetti all’olio. My meal was not as good as what you can get in Jordan, or at least not as good as the best Jordanian meals. With two beers and a cafe mocha the tab came to 199ILS (about A$80) which is about the same as a comparable restaurant would charge for similar items in Sydney.

For dinner we went a bit further afield and ate at a place called Focaccia Bar that was noisy with customers. We stood around for about 10 minutes before getting a table and then we ordered some seafood marinara, a salad with baby tomatoes, bocconcini and anchovies, and a plate of chicken with a mushroom sauce. The seafood came with bread. Even at 9pm people were still ordering food. What we ordered was too much for the two of us and with the two Leffe Blonde beers and a red grapefruit juice the tab came to 277ILS (A$110).

On day two in the city in the old town at 12.50pm we entered a Korean restaurant and ordered some soup with rice and a bibimbap. With a Coke the tab came to 103ILS (A$41). Later we left the hotel to have dinner and walked south along King David Street to George Washington Street where we turned west. The restaurant (see photo below) I had picked up from Google is named Angelica and it is located inside a limestone building on this street.

We sat down without a booking and I ordered a Shapiro beer, which had a sweet, rich taste and was a craft beer brewed locally in Jerusalem. I ordered a main of salmon and my friend ordered a bowl of zucchini and mushroom soup and an endive salad. Before this arrived we got some complimentary dips and fresh bread rolls. The dips (see photo below) were basil aioli, eggplant, and dried tomato and when we had finished the rolls the waitress brought us some more (at 9.05pm). We shared the salad and for dessert we ordered tapioca pearls with coconut cream and fresh fruit. With this came some dessert wine (two glasses for me) that was also on the house. It was called “Ice Wine” and was made at Hevon, a town located about 30 minutes’ drive south of the capital. The meal came to 365ILS (A$145).

On day three on Mamilla Avenue at 12.30pm we entered a restaurant called Fresh Coffee and Kitchen and ordered an Indian curry, which came with rice, in the Japanese style, in a mound separate from the cooked veges (potato, zucchini, whole garlic cloves, onion), and what was called a “Tricolor funghi mozzarella”, which was twisty-shaped pasta with a mushroom sauce and pieces of mozzarella cheese. In addition we ordered a Tuborg beer and a cappuccino. The meal cost 186ILS (A$74).

Later we went out to find some dinner and headed down the hill toward the old town. There was a sign for a restaurant I had seen on Google Maps called Te’enim and we headed through a park that had flowering trees in it until we reached a building set off to the side. Inside we took a table at 7pm and ordered labane (a type of yoghurt dip) with sundried tomatoes, which came with brown bread, a cold zucchini and yoghurt soup, some steamed greens that came with a date sauce called celane and pieces of goat’s cheese, and a mushroom stew (see photo below) that came with cracked wheat and pumpkin. I had two beers and the meal was way too big for two people and I took the pumpkin back to the hotel when we left the restaurant. The meal came to 231ILS (A$92).

On day four after moving hotels we walked a short distance across the street to McDonald’s and used a touch screen terminal to order some lunch. This was a chicken tortilla as a regular meal with a diet Coke, and an Amsterdam burger as a large meal with a Coke. The food came to 103ILS (A$41) and after paying with banknotes and coins I took the receipt (which was printed all in Hebrew except for the numbers) and we waited for the meal to be prepared. Some of the staff in the restaurant wore the hijab and all were women apart from the store manager. He came over to us when we had almost finished eating and asked in English if we had everything we needed. We asked for some more serviettes and he brought some over to our table. A series of pop tunes played on the sound system in the store including Marvin Gaye’s ‘Mercy Mercy Me’.

At 6.30pm in a restaurant named Rimon Bistro where ‘Hotel California’ was playing on the stereo. We ordered a ragu Bolognese and a plate of house goulash (see photo below). Both were tasty but as usual with meals in Israel there was too much food. I had a beer and we also ordered a bottle of mineral water. The tab came to 167ILS (A$66) and at 7.05pm we left the restaurant.

On day five at about 11.45am we went into a bakery on King George Street to have some food, which came to 59ILS (A$23.50). The food was a kind of canned tuna and vege concoction (zucchini, eggplant, potato) on a baked base, and a tiramisu. We also bought a bottle of Sprite.

Later, after 4pm, we went to Mamilla Avenue and entered another Cafe Rimon, where we ordered some fried sea bass with greens, an Asian salad that came with bok choy, zucchini, green beans, and noodles, and a pasta that was shaped like little combs that came with pesto. I had a Regina beer and my friend had a kind of smoothie made with strawberries and dates. The tab came to 270ILS (A$107) and I gave a tip of 20ILS. We took some of the salad home with us as, as is usual here, the meal was too big.

On day six near Ben Yehuda Street we went into Cafe Rimon (the same place we had eaten at on day four) and sat down for lunch at 2.55pm. We ordered an Asian salad and what was called on the menu an “umami” pizza (potato, mushroom, onion, fetta cheese), along with two Tuborg beers and a bottle of mineral water. The tab came to 134ILS (about A$60, not much more than the McDonald’s we had eaten in the city) and I added 10ILS as a tip because a waitress had brought us some Tabasco sauce to use on the salad. We didn’t have any dinner because it was so hot but later I had a small tub of ice cream at a shop on Jaffa Street.

On day seven at midday after we had returned to the Jaffa Gate we stopped to have some lunch at a cafe on Mamilla Avenue. We had a tuna sandwich and an omelette sandwich, and a cappuccino and a hot chocolate. The tab came to 89ILS (A$35). After eating we left the cafe at 12.25pm and headed back to the hotel. Back in the old town at 6.05pm we went into the Armenian Tavern (see photo of the interior, below) and ordered an Ararat steak, a green salad, a Goldstar beer and a glass of mango juice. The food did the job and we paid (174ILS, equal to A$70) and left.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, four: Pickles and olives

This is the fourth in a new series of blogposts about the Middle East trip, which took place mainly in May. For this series I have already written about breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Jordan, and sweets. 

This time I want to take a quick look at another aspect of ME food: the pickles and olives that you are sometimes served as a mezze ahead of your main course or that come with the meal itself.

The above photo was taken in the dining room of the hotel we stayed at in Amman, in Jordan. I am sitting in front of the part of the meal I shared with my travelling companion, which came in addition to plates of eggs and other things. But you can see on the table in front of me a small dish containing green olives of different sizes. The olives all have their pits in them and they came with the meal every morning. 

The photo above shows a piece of Turkish bread with a dab of minced olives on top of it. The mezze came with a meal which was eaten on day four in Istanbul after we had spent some time in the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, which is near the tram that runs from Sultanahmet to Beyoglu over the Golden Horn. We sat down at the restaurant at 4.10pm and waited almost an hour for our main course, which was grilled eggplant, to arrive at the table, and in the meantime the waiter brought us this olive spread and some unleavened bread.

The photo above shows the meal we ordered in Istanbul on day two at the Babylon Pub and Restaurant on Akbiyir Street near our hotel. The street is lined with restaurants that cater to tourists. You can see on the plate, at the bottom of the photo, a large green chilli, which was a type of pickle that accompanied the meal.

The above photo shows a stall in the market in Amman. This photo was taken on one day during our stay in the capital of Jordan. You can see the different kinds of pickles, some of which are dyed a very bright colour, as well as the different kinds of olives that are available. Below is another photo. This one was taken in the Muslim quarter of the old city in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is just visible from the hilly northern outskirts of Amman where it lies across the river that separates Israel and Jordan. You can see from looking at these photos that the kinds of pickles and olives that are available in Jerusalem are the same as what you can easily buy in Amman.

It is common for meals to be accompanied by mezze in all of the countries we visited on the trip. Often the food served on small dishes in this way before the main course is brought out is accompanied by some flat bread. You never go hungry in the Middle East!

Friday 21 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, three: Sweets

This is the third post in a second series of blogposts based on the Middle East trip I completed mainly in May. The first post in this series was about breakfasts and the second was about lunches and dinners in Jordan. This post is about sweets, or more precisely confectionery and desserts. In the US they use the word “candy” to describe some of what is talked about here.

Despite the fact that I’m not usually a massive fan of sweets and desserts my travelling companion and I sometimes found ourselves, between meals, sitting down in a café to have something sweet to eat. I’ll start with Jordan because that’s where we began our trip apart from a one-night stopover in Abu Dhabi following the long-haul flight across the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately I don’t have that many photos of sweets in the Middle East but the first one below here shows items on sale in a bakery in Wadi Musa, the town that services the ruins of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. Wadi Musa is almost entirely given over to providing tourists the things and services they need.

We were in the country during Ramadan so most of the locals were fasting during the daytime. At the end of the day they gather in shops like this one to secure supplies for the time when fasting ends, which happens at 7.30pm. It’s the same in Amman: the bakeries do a rapid trade from about 5pm during Ramadan as people stock up with things to eat. Meals are eaten at different times during the night.

At one shop on the main drag in Amman there were dozens of shoppers outside a bakery selling goods like the ones shown in the photo above. If you are a tourist you ask for what you want by pointing, then you hold up some fingers or say the English word (“four” or “six”), and then pay a couple of Jordanian dinars (about A$4) for the food. In Wadi Musa, the guy serving customers who took my friend’s order put the sweets on a Styrofoam tray and wrapped them in cling film so that she could take them away. In Amman the guy at the front of the shop who served my friend put her goods in a white plastic singlet bag. The cost was about the same in both places.

In Amman there are other types of sweet shop like this one (photo below) that sells what Americans call “candy”. On the last full day that we were in the country my friend bought a bagful of sweets at a shop like this that had candied fruit in them and it cost 7JD (A$14) for a kilo.

There was not so much of this kind of thing available in Jerusalem and anyway the meals in restaurants there are usually enormous so you mostly don’t feel the need to add sweets after finishing your main course. But on day two in that city we ate dinner in a restaurant on George Washington Street named Angelica and for dessert my friend ordered tapioca pearls with coconut cream and fresh fruit (see photo below). There was also some white dessert wine for me that was on the house. On the menu it was listed as “Ice Wine” and had been made at Hevon, a town located about 30 minutes’ drive south of the capital.

On day six in the city at 7.30pm it was still 33 degrees Celcius and we had had a late lunch so we didn't feel like dinner. But we stopped at a gelato bar at 8pm. A two-scoop tub of mint and strawberry, a single-scoop cone with pistachio, and a small bottle of water cost 41ILS (A$16). 

In Istanbul there are sweet shops and cafes all along Divan Yolu Street, the main drag near Ayasofya where the tram line runs. On day two in the city we sat down in a bakery after ordering a piece of "gileki dilim", which is a kind of strawberry cake with chocolate. The bakery was called Cigdem Patisserie. I had a Coke as well and the tab came to 23.5 Turkish lira (A$5.90). The photo above, which was taken one day during our visit to Istanbul in the evening after fasting had ended, shows the display window of a bakery on Divan Yolu Street near Sultanahmet Plaza. Same with the photos below.

On day two on the way back to the hotel we also stopped at a convenience store and bought half a watermelon, which the man behind the counter sliced up for us and put into plastic bags. The fruit cost 30TL (A$7.50) and when we got back to the hotel we asked the guy at the front desk if he could put some of the slices in the fridge in the kitchen as the guest rooms did not have this kind of appliance in them.

On day three in Istanbul in the mid-afternoon we went into a sweet shop with the obligatory front window display and asked about the goods on show. A guy behind the counter gave us each a small slice of alwar (sesame roll) to try and he also said they sold sujuk (Turkish delight). We went upstairs but the menu they had on the table there didn’t list the same sweets that were in the window, so we got up and left. We walked back up the hill a bit until we got to another sweet shop, looked at the window display and ordered a selection of sweets from a waiter standing there, then sat down outside it at a table that had been placed, with others like it, on the pavement. The selection we had chosen included Turkish delight, and there was also a cappuccino for me. The food came on a plate, with two knives and two forks, and there were nine pieces of confectionery on it. 

Some of them were quite tough so a knife and fork were necessary to cut them up. They were all very sweet indeed and was too much to eat so the pieces that remained after we had eaten our fill we got put into a container so that we could take them back to the hotel. The tab came to 38TL (A$9.50). On the same day at 9.30pm in the evening as we were walking on the same street I felt the call of nature so we ducked into a cafe and ordered a piece of cake so I could use the WC (the toilet; it’s an old English term that is used throughout the Middle East to refer to this amenity). The cake was called “velvet cake” and was made from a kind of solid cream with red layers of cake interspersed between them. It cost 18TL (A$4.50).

The next day at about 1.15pm after seeing Ayasofya, as we were on the way to the Istanbul Archaeology Museum, we sat down in a cafe on the main street the to have a plate of Turkish sweets, a Coke, and an orange juice. This came to 42TL (A$10.50). In the afternoon of day five we went into a café on Istiklal Street and ordered an iced latte, an Efes beer, and a brownie that arrived from the kitchen heated up with a bubbling chocolate sauce. I ordered another beer after a while and the tab came to 93.5TL (A$23.40). On the last full day in Istanbul at 4.25pm we sat down again at the Cigdem Patisserie to share a slice of “kardinal” cake. I also had a cappuccino. Together it cost 29TL (A$7.25). Later, at 5.45pm, after we visited the Grand Bazaar, my friend had an ice cream which cost 15TL (A$3.75). 

Turkish ice cream shops are all over the place in the shopping areas that people use when they have free time and where tourists congregate. The men who sell ice cream often wear traditional embroidered vests that remind passers-by of the Ottoman era. They use long metal rods that have a flat shape on the end, and to attract people to their shops they clatter the rods around in metal tubs of sticky ice cream, hoisting up the frozen masses of confection with the rods and thumping them back down into their containers. On one night soon after our arrival in the city an ice-cream vendor was teasing a woman who had come up to his shopfront (see photo below) to buy ice cream, putting the cone, that had a dab of ice cream attached to it, in front of her face, on top of her head, and in her hands, then snatching it away again so that she started laughing at his skilful display out of frustration mixed with delight. All the time the vendor was only holding onto the long metal rod with his hands. He kept up a supply of verbal patter to accompany his tricks, which went on for several minutes as people walked along the street going about their business.

On the same afternoon as my friend bought her ice cream, further down the hill toward the Sirkeci area near the cultural centre where we had booked tickets that would allow us see the whirling dervishes, at 5.55pm we stopped to share a bowl of rice pudding (16TL, equal to A$4).

Thursday 20 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, two: Meals in Jordan

This is the second in a new series of posts based on the Middle East trip, which took place mainly in May. The first post in this series dealt with breakfasts eaten during the trip. This time I’m going to look at the lunches and dinners we ate in Jordan. You don’t need to talk to your government every day but you do need to eat three times a day, so food is critical for travellers and constitutes one of the main avenues through which they engage with their hosts.

One week in a country lets you sample a number of different dishes if you are interested in trying new food. Restaurants in Amman and Petra in Jordan often cater to tourists, whose spending constitutes a major component of the economy. Especially in Wadi Musa, the town that services the remnants of the ancient Nabataean city of Petra. In the end, though, once we had found reliable options we tended to gravitate to the same restaurants and order the same dishes.

Food in Jordan is quite pricey in most locations but I think that tourists probably pay more than locals do for the same choices in the menu. I never saw a menu written in Arabic and anyway I cannot read Arabic, so it was impossible for me to know for sure how much residents pay for the food they eat in restaurants. One of the reliable options we identified was mansaf with lamb, which is a kind of stew that comes with Basmati rice on the side and a yoghurt sauce, so it was easy enough to find good things in most places. The yoghurt sauce is watery and a bit sour and it comes in a dish separate from the lamb and rice, which are served separate from each other on a plate. You can put the sauce on your rice or on your lamb and it tastes very nice with both or with either.

Jordanians enjoy this dish as well, and in order to do so every year they import from Australia large numbers of live sheep; there was a detail on this part of the country’s economy included in a display at the Jordan Museum but I didn’t make a note to record it. Australia’s Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development says 10 percent of the country’s exported live sheep went to Jordan in 2017, and that in that year the total number sent to all countries was 1.7 million head.

One moment served to illustrate for me how in Jordan mansaf stew is a local favourite and that people there eat it when they want to enjoy a special treat. The driver who took us back from Petra to Amman on our last full day in the country was named Maruan and he stopped by his sister’s place to pick up some money that his nephew had promised him on account of Ramadan. At the same time as he did this, she gave him a bag of the yoghurt sauce that is used to make mansaf (which can be made with either chicken or lamb) and as he got back in the taxi, where we were waiting for him to emerge from his relative’s house across the road from us, he told us how expensive the sauce is. Unfortunately I didn’t make a note of this detail on my phone.

Our Amman hotel was situated right smack-bang in the middle of the downtown area of the city so we could easily walk to the streets where the shops and restaurants are located. The photo above shows a footpath outside a restaurant in the area sometime before fasting ended on day one of our stay in the city. During Ramadan people wait for the town’s cannon to go off before eating but in the hours before that they congregate on tables on the pavements in preparation for the end of fasting.

The photo below was also taken on day one in Amman, in the Afra Restaurant and Café. We ordered a plate of hummus and beef, and bowl of mushroom soup. For drinks we ordered a fruit cocktail (there was no alcohol served in the place during Ramadan) and a Pepsi. The hummus, which was served with a basketful of discs of pita bread each of which was about 10 inches in diameter, was very good indeed. It had a fruity flavour and a creamy consistency unlike the tart rough spread you often get in Sydney. The meal came to just over 13 Jordanian dinars (I ended up having two Pepsis) and I gave the man at the cash register 15JD (A$30) and said thank you. This was pricey considering we had had only a small amount of food.

The next day (day two) we had lunch at the Rome Pizza Restaurant in the Pasha Hotel. We ate lamb kebabs with French fries. The meal came to 15JD (A$30) for both of us. We went back there for dinner as the place is just up the road from our hotel and it serves alcohol during Ramadan. 

The food we ordered for dinner was mansaf with lamb, kufteh (mince beef with tomato on top), and a dish named zeid zatar (or "poor man’s food") made from olive oil, sesame, zatar (a kind of herb that, we were told, grows in the mountains), and vinegar. The zeid zatar is a dip and it was given to us on the house by the hotel owner, who invented it and who serves it in his establishment. With his companions he happened to take a table next to us and he spoke good English having lived for a while in Perth. We also had a Greek salad and my travelling companion had a bowl of cream of mushroom soup, which is often served in restaurants in Jordan but is not always of the same quality in every restaurant. The meal came to 29JD (about A$60, so, again, not cheap).

We had visited Rainbow Street on day two and the next day we ended up near there again at a restaurant that was open during the day during Ramadan. It is located in what is called the Wild Jordan Center that also has a gift shop and an information desk. Lots of tourists use the place as a resort and there were young people on a number of couches that had been placed in front of tables on one level of the space. Some of them were using laptops. After we sat down in the restaurant I had a burger and my friend and I shared a delicious salad made from lettuce and baby tomatoes and halloumi. It had a pomegranate dressing and the meal for two came to 26.2JD (A$52). My friend ate this for her main course:

In the evening of day three we went to Boulevard Abdeli Mall and at Café Italia we had some pasta for dinner but it wasn’t very good and as usual was pricey (26.4JD, equal to A$54). In Petra the next day, after the long drive south in the taxi, for lunch we had more local food: maglouba, a Greek salad, and sambusak (deep-fried cheese pockets). Maglouba is a chicken dish served with rice and yoghurt but the chicken was overcooked and the meal wasn’t too hot all round. It cost less than 30JD (A$60) all up, including drinks. 

For dinner that night we went to a restaurant in Wadi Musa. We had wandered around the town looking for a place to eat after getting a taxi from the hotel to the town centre. One restaurant that was “open” was allowing people to sit at tables and use the wifi and order drinks in the time that remained before the cannon went off to announce the end of fasting. We had had the same experience the night before in Amman where the restaurant we chose would only serve us drinks before 9.30pm.

When we sat down at the Wadi Musa restaurant, which we had chosen because it allowed people to order food before 7.30pm, I ordered a mushroom soup but it wasn’t nearly as good as one I had had in Amman. This time it was just instant packet soup that had had water added to it. We also had a plate of grilled lamb that came with Turkish bread that had been spread with a salsa made from tomatoes and chilli. It came with some surprisingly tough French fries. The manager also gave us a bowl of diced tomato and cucumber with a dressing on it, which was very nice because it was on the house; there had been some confusion over the food order. The wait staff were from the subcontinent but their English was not very good. With its tangy flavour, the bread they served us on the other hand was excellent. The meal, including two bottles of water, came to a 12JD (A$25) and it was much better than our lunch had been.

The next day we spent in Petra and we didn’t eat anything for lunch because we were walking all day: about nine hours all up. For dinner, in an exhausted and relieved state, we stopped at the Sandstone Restaurant on the main drag near the hotel and ordered mansaf with lamb and a vegetarian dish which also came with rice. With it we each had a glass of fresh orange juice. In total the meal came to 26JD (A$52) and the waiter brought us some sweets at the end so I tipped the staff 1JD (A$2) after paying.

On day thee in Petra we went to Wadi Rum and for lunch the driver bought us a pizza from a Pizza Hut that had agreed to make the food for us during the day. We had driven around Aqaba, where we had come to see the Red Sea, looking for somewhere that was open but had finally almost given up. The fast-food outlet was a last ditch effort by Khalid, the taxi driver we had hired for the day, to get us something to eat. He told us that he would give us the food but when we were almost back at Wadi Musa he added the price of the pizza plus two soft drinks (20JD, equal to A$40) to his fee for the day’s driving and we had a blazing row in his taxi. That night we gave up the field to fatigue brought on by the frustrations of the afternoon and had a buffet dinner in the hotel restaurant. This cost 30JD (A$60) for both of us.

Back in Amman, after the 250km drive from Petra, we ate a meal (combined lunch and dinner) that comprised reliable dishes we had enjoyed before: mansaf with lamb, kufteh with tomato sauce, and a Greek salad, and two beers for me. Which came to 33.6JD all up (A$67.20). I am pretty sure that this meal was taken at the Pasha Hotel, but I didn’t make a note of the location.