Fighting the Arab Stereotype – Understanding Identity Through Food

August 10, 2016Halal Gems Team

Written by Sana
Camels treading gently for miles. Grains of sand embracing the whispering wind. Men cloaked in white cloth struggling against the rising dust.

This is one of the stereotypical images of the Middle East. Portrayed in films, books and music, this image has propelled a shallow, 2D picture of an entire people. One that has been re-appropriated and often propagated for selfish means, often by the West.
But what this “definition” fails to capture – aside from the humanness of individuals, their thought processes and emotions (and much more that is too intricate to explore now) – is the significance of the culture of food that seems to be a staple of the essence of Arab culture. In Kuwait, it is no different. Despite the upsurge of American chain restaurants like TGI Fridays and The Cheesecake Factory in malls scattered across Kuwait, there is one restaurant that still stands its ground.
Freej Swaileh – “The Neighbourhood” in English – is a Kuwaiti owned restaurant in the heart of Salmiya that proudly offers an array of authentic Kuwaiti delicacies. From the moment the colourful truck parked outside the restaurant catches your eye, to when you leave full and satisfied, a visit to Freej is magical.
The decor has been carefully designed to resemble an older Kuwaiti town, with several cabins (perfect for some privacy) that are modelled on miniature homes. The sand walls, wooden doors, and colourful windows give the illusion of having stepped back in time.
Inside a cabin        Entrance
Moreover, the food made with love, is unlike anything else I have tasted in Kuwait – and trust me, I have tried a lot. After several trips over the years, I have decided on our favourites. You know. Those dishes that you can’t help but order, even when you say you want to try something new. Our favourites include Fattoush Salad, which comes in a crispy fried pastry bowl, and Lentil Soup, which is cleverly poured into a half-emptied bread bowl. As the starters, they serve as the highlight of the meal. The warmth of the creamy lentil soup as well as the challenge of scooping the bread from the inside, is satisfyingly perfect alongside the fresh and crunchy salad. The Fattoush salad, a mix of cucumber, lettuce and pomegranate juice, refreshes the taste-buds in time for the main course.
Although the chicken and meat Majbous are the most popular dishes, my preference lies with the lamb skewers and the soaked in Arab spices, yellow rice. Tender, moist and bursting with flavour, the meat is more than good enough to be savoured on its own. The accompaniment of a fresh mint and lime juice, or a home-made cocktail fruit juice (two of my favourite drinks), takes me to cloud nine of Foodie Heaven.
 Fattoush          Lentil soup
And as if that wasn’t enough, when dinner is complete, you are served Arabic Kava (a blend of coffee and hearty spices) and a plate of “luqmat-al-qadi”, which is the Arabic equivalent of Gulab Jamun – all on the house! The bitter-sweet combo helps cleanse the taste-buds after the heavy meal.
Despite the size of the restaurant, boasting three spacious floors, there is often a queue of customers eager to quench their Kuwaiti-dining cravings. The waiters and waitresses try to be as accommodating as they can, warming an already glowing experience.
As such, for the restaurant, the ambience, and the entire experience, I urge people within and outside of Kuwait to learn about an Arab culture through different means. As the Arabic saying goes “a tree begins with a seed”; so too, can your insight into the Middle East cultivate with food.
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About Sana
Sana Soomro
Born and brought up in London, but currently residing in Kuwait, Sana has always had a fondness for exploring different cuisines. Food, in its many arrays, helps fuel her passion for writing. The ability of food, much like language, to transcend cultures and generations is something that she finds inspiring – and definitely worth sharing.

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