Jasmine and Fire: A bittersweet year in Beirut
As I read Salma Abedlnour’s Jasmine and Fire: A bittersweet year in Beirut, I kind of get why the Lebanese food culture seems to be wrapped around comfort and spices.
Take the city’s signature breakfast of man’ouche: a doughy flatbread, hot from the oven, smeared with olive oil and a mix of spices called Zaatar (Salma likes hers with labneh, a creamy yogurt cheese).
Not the healthiest choice, but perhaps after decades of alternating between war and peace, destruction and construction, the Lebanese need to cling to a constant sense of comfort and renewed hope that its traditional foods can provide.
Of course, the Lebanese American does write about the healthier dishes they love, like baba ghanoush (eggplant and tahini dip), middle eastern salads and spiced vegetable dishes.
The book is rich with food descriptions and sensations, highlighting Salma’s passion for cuisine and her experience as a US-based food and travel writer.
She intimately chronicles her year in Beirut, reflecting on what it means to be back “home,” since fleeing war-torn Lebanon when she was a child.
Is home in New York where she feels the most in her element? Or is it where she’s surrounded by familiar cultural traditions like sharing endless meals with family and friends, speaking Arabic and lamenting Lebanon’s dysfunctional political system?
This is a fascinating and thought provoking read for the most part, especially when we meet and learn more about Richard! Let me know what you think.
Do you have any food-related books to recommend?
Feature photo: James Beard Foundation
Portrait: Salma Abdelnour