Real Lebanese Cuisine?

Over the last two weeks, I've been exposed to a wide variety of, let's say, Lebanese "delicacies". My best friend's relatives came for a brief visit from Calgary, and for a few of them, it'd been ages since they'd been back to the motherland. So naturally, their family here, in proper Lebanese fashion, strived to serve up dishes that are deeply Lebanese and can't be had (genuinely, at least) anywhere but here.

I'm talking about your well-known raw chicken liver, raw cubes of meat interspersed with white cubes of pure fat ("liyyeh"), and raw kibbeh (burghul and ground red meat), as well as your definitely not daily variety stuffed intestines, escargots, sauteed frog legs, cow brains and cow tongue. I also came within a few inches of fried sardines and another small fried fish whose name I can't recall.

Frog legs sauteed with garlic, coriander, and olive oil.

Now I was born and raised in sunny Southern California, but our upbringing was ascetically Lebanese. By that, I mean every summer vacation we spent here, we'd immediately become the object of our cousins' scorn. American, they spurned? And you've never been to a night club? Hah! And that cultural divide just kept growing bigger and wider with each passing year (I'll save that topic--quite an unwieldy one--for a future post, or series, rather).

Anyway, at home in the US, Mom made sure we had authentic homemade Lebanese food every day. We had our fill of mjadra (cooked lentils), koussa (rice- and meat-stuffed zucchini), hommos bi't7eeneh (real chickpea puree--certainly not the canned type), mloukhieh (Jew's mallow), you name it. But we never strayed from these classic dishes. We'd wince at the sight of tongue soaking in brine that you could find inside the rare Arabic grocery store, or raw kibbeh that could be ordered at specialty Lebanese restaurants in Anaheim, Calif. But intestines we'd never before laid our eyes on! Thank you, Mom, for keeping our meals thoroughly cooked and headless (I still can't grasp how you can eat those Medusa-like sardines, skin, eyes, and all, and still smile about it afterward).

So you can imagine how awkward I felt sitting at the table with Jimmy, his family and relatives, and, unlike them, not diving into the mountain of escargots, or recoiling in fear when the frog legs were being pushed in my direction. At one point, Jimmy's mom, feeling no doubt flustered at my reserved and, admittedly, resistant behavior, asked me what exactly I did eat. I smiled politely.

And that got me thinking. Do all people in Lebanon eat these novelty dishes? I'm particularly interested in the born-and-bred here Lebanese, but I'd also like to know about other expat Lebanese folks' experience with our cuisine abroad--were you, like me, privy to a more limited range of Lebanese food? Or did your parents mercilessly hunt down frogs and cow parts to make sure you got your dose of magical nutrients?

Do share!


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