A fortunate by-product of the growing economy is the increase in the range of global cuisines available at hand. Combine that with the rising trend to eat healthy, and there’s a combo that’s hard to beat for conscious eaters. Among the cuisines that are deemed amongst the healthiest are those of the eastern Mediterranean region.
Well, K3, at JW Marriott, Aerocity, Delhi, is hosting Al Souk, an Arabic food fest – yes, the name is a bit of a misnomer, admits Palestinian chef Amjad Abu Jazar, but only to distinguish it from the ‘Mediterranean’ tag, which encompasses a much wider cuisine palate. The ‘souk’, of course, refers to the market, and this festival recreates in spirit the range of a market from the region. “The concept is to take a little tour of a typical Arabic souk,” he says.
Chef Jazar says the traditional cuisine comes from the farmers. “Take the example of the dish Maqlouba, which is basically rice and vegetables, often made from leftover vegetables and then mixed with rice. It was introduced about 50 years ago. Palestine – it’s quite a small place, but we have the sea, the mountains, the desert – and places provide different ingredients, different attitudes. There is a lot of difference though – Gazans have spices and a greater degree of non-vegetarian, but the northern (West Bank) don’t eat as much spices and there is greater presence of vegetables in the food.”
The dishes served at this Arabic Food fest here are closer to what we would term ‘Lebanese’ cuisine. So, there are starters such as Hummus, Mutabal, Babaghanouj, Fatuoush, Tabbouleh, Za’atar Pide and more – which can be had as dips or in wonderful wraps the Chef creates. Yes, that part of the world relies on chickpeas – safed/kabuli chana – almost as a base for many dishes. Eggplants have a more niche taste, but as I quite like this vegetable, I just reveled in the dishes.
Other options include the chunkier pizza adjacent Manakish, topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat. Or Mushakal Mashawi, mixed grill of shish kebab, taouk and kofte. Or the delicious Fatayer Dajaj, baked chicken pastry. Or Shawarmas.
Of course, the starters are gorge worthy, but do not forget- the mains await. From Baked macaroni in Arabic sauce to Roz Asfar, Jawanih BI’Tum (grilled chicken wings sautéed in garlic and chili), Samak Harra, Maqlouba Lahm – combo of rice, mutton and fried veggies, Jibn Mashwie, grilled cottage cheese in Arabic spices, Halabi Kebab, minced Lamb skewers to Sheesh taouk – char grilled boneless chicken cubes, you are advised to pace yourself. For the health conscious, there’s the Dolma, a combination of stuffed vegetables – eggplant, green pepper, onions, cabbage and grape leaves flavoured with Arabian spices and pomegranate molasses. There are lovely tagines full of more mains. Yes, it’s largely grilled stuff!
True to the Chef’s roots in Gaza, the slant here is towards Arabic cuisine, though ‘Leb-lovers’ have absolutely nothing to complain. Light, healthy and oh so flavorful. The hardest part will be self-control, especially as it is part of the buffet.
For those partial to sweet endings, round off with Qatayef Bil Joz or Awarma. Oh, and there are choices of five accompanying mocktails, largely fruit based. Pink Tropical comes recommended but there’s also Midnight Express and Rose Your Way among others!
The festival is on till May 14.