This blog is about food and wine…you all know that. It is also about hospitality, the importance of which I speak about on the About page. The ability to be hospitable is a gift. Seriously, it’s in the Bible. Look it up. I believe hospitality is one of the most important gifts because it can truly minister to, help and heal people. Are you sick? Let me bring you some chicken soup. Are you lonely? Let’s hang out (and maybe eat). Are you celebrating? Let’s share a meal to mark the occasion.
Hospitality is something I hope I do well. I know I have been the recipient of it many times, and especially while in Jerusalem.
Being my first trip to the Middle East, and also the first time away from my husband for more than 12 hours, emotions ran a little high. It was also a working trip – not all fun and games and tours and churches and amazing food. Being out of your comfort zone as a tourist is one thing. Being out of your comfort zone when you have work to do is quite another. All of that said, I really needed a reprieve one night and it came when a nurse we were working with invited us to her home for dinner.
Again, it being my first Middle Eastern experience, I was dumbfounded by the hospitality I experienced. It is more than rehearsed politeness – in Arabic culture it is just who they are.
Orthodox Easter was just the weekend before and it was a really big deal for this Palestinian Christian family. They had relatives staying with them due to their proximity to Jerusalem and the holy sites and as a result had a ton of leftover food. Inviting someone to your home for leftovers? These weren’t any ordinary leftovers. Listen to me! If you’re invited to a Palestinian home for leftovers, you go! (Call me first…please.)
Let’s start with the garden. This nurse’s husband is a brilliant gardener and grew much of what we ate, including Swiss chard, sugar snap peas, rocca (arugula), mint and more. He gave us a tour first thing and I quickly grew excited about the meal that was coming, knowing all of this fresh produce had been poured into it.
Back inside, we snacked on fresh sugar snap peas and enjoyed refreshing mint water while the husband put the finishing touches on stuffed Swiss chard leaves (a variation on the Greek dolma).
Once we were called to the table, the spread consisted of the stuffed Swiss chard, a rocca salad, a second salad made up of shredded romaine and red onion, buttery rice, baked fish with vegetables, chicken roasted with onions served on socca, and fresh tzatziki. Leftovers, people.
I should have left and gone to McDonald’s, right? Or politely picked and returned to my guesthouse for a late-night snack of dates and stale pita? Well, I didn’t and I am oh so glad.
The meal was served with a beautiful Palestinian wine, too, Jascala.
I had two servings of everything, three of a few items, and could have cleared the table of all food had I chosen. We completed the meal with date cookies made from semolina flour called ma’amul and mint tea, with fresh mint, of course. The cookies are found everywhere and are delicious. I brought some home. I’m actually eating one now. Jealous?
Before, throughout and immediately following the meal, the nurse’s mother and two of her four children floated in, grabbed plates, and joined us at the table. Once everyone had finished eating, we relaxed in true family fashion. I even watched and critiqued their son’s semester project – a video on traditional Palestinian stitches. He is pursuing a master’s in cultural anthropology with a focus on Palestinian dress.
A simple meal of “leftovers” with everyday people is easily one of the most memorable and precious experiences I have from my trip, and one I will hold onto for a very long time. No matter how unfamiliar your surroundings, some things are universal and hospitality is one of them. Maybe the food wasn’t good at all and I was just relishing in the comfort of the home and the kindness of the people. The point is that that home, that food and those people made me feel better, and inspired me to try harder to do the same for people here at home.