Tag Archives: Arabic

Almanara – The Beacon

11 Sep

Almanara, in reality Al Manara (Arabic: المنارة‎), literally means “the beacon”, but in Brazil, particularly in São Paulo, it’s synonym to Arabian food.

In 1876 the Brazilian Emperor D. Pedro II visited Lebanon resulting, among other things, in a wave of Lebanese immigrants, which was quite intense until 1890, and lasted until the mid-50’s.  Most of them were running away from the Turkish-Ottoman politics with its lack of perspective.  In Brazil, most of them started small industries and commercial establishments.

Around 1950 one of these families, which had a few years earlier disembarked at the port of Santos (to this day Brazil’s largest port), decided to spread in São Paulo one of the treasures they had brought from Lebanon – a collection of traditional Arabic recipes. The Restaurant Almanara was created.

Around 28-30 years later, by the end of the 70’s, I was in São Paulo as a graduated student (I’ve told you that already – See “The Best Chinese Food Ever“), and to have a meal at the Almanara was something I could only dream of.  Definitely, that was not a place for students.

Well, another 30 years have gone by, and now I can afford to turn some of old dream into reality, among them to have dinner at the Almanara.  So, there we went (my wife and myself and, our friends Renan and Leila).

We ordered the sampling menu composed of:

1. Antipasto

The Almara salad

The Almanara salad, nothing special about it.  A few vegetables with a rosé sauce.

2. First Courses

Babaganuche, curdled milk and homus

Babaganuche (eggplant patê), curdled milk and homus (chickpeas paste) served with pita bread, probably the best dish of the whole dinner.

Sfiha and kibbe

Sfiha, a dough folded in a triangular shape and filled with ground lamb, and kibbe (or kibbeh) a mixture of bulgur and ground beef stuffed with minced lamb.  Not bad, but you can find better ones in literally hundreds of small diners and snack bars in São Paulo.

Kibbe and tabbouleh

Kibbe  and tabbouleh, a salad made of bulgur, chopped parsley and mint, tomato and spring onion, seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil.

Raw kibbeh

Raw kibbe, what I’ve classified as a Middle Eastern steak tartare.  Not that I’m a very good cook but, honestly, a can prepare a much better one.

3. Main Courses

Dolmas

Dolmas, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice.  The leaves were quite old and bitter, while the stuffing had too much rice and almost no meat at all.

Kousa mihshi

Kousa mish is a dish of Syrian origin composed of a zucchini stuffed with ground meat and rice. At Almanara it was served with a tomato sauce.  Quite tasteless, I’d say.

Kafta and michui

The kafta, grilled ground beef seasoned with Lebanese spices, and the michui, chicken breast skewers with onions and red bell peppers were way too overdone.

To finish the dinner a black coffee, which unfortunately can’t stand up to the Brazilian, and specially to the Arabian, tradition (see Some Arab Contributions)

Coffee

In conclusion, this visit to Almanara was quite a deception.  Wish I had kept my student dream undisturbed.  Will try to keep that in mind for the future.

Some Arab Contributions

17 Jun

Arabs have made very significant contributions to civilization, easily recognized if one sets aside present day politics and discrimination (see Arab Contributions to Civilization). I’d like to point just two them:

1. Arabic Numerals – Although originally developed in India (hence also Hindu-Arabic numerals), the system reached Europe in the 11th century, through Spanish Muslims, and for this reason the numerals came to be known in Europe as Arabic Numerals. The Italian mathematician Fibonacci, whom you may remember from Dan Brown’s ” The Da Vinci Code”, was instrumental in bringing the system into European mathematics in 1202.

2. Coffee – It’s generally accepted that coffee originated in Northern Africa, probably in Ethiopia, from where it spread to Egypt and Yemen. But it was in the later that it was for the first time roasted and brewed, originating the drink as we know today. By the 16th century it had spread all over the Arab world from where it reached Europe and the New World. Coffee is probably the world’s most popular beverage, with over 500 billion cups being consumed every year, around 1/3 of which is produced in Brazil (over 2.5 millions of metric tons).

To prepare a good coffee you just have to follow three basic rules: it should be “black as hell, strong as death and sweet as love“. Almost every Brazilian will have his/her own way of preparing it, I, for example, when not using an espresso machine of course, follow this simple original Turkish recipe:

1. A good quality, freshly and very finely grounded Coffea arabica grains are needed. Use around 1 teaspoon for every small cup of water (or at least 2 teaspoons for a regular cup).

2. Add the coffee to cold water, along with some grounded cardamom seeds (optional, but it adds another dimension to a regular coffee), and slowly heat it until it starts to boil and some foam is formed.

3. Remove from the fire for a few moments and let the mixture cool a bit (just a bit).

4. Put it back on slow fire and wait for the foam to form again. It’s important to have a nice brown foam.

5. Remove from the fire and serve in small cups.

A typical Brazilian "cafezinho" (small coffee)

Some powder in the cup is part of the ritual. You can use it to read your fortune later on.

In Brazil this small coffee cup is called “cafezinho”, and although preparation methods nowdays usually involve machines, they all share two common characteristics: they are rather strong and served quite hot.

Coffee on FoodistaCoffee

Kibbe, the Middle Eastern steak tartare

6 Nov

Visiting my hometown, from which I’ve been away for almost 35 years, is always a special moment. Florianópolis is not only a very nice place worth visiting, but for me it’s also a wonderful bag of memories. In the early 70’s I was just a like any other teenager around the world, loved to listen to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Carlos Santana, among others, and enjoyed partying with friends. But differently from other kids anywhere else in the world we used to visit quite frequently a rather unique place, “Kibelândia” or, literally, the land of kibbe. “Kibelândia” was then a small joint (it was stablished in 1966), neglected by almost every grown up in town, a rather typical magnet for teenagers.

Kibbe, or kibbeh, is a Middle Eastern dish, and Lebanon’s national dish, found in many forms, the most common one a torpedo-shaped fried croquette stuffed with minced beef or lamb. The basic recipe contains burghul (a kind of crushed wheat) and chopped meat to which spices like garlic, onions, cinnamon, pepper and mint may be added. The kibbes at “Kibelândia” were prepared and fried right before your eyes (you could even see when the cook licked his finger to open a hole in it were an olive was placed). I don’t know if because of this nasty habit or not, but the kibbes tasted great.

During my last visit to Florianópolis I was invited by my brother-in-law to have a kibbe with beer at “Kibelândia”, and for my surprise it still exists in the very same address (Rua Victor Meirelles, 98), right in the heart of town.

kibes

Kibbes from "Kibelândia", in Florianópolis/SC/Brazil

To my joy the kibbes were very good, even though you can no longer see if the cook still licks his finger (the olive was inside though).

One kind of kibbe I never eat outside my home is “kibbe nayyeh”, or raw kibbe, a type of steak tartare. At home we prepare it mixing ground beef or lamb with burghul (around 60%:40%). Add some cold butter (around 100 g for every 2 pounds of meat) and seasoning (we use lots of garlic and mint and a splash of Syrian pepper). The burghul should be soaked in water before combining with the meat (there is some controversy on that). Traditionally the fat used in Lebanon is “samma”, a kind of clarified butter, or the fat obtained from the tail of a sheep (I haven’t been able to find that around here yet).

The meat is then shaped like a loaf of bread, scored with a knife and drizzled with olive oil.

kibecru

Kibbe nayyeh - Lebanese steak tartar?

Top: kibbe bi saniyeh (kibbe in a tray) and a lettuce and orange salad with orange juice, olive oil and cinnamon dressing.  Botton: kibbe nayyeh and tabule.

Top left: kibbe bi saniyeh (kibbe in a tray). Top right: orange and lettuce salad (orange juice, olive oil and cinnamon dressing). Botton left: kibbe nayyeh (raw kibbe). Botton right: tabbouleh

You can also press the raw kibbe in a flat baking pan, which is then scored with a knife into diamond shapes about one or two inches in length, topped with olive oil and then baked in the oven until done (be careful not to let it dry). This is called “kibbe bi saniyeh” or “kibbe in a tray”.

At home we eat kibbe (usually two or three variations) with a very simple salad made with lettuce, slices of orange and walnuts, dressed with a mixture of olive oil, orange juice and cinnamon (try it, I’m sure you’re going to aprove it). Tabbouleh and pita bread are also mandatory presences.

Tartar Steak on Foodista
Deep Fried Kebbeh on Foodista
Fried Stuffed Kubbeh- Kibbeh on Foodista

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