Nazareth showcases some of its finest cuisine
[Nazareth] – Once best known for being the city of Jesus’ childhood, Nazareth has developed a reputation as a culinary hotspot. The Media Line explored the winding alleyways of the ancient city to discover one of the dishes behind that reputation – maqluba, a feast of rice, vegetables, fried meats and spices.
Hidden among the cobbled streets of Nazareth’s market area lies an attraction blending the old with the new, the Fauzi Azar Inn, part of the Abraham Hostels chain. Guests entering the inn through its tiny front door find themselves in the courtyard of a 19th century Arab-style home, complete with archways and water features, and converted into a modern hostel.
Those passing by on Wednesdays might encounter an additional attraction, the fragrant aroma of frying spices and chicken at the hostel’s maqluba workshop.
(Video: Robert Swift)
“In Arab tradition it’s not just the mum or the grandmother who does the cooking. All the female cousins and aunts, they all get into the kitchen. That’s why a lot of Arab houses have really huge kitchens,” Luma Abou-Hanna, 23, a tour-guide with the Fauzi Azar Inn and the workshop’s instructor, explained. It’s also why, “you all need to join in and help out,” Abou-Hanna told the assembled guests.
Maqluba, which originated in Jordan and the Palestinian Territories, has spread through much of the Arab world and can today be found in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and in Kurdish areas too. Essentially it is fried vegetables with chicken, lamb or beef, and rice. The whole dish is cooked with stock in a pot and then flipped over just before being served, creating a layered effect and giving maqluba its name – ‘upside down.’
The unveiling of the meal, flipping the pot and removing its lid to reveal the piping hot rice, is a popular showpiece in many a Palestinian restaurant. The communal nature of the meal, everyone eating from a single serving plate, makes for a pleasantly social evening. The dish is usually served with yoghurt or Arabic salad (diced tomato, cucumber and parsley), and can be made without meat for vegetarians.
In the background, as the sous chefs chop vegetables and stir broiling chicken, the sounds of a woman singing in Arabic filled the kitchen. “Oh that’s Fairuz,” – a hugely popular Lebanese singer – “for sure she makes maqluba,” Abou-Hanna explained.
Having studied tourism at the University of Haifa, Abou-Hanna’s cooking skills are home-grown. “(For) most of my dishes I call my grandmother or mum on the phone. That’s how I learned how to make this dish” she told The Media Line.
Nazareth is a good city in which to look for tasty cuisine and not just savory food, Suraida Shomar Nasser, the manager of the Fauzi Azar Inn and the granddaughter of the owner of the home for whom it is named, told The Media Line. Desserts in the form of kataif pancakes, harissa semolina cake, and kanafeh, a sweet cheese pastry, are known to be particularly fine in the ancient town.
“In the last ten years (Nazareth) is the best place for culinary tours. Our food is very healthy and we have special spices,” Nasser said.
As the dish was revealed to the sounds of cameras clicking and guests clapping, the aroma of fried chicken and a blend of Arabic spices filled the cavernous room.
Abou-Hanna flipped the pot, separated the meat and vegetables from the rice, set them down on a tray and invited her appreciative students to tuck in.
– 3 cups of soaked rice cooked for 30 minutes with a tea spoon of cinnamon, teaspoon of salt and teaspoon of English pepper.
Vegetables: (chopped, half boiled and half baked)
– 1.5 cauliflower.
– 2 potatoes.
– 3 carrots.
– 2 kilos of chicken breasts – cut them the size you like
– 2 onions – chopped
– Table spoon of cinnamon
– Table spoon of mixed spices (English spice, salt, black pepper and nutmeg)
– A bit of salt, to taste
– Half a cup of vegetable oil
Warm oil in a pot and add chicken. Heat until almost cooked, then add the onion and stir until it turns a golden color. Add all the spices and stir a bit more.
Add 5 or 6 cups of water and leave to boil so that the strong taste of the chicken infuses with the onion and spices.
In a separate pot place the first layer of the maqluba, the vegetables. Remove the chicken from its pot of boiling water and spread it on top of the vegetables, to form the second layer.
Spread the rice on the top of the chicken, to form the third layer, and then add the boiled stock to the whole mix.
Leave on a medium heat until the water reduces – Note Well: do not stir!
Take a tray and put on top of the pot and flip both together. Remove the pot slowly (see the video above) and the maqluba is now ready!