Monday, 9 February 2015

Meal 52. Lebanese Sawda, Malta, Fatteh and Tabbouleh

Sahid is my generous host this evening, and as I walk onto the balcony, he asks: "What is your poison?" I opt for arak, the only Lebanese drink on offer. It is very much like pastis, but all the other guests at the dinner tut at my glass and warn me about drinking it. It is apparently so strong that you will need a bottle of water by your bed, and you can only drink it with food (mezze) or you will be knocked out cold. Heeding their advice, I sip slowly and carefully; it is delicious...and no ill effects are noted.

Sahid is incredibly hospitable and tells me that every Sunday he hosts a big fish dinner after his weekly angling trip off the coast of the Western Area Peninsula. He is one of the roughly 30,000 Sierra Leoneans of Lebanese descent (these estimates vary wildly depending on the source). The Lebanese diaspora is huge, with 'Lebanese' outside the country vastly outnumbering the ones in Lebanon. In Sierra Leone, they first arrived in 1893. Sahid's grandfather was one of the first to land and soon married a local Madingo woman. So Sahid is a bit Madingo, as well as 2nd and 3rd generation Lebanese. A portrait of his father has pride of place in the living room, an imposing figure in a flowing white gown.
Sawda, chopped raw liver

Tonight's gathering is an international affair, with Sierra Leonean, British, Irish, Lithuanian and Belarusian guests as well as varied Lebanese. Sahid and a few of the invitees tell me they feel most 'at home' with Lebanese Sierra Leoneans or Lebanese Londoners, more so than when they are in Lebanon. Sahid first set foot in Lebanon when he was 22 and confides he had to study hard to truly master written and spoken Arabic. Some part of the evening is spent discussing how crazy expensive Beirut is, how people in clubs easily drop $15,000 on a bottle of champagne or a private table and how people are quite 'money conscious' there.

The fact that there are both Christian and Muslim Lebanese does not seem to phase this gathering, who say it

Sahid showing me how to eat the liver
is all the same to them. Most have spent many years in Sierra Leone, as well as in Lebanon, the UK, Dubai, or the Netherlands. These friends tease Sahid mercilessly about him 'slaving away in the kitchen all day' to prepare everything for this dinner, and he sheepishly laughs and shrugs. I suggest his role was more of a co-ordinating and delegating host, and he smiles that this might be an appropriate description. I recognize the malta (raw beef pâté, delicious) as
remarkably similar to one his neighbour Hoda made the week before...and just as tasty! Raw meat features in three separate dishes; the malta, the spicy beef tartare and the chopped raw liver (sawda). I had been forewarned about the liver, and had promised to at least try it. Scooped up with small pieces of Lebanese flat bread, with loads of fresh mint and raw onions, it is better than I expected. The beef tartare and the malta are great, and new to me. The refreshing salads (tabbouleh and fattoush) are familiar and offer a lighter touch. I try taking a little bit of everything, including some top quality hummus and my favourite of the evening: fatteh. This dish consists of chicken, yoghurt, chickpeas, fried bread, almonds and garlic.
Fatteh, on a traditional Sierra Leonean mat
I will definitely try to get repeats of this dish somehow soon, either at friends or a restaurant. There are many
restaurants in Freetown that feature Lebanese cuisine, but I do not recall having seen fatteh on the menu before, or chopped liver.

As I hear Sahid's friends joke around in a mix of Arabic and English, I ask if they call this Aranglish. They tell me the term they use is tabbouleh, not just the name of the mixed salad, but also of the amalgam of languages.

No comments:

Post a Comment