Tag Archives: middle eastern cuisine

Kulinary Kuwait

I have a confession to make. It’s not pretty, and I hope you will find it in your hearts not to judge me too harshly.

I love hummus.

Wait, that’s not the confession. That’s just background.

I really do love hummus. I love it so much that I think everyone else on the planet should love it too. I’m practically evangelistic about it. Occasionally I’ll run across some provincial soul who actually still does not know what hummus is. I confess that I’m tempted to sneer at that person. I am. I’m sorry, but hummus is important. Also, if you’re trying to describe hummus to a friend? Don’t call it “Middle Eastern bean dip.” Have some respect, man.

Anyway, my confession: Yesterday I bought hummus in a can. With a pop-top lid. And today I ate it. It was, as you may have guessed, pretty awful. It smelled like Spam and tasted like—well, like bean dip. In my defense, I only did it because the supermarket deli stopped making the fresh stuff and by the time I found this out I’d been daydreaming about it all day until it was practically a medical emergency.

Let me state for the record that eating canned hummus felt like the culinary equivalent of a high-school dropout huffing canned air in the handicapped stall of the Wal-Mart bathroom. It was definitely a low point for me, and one I hope never to repeat.

Why would a supermarket deli stop making hummus? In the Middle East? Doesn’t that sound illegal or something? Well if it’s not, it should be.

You know what else should be illegal? The prepared foods this supermarket sells. The population of Kuwait has been bitten by the “American food” bug. Every corner of every street has a cluster of American restaurants sprouting from it like cholesterol-saturated fungi on a trans-fat log: Mcdonalds. Smashburger. Chili’s. Applebees. But they don’t do from-scratch American food very well here at all. Oh no. Not. At. All.

The prepared “American” foods in the Sultan Center look like the pictures from a 1975 edition of a Junior League cookbook. Stroganoffs with canned peas. Tuna salad in hollowed-out “tomah-toe” halves. Macaroni and pimientos swimming in runny white dressing. And something mysteriously called “Mayonnaise Salad” in which there is a single, identifiable ingredient: Corn. (There are other things in it, but I have no idea what they might be. I’m certainly not going to taste it and find out.)

Food is just different here. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just a new experience. I like new experiences as long as, you know, organ meats are not involved. In Kuwait you can buy an entire, raw goat (with or without the head) from a display in a shop window. I don’t know many Americans who would even know what to do with a whole goat. There are entire supermarket display cases full of different mammals’ milks. Black cheeses, gray cheeses. Camel-milk ice cream. Unpronounceable vegetables with tentacles. And don’t get me started on the lunch meats.

I ate a kebab in an Iranian restaurant here that was clearly A) not beef and B) not any other kind of meat I’ve ever eaten in my life. It felt like chewy Styrofoam packing peanuts in my mouth. No matter how much I chewed it, it just kept springing back to its original shape between my teeth. I finally gave up and spit it out. It’s not that I have a weak stomach. I just know when I’m beaten.

I mostly love ethnic food, but I’m not as brave as one woman I know who tells me she’s picked things out of curries in her travels that are unrecognizable. She just shrugs, licks off the sauce, and eats them anyway. I want to be that free-spirited, but there’s no denying that I’d enjoy the culinary adventure more if I were twenty years younger.

Kuwaitis eat camel meat at weddings. It’s very expensive, and I’m dying to try it. It probably tastes like chicken because… well, doesn’t everything?

Right now, though, I’d settle for a good tub of hummus.