From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Daoud Basha — or growing up in the shadow of the Holiday Inn

IMG_9452It sticks up like a scarred and angry finger into the sky.  It was a frightening shape always on the edge of my very limited world when I was growing up.  But strangely enough, it was also protective in a way.  It provided a kind of shelter for us in our IMG_3386sixth floor apartment from the rockets and shells and tracer fire coming towards us from East Beirut during the war.  So, I owe the Holiday Inn at least a small debt of gratitude.  Now, it’s perhaps the most infamous and most visible reminder of the war. I was asked in an interview the other day what it meant to me.  I was surprised that I was actually quite attached to it, that it was a symbol not just of Beirut’s past but of mine, too.  It’s a useless thing, really, standing there as ugly as a mouth full of decayed and broken teeth — holding in a silent scream.  There’s talk — as there’s been off and on for many years — of finally knocking it down.  It seems that this time it may really happen.  I wonder how many people in Beirut would really care.  Just across from the Holiday Inn, huge new buildings are going up in a frenzy of construction that doesn’t seem to make much sense.  Who is going to want to spend millions of dollars on apartments there, when the whole pack of cards could collapse at any moment.  And there are already hundreds of unsold apartments in great glossy pyramids of glass all around the area.  Certainly, it’s ironic that the Holiday Inn has survived at all when so many other much more beautiful buildings have been knocked down.  IMG_3381Even next door to my family’s apartment block, there’s a sudden, dizzying void that only a year or two ago contained a lovely old building that had been left to rack and ruin.  Some new grotesque skyscraper will be taking its place soon.  Nobody did anything to stop its destruction.  And it’s been the same story all across the city.  So, would anyone care if the Holiday Inn came down.  Wouldn’t a lot of people actually breathe a bit freer without its ravaged reminder of all that futile violence and savagery?  Who wants to have something that so clearly symbolises so much darkness?  Well, I think I would miss it a little.  It’s not that there aren’t still plenty of ragged old concrete blocks scattered around the city, pockmarked with holes from the various battles they’ve survived.  Like the rings of a tree, you could probably find out their age from those marks.  If they’ve been left standing, it’s purely by accident — because no one has yet found a way of making money out of them by knocking them down.  There may be disputes over ownership — of the building itself, of the land it stands on. But almost inevitably, they will come down one day.  So, if one of those buildings is to survive, my preference is for it to be the Holiday Inn. It is perhaps the most flamboyant and exhibitionist in its misery, standing as it does in such a prominent position high above the Mediterranean.  Its shadow was both an oppression and a protection for me — like Beirut itself.  Money decides everything there.  No one is going to let sentiment stand in the way of that.  But it would make sense if such a symbol to the past were to continue to survive purely by accident, not by design.  And there’s a wonderful blankness about it, too, which makes it the perfect monument for a city where no lessons have been learnt from the past, nothing has really changed and the whole thing could easily repeat itself without anyone much who matters having really thought it all through.  IMG_9477As a little memory of the Ottoman style building that once stood beside my family home, I’m offering a simple recipe here, whose name, Daoud Basha, I think must be an echo of those one-time governors of Beirut who left the most exquisite and elaborate architectural signature across the city, which has now been almost completely erased.DSC00222

Ingredients

For the meat balls
1/2 kilo of minced lamb
1 onion minced
1 tea spoon of salt
1 tea spoon of black pepper
1 tea spoon of cinnamon
1 tea spoon of allspice

IMG_1558For the sauce
2 onions sliced
1 large spoon of linseed oil
50g of pine kernels
2 large tomatoes chopped
2 glasses of fresh water
1 large spoon of sun dried tomato paste
1 lemon juiced
1 tea spoon of pomegranate molasses
2 tea spoons of dried mint
1 tea spoon of salt
1/2 tea spoon of black pepper
1 tea spoon of cinnamon

In a large bowl put the minced meat and add the rest of the ingredients

Mix very well and leave to chill in the fridge for half an hour

Take a small amount of the meat from the mixture for each meat ball, the size of a ping pong ball, and roll it in your palm and line them up on a baking tray

Heat the oven to 200 degrees and cook the meat balls on the middle shelf for 10 minutes

Remove from the oven and get rid of the excess fat and leave aside to cool down

Meanwhile in a large pot, heat the linseed oil and fry the onions until slightly golden

Add the pine kernels and cook for an extra 3 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients including the meat balls

Stir well and cover the pot with the lid and simmer on low temperature for 30 minutes

Serve hot with vermicelli rice.IMG_3378

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