Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon & Syria: Arabic Specialties

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The plan for tonight was to go to dinner with friends for Egyptian food.  After finding an Egyptian restaurant I noticed they specialized in many different Arabic cuisines.  I knew then it would be more fun to try foods from different Arabic countries instead.  Why enjoy just one cuisine when you can mix others in for a variety of tastes.

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President Eisenhower up to Obama

I chose Mama Ayesha’s (www.mamaayeshas.com) because of its history and infamous reputation it has for its food.  Mama Ayesha was a cook for the Syrian embassy and opened her own restaurant in the 1960’s.  After she passed in 1994 it was renamed after her.   As you can see above a mural was made representing every president that has been in office since she started in the 60’s.

The Devitos joined on this occasion either thanking us for watching their 2 cats or thanking us for not letting in outdoor cat to become cat #3.  (BTW outdoor cat is my favorite cat, sad he can’t be let in.).  (Editor’s Note: Outside kitty!!) We started the night out with a beer and glass of wine.  Michael and I both went with an Almaza, a Lebanese pilsner beer.

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From drinks we ordered a few mezza (not sure if you pluralize or not) which are small dishes.  Went with a cold mezza in the Hummus bil lahmeh, which is hummus with lamb.  After research, I would say the hummus with the spiced meats could be a delicacy from any of these countries.  Also went with a hot mezza in the Cheese Rolls, which are exactly what they sound like, Lebanese style.   The hummus plate was basically licked clean as it was so damn good.

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For entrees we all decided to share as a family and get just dig in.  We ordered four dishes that were all outstanding and nothing was left as the meal ended.  We ordered a variety of dishes starting with the Koose (Bridget’s choice).  Koosa is a Lebanese dish that is yellow squash stuffed with rice and chick peas, plus tomatoes mixed in.  The dish seemed to be overflowing in tomato juice and sitting in its own sauce.  It was delicious and the sauce helped.

Our guests ordered a few of their own entrees as well.  Michael went ahead and ordered something off the charcoal grill: Lamb Shish Kabobs.   They were marinated in some amazing spices and served on a bed of vermicelli rice.  Mary ordered the Kifta, ground beef on kabobs shaped in cylindrical form like a cigar (They looked like long fingers).  I would say both these dishes can be Egyptian or Syrian decent.

I had no clue what I wanted but knew I wanted a chicken dish to go along with all the beef/lamb ordered.  I asked a few suggestions and when I said the Musakan the server’s eyes lit up, I was sold.  The Musakan is a Jordanian dish that is a half chicken baked some amazing spices and onions.  One of the key spices is sumac, which gave it a lemony flavor.  Under the chicken was a baked bread that soaked up all the juices from the chicken.  The chicken was so tender, it never needed a fork.

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Shish Kabob (top left), Kifta (top right), Koosa (bottom left), Musakan (bottom right) (We took this picture very fast as people were eager to eat)

Even though I am sure we were all too stuffed for dessert, no one said no to it.  We ordered a few items to share and Michael got an Arabic coffee.  Mary went with the Ruz bil Haleeb, an Arabic rice pudding.  Bridget ordered a “birds nest”, Esh il Asfoor.  Lastly, I went with the Kanafa, a Syrian and Egyptian delicacy.  It was definitely the oddest of the three ordered.  Being hot cheese topped in shredded wheat and pistachios, I expected it to be a bit weird (which it most definitely was.)

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Ruz bil Haleeb (top), Kanafa (bottom left), Esh il Asfoor (bottom right)

After dessert we waddled back to the car and noticed the mural on the side of the building better than before.  Since it was raining earlier we didn’t stop and look at how cool the mural was.  We also noticed someone had deliberately vandalized the mural recently with red pain.  In fact you could see it was paint from a paint ball gun.  What a shame this was done to such a wonderful DC staple since the 1960s.  Mama Ayesha’s was such a mix of cultures and Arabic cuisine, it is a disappointment someone would have to go and ruin such a good thing.

We were happily satisfied and would be back to this spot for more Arabic cuisine in the future.  I hope by next time Donald Trump is not painted next to Obama on the building however.

Editor’s Note: And the inside was beautiful! It’s worth the trip to Adam’s Morgan just to soak in the atmosphere.

-Matt

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