Ugly Delicious (2018) s02e04 Episode Script

As the Meat Turns

Aromas waft around the globe As the Meat Turns.
Carousel is what? A quote, unquote Armenian-Lebanese.
- Armenian-Lebanese? - Yeah.
Arabian food? I I don't Yeah, so, Arab cuisine is different than Iranian cuisine.
We're ethnically different.
I'm so not the person to talk about any of this stuff.
"Shawarma" comes from a Turkish word, by the way, "çevirme," which means "rotating.
" You don't find it in Iran.
So, it's not Middle Eastern.
"Middle East," in and of itself, is an enigma.
Like, middle of what East? You know? Like, it's a colonizer term, you know? And I always felt that same way when people talk about Asia proper.
Right? Like, "It's the Far East.
" I was like, "East to what?" Right? "Middle East," "Far East," "Near East," these are all relative to Europe.
To Europe.
And then it gets further taken away from what its actual provenance is when it gets called "Mediterranean.
" - Exactly.
- Right? It's like clumping Korean, Japanese, - Chinese food all in one.
- Which It doesn't make sense.
Doesn't make sense.
I mean, even within a country, one dish will vary substantially.
Like what do you mean by that? How does it You know that when you say "Middle Eastern," it's a huge area, and they're very different.
Iranian food is very different from Lebanese or Syrian.
You can group some of the cuisines under one umbrella, like Levantine, where the staples are bread and a lot of vegetables and a lot of fresh, vibrant flavors.
And then you have Iran, where the food is very sophisticated.
The staple is rice, and the accent is on herbs, but a lot of herbs, cooked, and a lot of sweet and savory flavors.
And then you have the Arabian Gulf, and there you have rice as a staple.
The flavors are more spicy, and there is a kind of influence both from Iran and from India.
I always say our cuisine is so flexible.
There are parts that are the Fertile Crescent, and then there's parts that are not so fertile, right? Like, it's desert.
So they're gonna have different dishes.
So, Reem, when you say that the cuisine is flexible, is it flexible enough to allow Dave to be using a vertical spit in his restaurant? - Is that, like Is that okay? - Sure.
We are in the third floor of the Columbus Circle.
We're at Bang Bar.
We're not even open yet, and I've been thinking up this idea for a long time 'cause I was enamored with the fact that the spit went throughout Middle Eastern food, from Turkey to Lebanon.
And then, everyone laughed at me and was like, "Please, God Don't put this spit in the restaurant.
" And, uh, this is what happened.
JJ, what is this? It's, uh, mortadella stacked with lardo in between.
It's pretty good.
And this is pork shoulder marinated in cream gochujang and a few other things.
But essentially, like, this is Korean barbecue.
- Hey, Jo.
- Yes.
- This is pretty Korean, right? - Yes, it's Korean.
But if we did that in in Korea They're not gonna say it's Korean.
We're not even changing the fuckin' ingredients.
We're just changing the vertical nature of it, and all of a sudden, it's fucked up.
But, if you If we set this horizontally, all of a sudden, people are gonna say, "It's French.
It's a rotisserie.
It's cool.
Forty thousand dollars more.
" There's, like, a cultural truth there that's just stupid.
So, the more I kept on thinking about this, the more I realized this vertical-spit cooking may be the most genius goddamned thing I've ever seen in a kitchen.
- Seriously.
- Yeah, yeah, it's pretty smart.
And when I started saying that, I thought people thought I was like, "Oh, Chang's fucking out of his mind again.
" I don't even know if the science is right.
Science is so important to gastronomy in general because it allows us to analyze a situation, critically think it through, and realize there might be a better solution around the corner if we do it this way.
Thank you for letting me into, like, culinary mecca.
This is our cooking lab where we write the Modernist Cuisine set of books.
So we have a set of equipment that is like a state-of-the-art biology lab.
I do a set of things that I think make sense only to me.
Cooking is one of the few science experiments people do regularly.
So, I I really wanna get your insight as to the vertical spit.
- Let's go look at one.
- I want to see.
Okay, so here is a vertical spit.
We've got three temperature probes here.
Then we have a whole computer, actually, up in there - Of course you do.
- to log all of the data.
And here, you can see what those three temperature sensors would be sensing.
Now, the outside gets hot, and then cold, and then hot, and then cold.
Meanwhile, the interior is going to an even temperature.
What you wind up with is the inside of the meat - thinks it's been slow-cooked.
- Mm.
By using the motion, it turns this high-heat source into something that can do slow cooking.
Now, this is a very old idea.
You know? Here is a picture from the Bayeux Tapestry.
This is from 1070.
And this is a invention of Leonardo da Vinci's.
No way.
He invented a way to turn meat on a spit.
For a long time, it was a job in the kitchen.
- This guy was called the spit jack.
- Spit jack.
And the need to replace that was one of the things that stimulated the invention of clocks.
- Really? - Yes.
Now, here's the funniest way of turning a spit.
This is a spit dog.
No way.
And the doggy treadmill turned the spit.
And this was a whole breed of dogs.
- You can't make this up.
- No, you really can't.
The benefit of the vertical spit is that gravity works to your favor.
Each of these individual pieces would fall off if they were on a rotisserie.
But here, we can trim them off, and That's really good.
The thing that I really came here for is validation that you would think that it's okay.
You don't think I'm an idiot.
- You're not an idiot, David.
- That's all I needed.
But this is a relatively simple invention that I feel like has been lost in cultural misunderstanding, or even maybe, possibly racism.
I I don't know.
Well, you know, tacos al pastor, which is a classic Mexican dish, it comes from Lebanese immigrants.
Now, I've eaten tacos al pastor my whole life - And you didn't even know this? - Not knowing - Oh, my God.
- that it was actually Lebanese.
It's funny, I always have this ongoing joke that the Lebanese and Syrian influence on Mexico is the one thing that they took our cuisine and made it better - 'cause they changed it to pork.
- Because they made al pastor? Because al pastor was shawarma.
Pastor I never put two and two together.
I just thought, "Oh, everyone's figured out a vertical spit.
When I learned it was from Lebanese immigrants, I was like, "What?" I got so excited because you can almost plot out how something, when brought to another area, will evolve.
I think that's a really important part when these mergers happen, that we're able to trace back, like, "How did that happen?" Right? I love that so much because it's almost like when you see how culture can be open and free, how you're almost, like, helping this merger happen.
Tell me about this place.
It's, like, a couple of Oaxacan guys who are serving Lebanese-Mexican hybrid cuisine.
- I see hummus, baba ghanoush - Yeah.
What's your background? - We're Mexicans.
- Yeah.
We used to work in a Lebanese restaurant.
- You just happened to work - Yeah, yeah, yeah.
- in a Lebanese restaurant.
- Yeah.
This is the beef kebab, and this is the chorizo kebab.
- Is that black beans in there? - Yeah.
Black beans.
This is black beans.
- Oh, it's all black beans.
- All black beans.
This is our special salsa.
What's in it? Tahini with your green salsa, salsa verde.
- Is that just normal falafel? - No, we mix it.
We add some stuff in it and spices.
So, when you say "stuff," that's the "don't fuckin' worry about it.
" - Oh, man.
- You should sit down and eat with us.
Yeah, let me bring more food, and I come.
- This is not what I expected.
- No.
But it makes sense.
My mom owned a Mexican restaurant called El Loco when I was a kid.
I didn't know that.
I thought it was just Baskin-Robbins.
She had Baskin-Robbins and El Loco.
Like, this is like immigrant entrepreneur, right? As you know, my mom is a small Chinese woman and not a Mexican chef.
She read about this guy in a Chinese newspaper, walked up to him, and was like, "Hey, I am also an immigrant trying to make ends meet.
What would you think about opening a restaurant where they serve pastrami quesadillas?" This stuff just happens when immigrants are living among each other.
It doesn't feel like fusion because it doesn't feel like two things are being soldered together, like, they're forced together.
Okay, I got more.
You think you can eat all of that? Holy shit.
Which one is your favorite? - I like the taco a lot.
- The taco? Taco? The taco's good.
The tabbouleh is special because we put cactus in that.
- You put what in there? - Cactus.
Cactus? - Yeah.
- Oh! When did you guys come to America? - He came first.
- I'm young when I come.
I'm 14.
Because over there, we don't have money.
My family doesn't have money to send me to school.
So, especially when I came here, I didn't know about nothing.
What were you itching to do? Always, I dreamed to have, like, uh, my own, uh, business, - or, uh, whatever.
- Not especially a restaurant, but to have try to find something for our lives.
Like, you guys didn't come here specifically to cook food.
Food is just what allows these connections to happen, and it allows you guys to cook Lebanese food - because that's what there was.
- Yeah.
But right here, we have a lot of - You guys have a customer.
- Yeah.
Do you come here a lot? No, this is my first time trying it.
- Have you had Lebanese food before? - No.
I've been wanting to try Lebanese food.
And, I was like, "Mexican? I'm always down for Mexican food.
" So, this doesn't seem, like - Is it too different, or - No.
There's honestly rice and meat, which is, like, simple.
Yeah, that's it.
- It's just It's just food, right? - Yeah.
Thanks, guys.
- Thanks.
- Thank you.
We've agreed, internally, we don't know how long this is gonna last.
We have a bet.
I say it lasts ten days.
I say three weeks.
Two, three weeks.
Right now, it feels like the weight of the world's on our shoulders, a little bit.
This is not something we've done in the past, and it's terrifying.
Gonna crank this up a little, here.
The name "bang" means "bread" in Korean, and the origin of that yeasted bread, which is the only real yeasted bread you see in Korea, came from Chinese immigrants.
So, I was like, "Shit.
" Like who can lay claim to flatbread? Everyone eats stuff, I think, around the world, wrapped in something.
This dish itself, to me, is just Korean, even though it is, strangely, a Turkish kebab.
And here's the thing: I have not been there, and I'm not even using their recipes.
And that fucking fucks with me.
I need to probably see Turkey with my own eyes.
I've always had this fascination with Turkey and the idea that it was almost the original fusion food because of the East meets West, and I look at that culture as where food might go now because it's already gone through it in the past.
I've seen you guys throughout the years - in a variety of places, - Yep.
- and finally, in your guys' hometown.
- Yes.
This is easily the city I've wanted to eat at the most over my entire life.
- Really? - And I'll explain as to why, - but, like, I have to eat a döner.
- But, hey, you made it.
- I can't say How do you pronounce it? - "Döner.
" - "Döner.
" - You know, the "O" with the two dots? That's "oh.
" - "Döner.
" - Okay.
"Döner" means "the thing that turns.
" - And it's not called "shawarma.
" - No.
- That's the Arabic version.
- "Shawarma" is Arabic, and it comes from the words "to turn.
" So, it all means "to turn," actually.
I mean, you guys take this for granted.
I'm like, "This is amazing!" There's the same thing on every corner, and it's gonna be a little different.
Oh, look at that one down there.
- What's that one? - That's another döner place.
- Another döner.
- But this is the biggest one.
It's pretty big.
He's doing good.
He starts around this time - And this disappears within hours.
- It disappears after lunch.
- All gone.
- That's it.
I'm so fucking excited to eat this.
- And this is lamb? - No, it's beef.
- Beef? - Beef is usually cheaper, so that's why they use beef most of the time.
- It used to be mostly lamb.
- Yeah.
- This is everyday food or? - Yeah, it's everyday food.
- But it's not cheap.
It's like four bucks.
- Four bucks.
Four bucks for you might be nothing, but for guys here, and the relative income of people, it's not a cheap eat.
But, yeah, this is plain döner.
There's no never a sauce in it.
That would be sacrilegious to put a sauce on this.
But shawarma has sauce, and a gyro has sauce, obviously.
- This is pure.
- This is pure.
And, you know, they did it in the past when they didn't even have gas or anything.
Shelves of charcoals, and that's how they were heating it.
And it's a fairly easy immigrant food.
You have millions of Turks all around the world, and they are taking this with them, not because they were the best chefs, but, probably, it's a way of surviving.
Stack up the meat, and then slice it up, and that's it.
When I started to see how döner turned into shawarma that turned into the pastor, it played out similar to how I see how food moves and evolves throughout the world.
It was like I was like, "Oh, the Ottoman Empire forced a lot of people out.
" And, just around the world, it seems to me that so much good food happened out of bad things.
Right? And the reality is, you don't get the pastor taco without the Lebanese immigrating there - in the early 1900s.
- Yup.
But I didn't know that they left because - they had to.
- They had to leave.
- Lebanon was under Ottoman rule.
- Yeah? And then the reason why there are gyros in Greece is because the Greeks in Turkey had to go back to Greece.
Had to go back.
And I'm sure there are other groups.
And then I'm looking at that as, you have one thing that's unique, the vertical-spit cooking, shawarma, döner, whatever.
And it's, like, all over the world now, and almost all of it is because someone had to, like, leave this hub.
Turkey is in the strategic geographical position.
We've had migrations and spice routes and trade.
And layers and layers, one on top of another.
You know? So, it's really complex.
Basically, any place in the world where you have a shit ton of stuff happening and people merging, amazingly delicious things come out of it.
But at the end of the day, putting meat on a spit over fire, - I'm sure everyone's done that, right? - Yeah.
My friends from that part of the world That we will not Yeah, until I can find a better way to talk about it.
Uh, all sort of, or unanimously, agree that they believe that Beirut I've heard many people.
- Beirut is the best eating city - The "metropolis.
" in that area.
Is that true? Yeah.
Go to the mountains.
Actually, the best Lebanese food is in the mountains.
- It's not in Beirut.
- Yeah, not in Beirut.
This place is wild.
Isn't it wonderful? There's lots of food.
We might just, like, need to move to the mountains of Lebanon.
- This is where I belong.
- And re-up your marriage vows? Re-up, just renew my wedding vows.
So, what are we drinking? Now, we're drinking arak, which is a distilled grape drink, flavored with anise seed.
It's a bit strong, 40% alcohol.
So They have beautiful meat here because they grow their own lambs.
And every time I come, I have to have the raw meat.
The meze is amazing because you can order, like, 40 different dishes.
- Is meze a defined list of dishes? - No.
I think what is defined in the meze spread is the type of smaller plates on the table.
So you have the cold mezes, which would be dips, salads, the raw meats.
And then you have the savory pastries, and then you have the hot mezes.
And it's a very, very typical Lebanese way of eating.
Is it like a fancy way of eating? It's pretty universal, from poor to rich, they will all eat the same way.
Especially at the weekend or family gatherings, or weddings, or whatever.
And I've ordered a selection of raw dishes, so what you need to do is take a bit of this And then this on top of it? - Yeah, and you eat it together.
- What? It's just a little cooked meat on top of my raw meat.
The nice thing about this kibbeh with the stuffing is that you have hot and cold.
Oh, my God.
- Isn't that amazing? - That's unbelievable.
Oh, lamb's testicles.
My favorite.
I don't know that I've had lamb's testicles.
I know I look like a guy who's eaten a lot of lamb's testicles, but I don't think I have.
They're done in, I think, in butter with a little bit of garlic and lemon juice.
They're very squishy.
Very squishy.
It's got the consistency of like a A ball.
"It's got the consistency of a How do you say? A testicle.
" - What is this? - Little birds? - Are these little birds? - Holy It's a little bird that feeds on figs.
In French, it's called "becfigue.
" And you eat them completely.
- Come on.
- Mm.
Generally, in America, there's only so much you can do with meat.
You go to a Western restaurant, it has to be, "Oh, this meat's so tender and juicy.
" Here, you see, like, we're only limited because we haven't thought of all the different ways that, like, meat can be prepared.
That's the other crazy thing is, like, how much textural variety is in this meal.
This is the whole point of meze.
Not only the flavors, but the textural varieties and the colors on the table.
What an elegant thing.
It's so beautiful.
Look at this place.
It's so nice.
This looks really good.
So, we've prepared starters, which are called "meze" here.
There is a new type of tabbouleh that's a bit special that we created with some beetroot.
Hummus with sea bass.
- Did you say it was with sea bass? - Yeah, sea bass.
- Whoa.
- Wow.
What we try to do here, in Liza, is take the traditional Lebanese meze and give it a bit of a twist.
This is what differentiates us from other restaurants.
- I want to try this.
- This will be super interesting, 'cause you sort of assume Lebanese food is one thing, you know? This is your first time outside of the country since you came to the States? Yeah.
- How old were you when you came? - Five or six.
We were refugees from Vietnam, - so the US is my home.
- Yeah.
What is it like to come to Lebanon? There is this, like, sense of connection with it because it's this place that people have misconceptions about.
It's a place that has a history of war, but that it's also thriving, and it just it just like It just It made sense to me.
- This is halloumi cheese with - Tomato jam.
Oh, look at that.
Squishy little tomato.
Ooh! There's such a breadth of dishes here.
that you don't see in the States.
You go to Lebanese restaurants, you expect a kebab place, or, like, a shawarma place, right? Like, that's what I know of it.
There is a trap of authenticity where even Vietnamese Americans, who were, like, "Oh, no, you shouldn't veer away from the taste they thought is authentic.
" But, actually, that flavor is like a snapshot of 1975.
How often does, like, a Vietnamese restaurant, a Lebanese restaurant, any sort of first-generation immigrant restaurant The number one word on their menu is, like, "authentic Lebanese cuisine," "authentic Vietnamese cuisine.
" Right? Because they know that's what people are looking for.
You know, food culture celebrates "bad boys" and celebrates all this, like, individuality in some ways, but not, like not for immigrant cuisine.
- Yeah.
- We have to be ghetto-ized.
And I'm like, "I'm not playing your native informant," and, you know, "I'm not speaking Vietnamese to you.
I don't care if you went to Vietnam for three months.
" Because I'm a person of color, you know, and an immigrant, like, what I hope for cuisines uh, made by people of color that they get to have a chance to have a range of what they want to be, versus, "You can only do falafel.
" At Reem's, I was like, "I'm never gonna put falafel and shawarma.
" And, like, we finally keeled into the falafel.
- There wasn't a good falafel where I'm at.
- So you needed it.
What about chocolate hummus? Is that American? - Oh, my God, that's so horrible.
- Definitely American.
Yeah, that's definitely American.
White chefs are appropriating food all the time, you know? And they'll, like, wake up, and they have the privilege to have an idea and say, "I'm gonna make it.
" So, like, people have taken our foods, but they've left us behind, right? Hummus is very popular at Whole Foods.
It's been popularized, but not by the Arabs.
And it's, like, I think, for Palestinians, for us, it's really important that our food is called "Palestinian.
" Because that is like the last marker of our ethnic identity.
I think, when the identity is lost, - it becomes a bit of a problem.
- Yeah.
But you have young chefs like Reem who are starting to present the food as it ought to be, and not a slightly different version.
And that's why I became a baker, 'cause I was just, like, so obsessed with the fact that I'm like, "I could learn about the lifeline of my people through bread.
" Like, that's kind of amazing.
Like, that can tell an oral history, and that's something that's so universal to so many cultures.
So, the fact that I found a calling to be able to connect to people on a daily basis Like, that's really powerful.
And I think that's what our humanity needs to invest in, - is more connection.
- Yeah.
- And bakeries.
- And bakeries, yeah.
We're a gluten-positive space here.
What are we doing? So, we're gonna make some man'oushe, which became my trademark.
But it's essentially a round flatbread.
We're gonna use a za'atar spice mix.
So, "za'atar" is the Arabic word for "wild thyme.
" With a little bit of sumac and sesame seed.
- Za'atar's everywhere, right? - Yeah, it's everywhere.
We're gonna get some in the oven and some on the saj.
The sajs when I first started my business, I didn't know how to get them.
This one is just a Jade tortilla griddle - Mm-hmm.
- that we retrofitted.
- With a curve.
- With the curve, yeah.
- So, you have a tortilla comal - Yeah.
being repurposed for Middle Eastern.
- That's so rad.
- Yeah.
Oh, my God, that's so cool.
Where are you from and your family from? My mom is Palestinian.
She was displaced to Lebanon in 1967.
And my dad is from Damascus.
And my parents met in Lebanon, and then they moved to Boston, which is where I was born and grew up.
For me, Arab hospitality is all about welcoming people into your home and to start building that trust so that maybe I can shift someone's thinking.
You know, you walk into this space.
Hopefully, you walk out those doors thinking about the world a little bit differently.
- Even if it's subtle, you know? - Mm-hmm.
So, what if, like, the next person who does this wants to, like fill this with Peking duck or, like, Buffalo chicken? Is there a limit? Is that Would that upset you? I've seen menus, that have all sorts of crazy stuff - in the pies now.
- Mm-hmm.
So, where are we right now? You're in Dearborn, Michigan.
Dearborn has the most concentrated population of Arab-Americans in all of America.
- Is this a family business? - Yes.
My brother and I started it.
- He's the head baker.
- Wow.
So, he's got the brains - behind the operation.
- I come earlier 'cause I think more in the morning.
He's the creator.
You and your brother were born here? Yes, my brother and I were born here, raised here.
Our parents left from the old country over here to work for Ford and the Big Three.
Henry Ford's really the one who put Dearborn on the map.
It gave foreigners an opportunity to come to America and make a living.
But then, all the auto industries went out.
What keeps you here? - Families.
- Family.
But what you're showing me right now is a very untraditional take - on a traditional sandwich.
- Correct.
This right here is gonna be a Manou-wich.
They are bacon, egg, and cheese with Hot Cheetos in it.
This is what we're adding the hot Cheetos to.
- This one.
- Nice.
- Okay.
- Okay? People are gonna be mad if not.
Okay, let's go bake these.
How hot does that oven get? At least 800 degrees.
We got it shipped here from Lebanon.
Oh, really? So, that oven's from Lebanon? - Yeah.
- Oh, shit.
And the fact that we're cooking at such high temperatures in a short period of time is what makes this dough so moist.
Traditionally, this bread just comes as flatbread.
- Just like that.
- Exactly.
That's the traditional way to eat it.
We were just sitting around one night, and we were thinking, "We got some turkey inside the fridge.
Let's throw it on the cheese bread real quick.
" We threw it.
It was phenomenal.
This is the most disrespectful sandwich ever created.
We did have old-timers that did come in here and criticize us and tell us, "You guys are ruining our food.
" They said that to you? The same exact people that said that are the ones that are here almost every day, buying that food.
And you've got some bakeries now in Lebanon, in the old country They're making sandwiches like this in Beirut? - Yes.
- Like wow.
It's different than pizza dough 'cause pizza dough is a little more tight.
It looks like an animal print.
I have leopard thongs with that print on it.
This is your bacon, egg, and cheese and hot Cheetos.
Oh, wow.
With the natural red dye.
Here you go! That's actually awesome.
I love it.
This is a delicious sandwich.
Oh, my God.
You might be disrespecting your entire culture, but you're making me happy.
Have a bite, please.
So good.
He's a vegetarian.
- You're a vegetarian? - Yes.
I don't eat meat, but I - Oh, my God.
I am so sorry.
- I didn't deny you, though.
He fucking did it for the camera, man.
Oh, shit, I feel horrible right now.
No, hell no.
It's okay.
People, for the most part, will find the things that are gonna be delicious.
Deliciousness, as a whole, is like a meme.
It's going to find a way to survive.
If something is objectively good, people will find a way to do it.
We're taking the ferry to the Asian side, so across from Europe.
So, when you see it on the map, this is the little thing there.
This is the little thing that separates it.
- Now that were in Asia proper - Now do you feel at home? Every step closer to home.
My home.
My My motherland.
- So, is this touristy? - Not at all.
This is where my mom would take us to buy groceries.
These are grilled olives? - Yeah.
- That's so good.
Good, huh? Fuck.
That's delicious.
Isn't it? Let's go into the pickle shop.
And they pickle everything.
Green plums, peppers, carrots, cabbage So, this is super common, an everyday thing, to go to the pickle shop to pick out pickles to take home and also to have pickle juice, which we will have now.
This is actually something you order? Yeah, yeah.
I used to come here every week as a kid.
Especially for the pickle juice, which is great during the winter, so you don't get sick.
- It needs some vodka.
- Right? That's still so fuckin' weird.
You can't make this shit up, man.
- It's real.
- Fuck you.
- No, in the best possible way! - It's real.
It's real.
It's so foreign to me that people would come in and eat pickles, pickle juice, and have this as a thing.
A pickle shop is one thing, where you can buy pickles, but the fact that people are like, "Yo, I gotta get myself a cup of pickle juice and some pickles.
" - Exactly.
- Like, there's nothing cool about this.
It's just delicious.
What people eat here is not new.
It's just different.
And I can find similarities with how I view the world through how they eat, and that's great.
That is legitimately one of the few fucking times I will be optimistic about anything.
Welcome to Soussi.
This place is like an institution, right? It's been here Since the '30s.
You're talking about a family business.
A true, true family business.
But this place is perfect for a few dishes - that I personally really love.
- Uh-huh? Eggs and awarma Right? The meat there.
That's excellent.
- Soussi fava beans.
- Haricot Soussi.
Ooh, this is this is this is brains with with salad.
Mm! - It's excellent.
- I'm in.
- What kind of brains? - Sheep brains.
So, what makes this a distinctly Lebanese breakfast? The awarma.
Now, awarma, we just don't have it elsewhere in our world.
Now, awarma is essentially a preserved, uh, ground meat that they preserve in fat here.
It's really the preserve of the Lebanese, you could say.
That's something you'll only find here.
When people are trying to understand, they say, "What is quintessential something?" And I find that that's like, "Why do you want to reduce it?" Well, I think also because people have to be somewhat territorial here.
Because you have so much conflict that you have to sort of stake your claim.
And a great example of this, again, is falafel.
For example, falafel in Egypt are gonna have chickpeas and fava beans, ground up, right? In Palestine or Jordan and Lebanon, for that matter, that's just not gonna happen.
In Lebanon and Syria, they make the falafel kind of like a mini-doughnut, with a little hole inside, so you have a crispier thing throughout.
And they don't use coriander, so it's not green on the inside.
In Jordan, Palestine, right? They ground up coriander, with it some parsley, and it's green, and it's so good.
It's like you bite into it, and you have this sort of So, who are you voting for? Who are you voting for? - I'll admit to - I mean, to be totally honest with you, when I was, like, thinking about coming to Beirut, like, "Oh, I should read up.
I should know about the history and what was, like, the different factions of the civil war and all that stuff.
" And, like, I didn't even think about, like, "The food's gonna be fuckin' amazing.
" But if I had been going to, like, Paris or Mexico City, I'd be like, "Here are the 17 places I'm gonna eat.
- Here's what I'm excited about doing.
" - Right.
And, like, I had that realization, and I felt really pretty guilty about it.
Well, this is the sad part, right, is that Beirut has become a byword for kind of, like, "destruction" and and "war" and all this stuff.
I mean, I remember in college, we used to have, you know, a beer-pong game that'd be called "Beirut," of course.
Holy shit.
I mean, it's bullshit.
"Beirut" is about lobbing little ping-pong bombs across the table.
- Holy hell.
- That's the idea, right? And it's absolutely ridiculous, because look around you, right? It's not like we're, you know, cowering from bombs.
I've been in war zones.
It's not a war zone at this point.
Believe me.
But even in war zones, because when people thought of Vietnam in the '70s, they thought it was, like, so dire.
Which it was.
Like, it could be both.
It could be both.
Because people still The conflict still happened, people still lived.
- Exactly.
- You know, people still enjoyed food.
Right, in Iraq, you see this as well.
Half of Mosul is just flattened, right? But then you would find other areas where you have, like, the best "Arabic cheese place" in town, right? And the guy's open, and he's slinging food and dessert.
I mean, it's it's great.
Life exists in those places.
It continues.
It doesn't stop just because there are a few bullets.
But we have restaurants in the States that specifically define themselves as Arab food or Arab street food, but then you look them up on Google, and they've been turned into a Mediterranean restaurant.
- Sure.
- Does that have to do with people being - afraid of the implications? - Of course.
Arabs, as a people, have long been, you know, vilified in US media.
Ever since the '30s.
I mean, you have The Sheik, Rudolph Valentino.
Arabs, by and large, are stupid.
Get another one, you moron.
They're racists, hate women.
Okay, they can't shoot for shit.
Like, an Arab guy comes in.
No one dies.
Arnold's like, "Fuck you.
" Boom! One shot, the guy's down.
But we're not seen as people with aspirations and dreams, and actually, you know, people who would just do normal shit.
Immigrants, especially from our region of the world, I mean, we have the US invading our countries.
And right now, there is a lot of anti-Arab sentiment, but to be outspoken and to name a thing as "Palestinian cuisine," and be very explicit about that, - there's a price that I pay.
- It hasn't just been name-calling.
- I mean, you've gotten threats.
- Death threats.
- You did? - Yeah.
Yeah, people calling our phone, cussing us out.
We had people bombarding my Yelp with fake reviews from all over the world.
Things like, "The only good Arab is a dead Arab," and "Death to the PLO.
" And like, "I hope your bakery blows up.
" You know? And then, like, a week later, Charlottesville happens, and I was convinced I was gonna come to my bakery and see, like, a rock thrown through my window.
Optimistic view of what you're talking about is that "This stuff just happens in cycles in America.
" What's happening now with Middle Eastern cuisine is what happened to Vietnamese before it, to Chinese before that.
The other side is that Islamophobia - is a special kind of discrimination, - Mm-hmm.
and that you guys and Middle Eastern food will not emerge from that, at least in America.
Like, what do you think? Are you hopeful about it? I mean I I think that the context we're in now, like, allows People don't want to be racist.
I'll just say it, like, the Muslim ban bothered me on a level that I had not anticipated.
All right? I was incredibly upset by it.
Did you Did you come out and Yeah, I mean, I I said what I could, but I wanted to get more information - before I said anything.
- Yeah.
All I know is, like, maybe the best way for people to understand a group of people that they might be scared about is the fact that their food's delicious.
Right? - Right.
- And I just kept looking at the equipment.
- All right? How people cook food.
- Yes, it's similar.
Technology is the one thing, the world over, that no one has any problem about.
Gunpowder, computers, the Internet, the automobile, penicillin.
No one says, like, "That guy's French.
We can't use it.
" It's stupid because people can immediately assume - on technology that it's merit-based.
- Right.
I wanna tell a story where people can look at something and eat something and realize, "Oh, it's just like what I eat.
" We're gonna get you some flatbread.
- We'll try Lahmajoun.
- Lahmajoun.
- What's this called? - Lahmajoun.
It's from Lebanon.
This is from the eastern part of Turkey.
So, more Arabic influence.
- Parsley? - I'm gonna try a little without it.
Yeah, do that.
So, what's on it? Lamb? - Just mincemeat.
It can be both.
- Lamb, tomatoes, onions.
- Yeah, lamb and Yeah.
- You like it? It's great.
It's very clear to me that there's so much more history and multiculturalism here that prevents it from even being understood - in some - Yeah.
one-sentence thing.
Because of this whole constant, evolving thing with culture, it's Nothing is stagnant.
Nothing, ever, ever, ever.
This city's embodied that more than any other city I can imagine.
This is a good example of it.
That's what we're seeing now, because of the four some around four million, uh, Syrian refugees that have come through.
They bring, of course, a food culture with it.
It's an amazing suffering.
I mean, Aleppo was like That's the epicenter of culinary arts in this part of the world.
It was.
It's no more.
And all of those refugees have come here.
Now they don't have their own ingredients or their own exact ingredients, so now they have to learn - to cook again - To adapt.
with the memories of those flavors.
Maybe a bag of seeds or something they could take with and then replant, but, obviously, - because the climate's not the same.
- What you described was the the sort of the immigrant, sort of, diaspora story - Throughout history.
- of forever.
- Exactly.
- My mom did that when she moved to America.
She's like, "I don't have these ingredients.
I gotta make Korean food with what I got.
" - Yep, yep.
- There's a saying, like - Yeah.
- "Water will find its way.
" It will just flow nicely, and it will find a way.
- So, you had a shop in Syria? - Yeah.
We will now start with the first phase, installing the meat on the shawarma skewer.
After we finish with this piece, we must open it, so that it is thin and not thick.
The style of shawarma you're doing, is it different than other shawarma in Beirut? Definitely, 100%.
We are dealing here with the Syrian way.
I never use veal, only lamb meat.
This is what we are used to.
I pride myself on being Syrian.
How long have you been doing this type of shawarma? I have been working in this field for 37 years now.
The masters who were working in the field were keen not to let the secret of the manufacture of shawarma be disclosed to others.
I was forced, at that time, to spy on them through a crack in the door, curved like that to be able to know how to make this skewer, then I ran away quickly before the chef saw me.
We came because things became difficult in Syria.
I left since I am the breadwinner of my family.
I had to support my children.
The element that caused our fame was our Syrian customers.
Some of them come daily to me.
This shop belongs to them.
So what you did for other countrymen was provide a bit of home when you no longer were in your home country anymore.
My grandma started a restaurant when she left Vietnam and came to America.
It was called Homeland Café.
You know, people would go there, not just to be nourished physically, but it's evidence that we still exist, that we're surviving.
And not just surviving, we're excelling in this new in our new home.
Had I not come to Lebanon, had I ended up in any location in this world, I would have still worked hard to prove to the world that we Syrians are creative, and to show the real face of the Syrian people.
My work will make them admit that the Syrian people still exist.
I feel that in what you're doing and what you're sharing with me.
I I feel that spirit.
Aw! - I I I Yes! - Yeah? Uh-huh.
You know, we're right in the middle of these events that are creating all this displacement and refugees.
How How has that shaped this food from the beginning, or how is it going to change things now? See, that's one positive that comes from the Syrian tragedy, is, before the Syrian, you know, uprising, nobody knew much about Syrian food, and there were no Syrian food to be had anywhere.
Oh - Mm-hmm.
- Mm-hmm.
- Good? - Yes, yes.
I like the Syrian way.
All of a sudden, there is a boom in Syrian food, books, restaurants, chefs doing pop-ups.
And that's because there are so many refugees settling in different countries.
They bring their food with them, and they introduce the host country to it.
You cooked for Angela Merkel.
- You cooked for the Berlin Film Festival.
- Yeah.
But I'm the most important person you've cooked for, right? No, no.
My restaurant, it's home.
- Mm.
- Do everything like if you will do - the food for your family.
- Mm-hmm.
When Syrian people eat here, what do they say? Usually they say, "This is like the food of our mother.
" Mm-hmm.
All the customer I think they have same mother.
Where's your mother? - Is your mother here? - No, in Damascus now.
- Still in Damascus.
- Mm-hmm.
Why did you leave? - It's not choice.
- Yeah, you had to leave.
I had to.
How quickly did you have to leave? One weeks.
- You had one week, and then - Yeah, in one week.
I traveled to live in Jordan.
In Amman, in the capital.
In Jordan, you were a TV chef.
- You're the Queen of Kitchen.
- Kitchen.
And then, why did you come to Germany? My husband, he cannot find any work, because he's Syrian.
But you had a thing happening.
You were the queen of the kitchen in Jordan, and did you have to start over when you got here? My husband start to let the people know, "My wife, she had a cook show.
" All the people, they were so interested to meet me and taste my food.
They were for waiting me to open the restaurant.
- You felt like people wanted it.
- Yes.
They wanted to see something different.
Right now, some people are really scared of refugees and people coming.
It hurts so much to see your people.
They need help.
They don't want to live in the camp or in tents.
Do you think that cooking Syrian food for people - Mm-hmm.
- is going to change people's minds - about refugees? - Yes.
- Do you really think so? - Yes.
Because if I will cook something delicious and let you taste this and when you will taste and feel some some love inside this dish.
The food, it's common language.
If any country has a war, everyone should save part of the heritage And the kitchen, it's very important part in a heritage.
Mm! Oh, I like the yogurt.
It's so It's, like, a little bit sour.
- Yes.
- It's really bright.
- Mm.
- You will eat pan, also? I want Malakeh, as a Syrian woman, to be a brand.
To tell all the people we are hard worker.
We have a lot of things in our culture to share to the people.
And I want the Syrian kitchen to be international, like Italian or like French.
Or Chinese.
Sure, the Chinese It's already international.
- I am the least optimistic person.
- Yeah.
But I do believe that, in time, in 20, 30, or how many given years, people will know the difference between what's Palestinian, what's Israeli, what's Lebanese, what's Iraqi, what's Iranian.
I do believe that because if you look at how it's happened with other food cultures, - it happens.
- Yeah.
- Mm-hmm.
- Twenty-five years ago, no one knew what extra-virgin olive oil was.
I have to believe.
That's why I started my businesses.
You know? I knew that I wanted more than just a food business.
I knew that Oakland needed that.
Like, we have a gift to be resilient, despite the political turmoil around us, over and over again.
And now that's needed here in this country.
Just a fold.
Just one simple fold.
Is that cool? The more we can find commonalities, the more we can show that we're sort of the fucking same, maybe we're going to be more open to someone being very different with their religion or political values.
If I can find commonality through how we eat and being able to share an experience and then realize that we all wanna eat well "This is rich, this is delicious.
" That is fucking amazing.
I really believe, if something is delicious, ultimately, it will win.
Maybe not immediately, because it has to fight through, like, cultural walls and barriers.
- Yes, yes.
- But over time, deliciousness wins.

Previous Episode