Two Months in a Lebanese Kitchen

In 2003, I spent two months in Lebanon. Our family home is built at the peak of a mountain. The drive is gated in black iron. There is an orchard running the length of the house and drive, and a balcony where I sat to drink tea and coffee with my grandparents while they still lived.


Aunt Ghada under a peach tree in the family orchard. Kayfoun, Lebanon, 2003.

Food is a highlight of Lebanese culture. I was invited into my youngest aunt, Ghada’s kitchen as she pinched dough and mixed fillings. She taught me to cook with my eyes and my nose. I kept a journal of what we made, a journal of scents translated into words scrawled in English and Arabic. There were no measuring spoons or temperatures to cook by–just fresh ingredients and an apron. For two summer months I sweated in that square kitchen under my aunt’s careful eye. I arrived back at my home in Indiana with 25 family recipes, a new method of washing dishes, and an as yet unfulfilled wish for a gas stove.

My aunt taught me more than food; she taught me about culture, family and secrets. “These are our family recipes,” she said. “I don’t even know exactly how your Aunt Fahima makes her famous chicken. That is her secret. Always,” she told me, “hold something back.”

In future posts, you will find many of my family’s recipes. Many you will recognize from my old recipe blog. When I began that blog years ago, I mentioned that my aunt shared her secrets with me. You will not find those secrets here. The social world is already filled with unwarranted sharing. A little mystery is sacred. But I promise you will not miss what I hold back.

Shawna Ayoub

Shawna Ayoub is an essayist, fiction writer, poet and instructor with an MFA in creative writing from Indiana University. Some of her work has been published in The Manifest-Station, Role Reboot, [wherever], The Huffington Post, The Oxford Review and Exit 7. Her writing explores the intersections of race, place and survivorship. She writes with honesty about her own experience in order to transform pain.

0 Discussion to this post

  1. Amna says:

    So excited about the food posts – you’ve piqued my curiosity already with the words ‘traditional’ and ‘secret’! 🙂

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