Sydney’s Night Noodle Markets 2013 are held at Hyde Park North from October 9 – 26 (excluding Sundays). This is your last week to enjoy the lively summer ambience of this Oriental event.
Human thrusts milkshake towards me.
Politely, “I’m lactose intolerant”.
Thick silence fills the air, jaws glued to the floor like a gamer’s bottom.
Finally, a valuable moment of relief… “That’s sh**!”
Sigh. Then follow the questions…
Stepping into my grandmother’s home, she proudly exclaims, “I made Labneh, go have some!”
Me: “I can’t Taita, I can’t eat dairy.”
In absolute horror, “You can’t eat dairy?! What is this disease?! Why were you dealt such unjustice?!”
Dessert arrives at the table, selections are assessed: waffles with cookie and cream ice cream, Lindt chocolate lava cake with a dollop of cream, and a lonely dried-up little apple crumble. At least the friends find the juxtaposition of pleasurable calories amusing.
Like many humans (particularly Mediterraneans, Africans and Asians), I am sensitive to dairy and dairy products. The running theme? No one gets it, and many don’t understand how to live with it.
As a foodie, of Lebanese decent, I was raised to eat anything and everything, and in no way, be selective or difficult. However, my intolerance to lactose walks a thin line, as I struggle to satisfy the crucialities of a quality Lebanese grandchild: education, marriage and the ability to eat. I love food, but that free-for-all attitude of intense digestion unrivaled of discontent, and God-forbid, unease, before during and after a yoghurt saturated piece of bread, absolutely throws me. I lose in that arena.
Put simply, lactose intolerance suggests an inability to digest the sugar found in milk, without discomfort or symptoms. Just as simply, it’s not a difficult lifestyle to live. Society is accepting the greater prevalence of food intolerances that were once unheard of, by profiting off conventional new products. Im talking lactose free milk, soy milk, almond milk, rice milk (milk from anything you can milk that isn’t actually milk), soy cheese, lactose free and soy ice creams and yoghurts, sorbet, lactose free chocolate… you get the picture.
Now let’s be honest with ourselves. Your friends will laugh, your mother will cry and baristas will snarl. But lactose intolerance is a great method of staying away from naughty foods, and pretending to live like a true dieter; ice cream, cheese cake and pizza free. So wave your skinny arm in the air and proclaim to the world that YOU ARE LACTOSE INTOLERANT! (Deep breaths) It’s really not so bad.
When our mothers were young, their lives were simpler. It was a life that is still led by the women back home, but doesn’t translate to mother’s current world. The family unit was much tighter, extending to include brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles; sometimes even to the other families in the village. Men worked close to home, unburdened by busy roads, whilst kids would be walked to school. The women would then be left with opportunity to nurture their palaces. So, as the day was set to begin, one thing united the women of the village. Dinner.
Food preparation is a lengthy process. Vegetables picked, dough moulded, beans broken and leaves rolled.
In the village, it pleasantly embodied the strong aroma of Lebanese coffee and sound of women laughing, blanketed by the Middle East’s warm, crisp sun. These ladies were not unified by the burden of feeding a hungry family, but by the all-encompasing value for perfection, pleasure, celebration and inclusion.
Food brought a family together; blossoming on the finest curve in a sambousik, fragility of a kibbe and richness of a spice. Women weren’t only feeding stomachs, but the hunger for family and togetherness.
Today, food is something we fit in when we can; accessed at our convenience. For some, less is more, seeking the smallest possible calorie intake in the search for physical perfection. For others, more costs less, so Maccas sounds best.
Understandable; contemporary society is demanding, with mothers working outside of the home, families living unaware of their neighbours, and kids focused on body image and Kim Kardashian.
Salwa Khalil, wife, mother of two, full-time worker and Sydney-sider, says that there is not enough time after work to prepare Lebanese foods.
“If life wasn’t so busy, and we needed time to rest and relax, then we’d be cooking and making a lot more of these foods, and keeping the tradition going.”
It raises questions about how and when second generation immigrants could possibly inherit mum’s old ways of cooking. It seems these traditions have become culturally irrelevant to our westernised society. Maybe the way of the future is corn flakes, protein shake lunches and salmon steak dinners. The days of cooking with your hands and your heart may well be over.
“You have to get by with finding the quickest things you can cook at home to have enough time to rest before going to bed, and sometimes that means mixing Lebanese foods with other cultures,” Salwa said.
It’s the curse of living in a city.
As a child in a country town, I was often sent to school with a container of tabouli for lunch. I’d eat it, filling up on feelings of discomfort and difference. I wanted to be like my friends, with their red licorice and meat pie lunch orders.
Thanks to city life, my wish has come true and parsley-cutting time has been limited to weekends.
Suddenly, I want that school yard discomfort back.
Still, in a society of women living at home longer, and marrying later, we’re given lengthier opportunity to adopt mum’s culinary skills. Traditionally, the village girls didn’t venture from the home until they were ready to build their own. None of these I’m moving to Newtown to be a designer proclamations.
It was about getting things done:
Feed kids copious amounts.
Raise kids to be better than their cousins.
Salwa feels that her daughter is learning slowly as she helps in the kitchen, but doesn’t measure up, “when I was her age, I was running a house and a family, so I was much more skilled.”
There is a moment of self-recognised disappointment when your friends want to eat Lebanese food, and you take them to a restaurant.
I’m 20 now, I should be a tabouli-making machine. Instead, I cook a really mean steak!
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not unappreciative of such wholesome foods. I just want to share my appreciation for the food that characterises my Lebanese heritage, by embracing its finest details.
It’s tough, we’re not living in a quiet village in the mountains of Lebanon. We’re living in a fast-paced technology world, getting caught in traffic and checking our Facebooks. But from each leaf you roll, olive you pickle and eggplant you crush, comes a wealth of spirit and knowledge about your culture. So make the time to learn, watch mum’s lip curl as you ask her for guidance, and one day, you’ll be culinarily equipped to continue the legacy, and ensure Lebanese cucumbers are forever stocked at Woolworthes.
But for now, tabouli tastes ok with meat pie on the side.