The Middle East is a cradle of lavish feasting, epitomized in its jeweled tables. Eating in the Middle East is a ritual, and while most Middle Eastern cookbooks understandably focus on the mezze ritual of eating or feasting, it’s merely one side of the table. To truly gain a more wholesome perspective of the cuisine requires first an invitation to a home-cooked meal and second, some history on the matters of feasting in the region, hospitality and the mezze table itself.
In The Jewelled Table, Bethany Kehdy tells us that, in the Middle East, there is a basic split between what is served in the home and what is served outside of it. Restaurant food generally includes two categories: leisurely, social eating, in the case of mezze, or grab-and-eat, fast foods (sit down or on-the-go) such as shawarma, kebabs, or the souk’s specials. Bethany says that the nucleus of the culinary repertoire of the Middle East is the home kitchen. While a mezze table (and the street kitchen) share much of the same dishes, the distinction between mezze and home-style eating in the Middle East lies not in the edible that make up either meal, per se, but rather, in the manner, or style of serving.
Today, Israeli food is the front-runner of Middle Eastern cuisine — much like Greek food was in the 1990s and 2000s — an example is how West associated hummus with the Greeks, even though the dish isn’t part of the Greek cuisine. The Jewelled Table offers many mouth-watering and scrumptious refreshments, digestives and cocktails to start or welcome your guests such as ‘Loaded Aqua’ and ‘Za’atar & Lemon Aqua.’ ‘Pret a manger’ section includes ‘Going Bizr-K, Nuts, seeds & other Nibbles’ while small plates and main meals include ‘Smoked Mackerel & Zhug Barida’ and ‘Ox Cheek, Shallot &Rhubarb Stew.’ Meals are never complete without delicious desserts such as ‘The Virgin’s breasts.’ The Jewelled Table and its chapters are bound in the style one goes about jewelling a table at home in the Middle East — whether for everyday feasts or for celebratory feasts — always much inspired by the season and hospitality. If you like international or Middle Eastern food, you will surely love The Jewelled Table. The Jewelled Table is beautifully-manufactured with stunning photographs. It is simply a treat to hold this book.
Note: This review was first published in December 2018 but it had to be reposted for technical reasons.