Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, one: Breakfasts

This is the first post in a second series of blogposts that are based on what happened on the trip. The first series was published in May on this blog. I wrote about religion and Ramadan in a post on 11 June and I will touch on that subject from time to time in this second series of posts. Some of the material in this series, moreover, appeared in posts in the first series. Here, it is more complete and the focus this time is purely on food (and drink) whereas the first series comprises a daily digest of the totality of experiences.

The above photo shows me, on one of the first days of the trip, using my phone in the dining room in the Zaman Ya Zaman Hotel in Amman, the capital of Jordan. I am wearing a jacket despite the heat and probably kept it on in those first days after arriving there because I thought you had to take your passport with you everywhere. In the end I got used to the idea of leaving the passport and the jacket in the hotel room.

The above photo shows the breakfast served on one morning at the hotel in Amman. You were able to order your meal from a number of simple variations on a theme that were listed on a menu that, when you arrived to eat, would be placed on your table in the dining room by wait staff. Eggs, a sausage, some fried tomato, and some beans are in this meal. The egg is sprinkled with spice. In addition to the plate for each person with eggs and other things, they always served us up a dish of hummus, a dish of a creamy dairy dip, some bread with sesame seeds on the crust, and some plain yellow cake that you could spread with jam they also brought out of the kitchen. The preserve came on a small dish.

The coffee was just instant with milk. If you asked for white coffee they would say that it was not available but would happily bring you black coffee plus a jug with watery milk to put in it.

250km away, in the south of the country, the Petra Palace Hotel has several guest floors, each of which has about 20 rooms off a central corridor. Here for breakfast they served in the dining room on the first floor a smorgasbord or buffet which included a large selection of different things including dairy products, a wide range of different types of bread, and hot hotel staples such as fried tomatoes and scrambled eggs. As in Amman the breakfast in Petra was filling and wholesome. The coffee was from a big metal jug and it was very strong and very good.

At the YMCA three Arches Hotel in Jerusalem the diary theme continued with cheese that was either camembert or brie, a nondescript cheese cut into small, bite-sized blocks that was labelled “yellow cheese”, cottage cheese, and other things made from milk. There were lots of different salads in the buffet. Coffee was available from a Nespresso machine or from glass jugs that sat on a hotplate.

After moving to the Alon Hotel, which has no dining room, sometimes for breakfast we would have a bagel bought at a store on Ben Yehuda Street, which is a pedestrian mall in the centre of West Jerusalem. On two days at a table outside in the mall I had salmon with cream cheese on a sesame seed bagel. On one day my travelling companion had egg salad with cucumber on a whole grain bagel.

In Istanbul at the Sebnem Hotel, which like the hotel in Amman is a boutique hotel that caters only to a small number of guests at any one time, there were also dairy products for breakfast, including fetta cheese and a yellow cheese that might not have a specific name. I would eat the cheese I had selected with some cold French fries, bread, and a few spoonsful of one or more of the range of salads on offer. Sometimes I had potato salad, and there was also a salad made from sausages cooked in a kind of tomato sauce, as well as tomato and cucumber salad. Most days I also had a boiled egg with my meal.

On the first morning at this hotel I had tea with breakfast because I couldn’t work out how to use the coffee machine but, after I was shown how it functioned, with breakfast in the mornings I had coffee from a kind of espresso machine that worked by pressing a single button. It wasn’t a pod machine but it worked in the same way. A wax paper container of milk was connected through a plastic tube to a nozzle that spat out heated milk as well as coffee that came from inside the contraption.

At the Jumeirah Hotel in Abu Dhabi, which is a five-star establishment, the range of things on offer for breakfast was very extensive and varied. It included Indian dishes, Asian dishes, cold cuts and cheese, bread, fruit, and Middle Eastern food. The uniformed wait staff came around and checked our coffee cups and offered to fill them up if they were empty, which was a nice touch. 

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