Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A cross-cultural Thanksgiving

Usually, I stay in Indiana where it's cold. This time, I went to Florida to visit my dad and my stepmother (Yaz from now on, for the sake of typing ease).
Yaz's family is Lebanese. I have had Thanksgiving with them before, but not in Florida. This time, there were about 30-40 people crammed into a house outside of Tampa. Several conversations I overheard were going on in either English, French or Arabic, or some combination of the three. I'm used to listening to a combination of English/Arabic (Araglish?) because of Yaz's mom (known as Sitto). I will talk more about Sitto in a minute, but for now I will just say that she likes to switch languages in the middle of sentences, and according to some actual arabic-speakers, she makes up a lot of the words she says (anyone know what "yarab" means? We're pretty sure it isn't a word).
The French is a new thing for me. Only recently have I heard it spoken within Yaz's family, because some distant North African relatives have started to be more present at family functions - at least the ones I go to, now that I'm in Florida more often. Some of them speak French better than English. It appears I decided to learn the wrong romance language after all.
But anyway, onto the food.
Lebanese cuisine is definitely one of my favorite types of food. I don't know how to spell any of it, but maybe if I describe it, you can all follow along.
Until recently, it never occured to me that having Ruz lahmeh snubar right next to the turkey and dressing was a little bit weird.
Ruz lahmeh snubar: Rice, finely ground beef, cinnamon, pine nuts. It's lovely, but cinnamon and turkey? Surprisingly, it's really good together.
And oh, the fattoush. Fattoush, of course, is arabic salad with toasted bits of pita bread, but Oh. You have never had fattoush (or salad, for that matter) until you've had fattoush made by Sulwa (I also don't know how to spell names). She makes it with very nice, fresh vegetables, lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and spices, but she adds pomegranate oil. Yum.
I think those were the only Arabic dishes present for the actual meal, but of course for appetizers and dessert we had hummus and fig tarts alongside other classic non-Arabic yet Hakim/Yazback family traditions: Taco dip and pudding pie - both of which deserve their own post.
There's no recipe. So what's the point of this post? To emphasize that open-mindedness is just as important when applied to non-american food on strictly American holidays.
If I approached my mom's side of the family with anything resembling food that is not American in origin on Thanksgiving, it would NOT go over well. Apple pie, pumpkin pie and brownies. And that is all that is allowed. Brownies are pushing it.

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