Near East feast

Have you ever pictured yourself fighting next to Peter O'Toole in the epic movie "Lawrence of Arabia," or laying down in a white tent in an oasis surrounded by date palms and a flaming desert while savoring some Middle East specialties? To explore the cuisine of Iran, Israel and South Arabia, the modern languages and culture department hosted a lecture focused on traditional foods served in these countries.

"This program blends very nicely with our cross cultural attitude at Santa Monica College," said Jeanne Laurie, administrative assistant for the departments of modern languages and cultures.

Linda Zwang-Weissman, a Hebrew professor at SMC, talked about several Jewish holiday foods, their meaning, and how the food has been developed specifically for each area that Jewish people have settled across the world.

"Wherever Jewish [people] live they have adopted and embellished from the local culture such as Egypt and Rome, Germany and Spain, Russia and Hungry," said Zwang-Weissman.

Shabbat is theseventh day of the Jewish week where they rest, enjoy quality time with their family, and share community style meals together. The traditional Shabbat evening meal includes chicken soup, gefilte fish, challah bread, and kugel – "a noodle or potato pudding."

Hanukah, one of the most widely recognized Jewish holidays, is based on commemorating the story of a jar of oil that was filled with only enough to burn in the temple for one day, but miraculously lasted for eight. "Because of this, traditional Hanukah food is rich in oil," said Zwang-Weissman.

Professor Banafsheh Pourzangiabadi presented the Persian cuisine and explained how Asians, Assyrians, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, and Turks, among others, influenced it.

"The kebab is probably the most important introduction by the Turks, and has become one of the national dishes," said Pourzangiabadi.

Persian cuisine gets its taste from herbs, spices and fruits.  It also mixes cold and hot food to balance the dishes.

She pointed out that rice is also an essential part of diet in Iran. "Iranian food without rice is not Iranian," said Pourzangiabadi. Aside from being prepared to accompany main courses, rice is also used for sweets like rice cookies and pastries.

SMC Professor Awad Awad presented the Arabic food and noted the similarities in recipes shared between the areas of North Africa, southern Asia, eastern Mediterranean and Arabian Peninsula.

"What we eat in Morocco [is] not that different than what we eat in Syria," he said.

He presented different recipes such as Musakhkhan, a national dish made with chicken, onions, olive oil, sumac, pepper and pita bread.

"I was excited because it was all the different cultures too, not just one. You have to learn all them to get the full [effect] of any Middle Eastern cultures," said Lashaun Fisher, 23.

"Wouldn't it be just wonderful if all of the people busy killing each other will say let's sit down, have a meal, and talk about what we talk and what we have in common," said professor Fern Margolis.