Thursday, January 25, 2007

Courting the Middle Eastern Way

A few days before Christmas, we stopped at the halal market on San Pablo Avenue for supplies needed for the holiday dinner. Mojo, my mid-western goth boi, has developed a taste for Armenian cooking, and I tend to return to my roots when it's especially cold and rainy.

Leaving Mojo in the truck with Arabis and the Monkey Boi, I dashed through the rain and into the market, quickly gathering the necessities (buglar for pilaf, sharia and some paklava as a treat). As I walked toward the counter to pay for my goods, an older man entered and nodded respectfully to the cashier and the butcher, who was standing nearby.

"Happy New Year" he said in English.

"May we all have a happy new year, insh'allah," came the reply.

They proceeded to talk in a mixture of Arabic and English and I caught the word "basterma."

"Do you have basterma?" I interrupted excitedly.

The reply was an enthusiastic affirmative, and the butcher led me into the back of the store, chatting as we walked. He asked me where I was from and I told him I was Armenian. "Then we are cousins," he replied.

Basterma is a marinated and highly spiced meat product, the end result being somewhat akin to beef jerky...only this stuff is lethal to the uninitiated. Mojo, for some bizarre reason, loves it. One of the few odars (non-Armenians) I've ever met who can stomach it.

He showed me where it was kept and began selected a good package for me.

"No, no...not today," I hurriedly told him. "I don't have enough money today. But now I know you have it for next time."

"Not to worry. You don't need money. *I* will buy you the basterma!"

I quickly objected and he insisted that money was no object and the basterma would be a gift from him and that anytime I wanted basterma or soujuk (a spicy sausage) I should come and see him.

"So," he began, "are you married?"

"Yes," I quickly replied. "He is in the car with the children." (NOTE: This is not true. Mojo and I are not married...but marriage is the only concept which carries any weight in this context.)

"Ah. Then, my beautiful cousin, you must buy your own basterma!"

I walked back to the car in the rain laughing happily.


boogiemum said...

That is funny. Glad to hear from you again. The wedding I went to was for Bubba the Love Sponge. I will give more info in my next post.

Hope you are all back in health soon!

Elaine said...

A perfect little story. Here's to coins in the pocket for married woman basterma!

Kate said...

That sounds tasty. I love me beef jerky!

Anonymous said...

i need to start being more of an Armenian. Ive never even made pilaf. Shame on me!


Artemis Rich said...

You know, I was talking to your Mom during the Christmas season, because your sister had also expressed interest in learning how to make pilaf. Your mother laughed. "They never wanted to learn before," she told me.

I think we need to have a cooking day at my place. We'll make pilaf, string bean stew (meesov fassoulia), yalanchi, kufta...all sorts of good stuff.

My mom was just talking yesterday about wanting to come over and make lavash when it gets warmer. She's got my grandmother's special lavash rolling stick.