A Lebanese Roadtrip to Granville in Search of Fig Jam: In Search of Abu Hussein
So the story starts like this. We (the MMCC girls) were given a very lovely gift by an equally lovely food writer, Helen Greenwood, who came to our kitchen for lunch. It was a jar of Cooked Fig Jam. Imagine a thick, sticky jam, stuffed with figs and almonds and sesame seeds. Sweet but not sickly. Thick enough to eat with a spoon. Straight from the jar.
So we inspected the jar, and saw that the jam was made in Syria, Al Waha brand, imported by a company in Granville. So Natanya calls the importer, who puts us on to the retailer, and to cut a long story short, we made a plan to collect a few more jars of this delicacy at a central location, courtesy of the guys (Ahmed and Mahmoud) at Abu Hussein in Granville. We then pledged to take a road trip to Granville. We needed more of this stuff!
But in the mean time, the first thing we wanted to do with our precious jar of goodness was to bake something with it. Hamantashen! Little triangular biscuits that we usually fill with jam, chocolate or poppy seeds. A perfect vehicle for this delectable jam, and a beautiful cross-cultural collaboration.
Not only did Ahmed and Mahmoud send us fig jam, but they also sent a jar of apricot jam – crammed with whole jammied turkish apricots. As soon as we opened the jar, we shmeared them on hot toast with Pepe Saya butter for morning tea…mmm. And, by the way, shmear is a technical term in our kitchen – we use it quite a lot. We also used the apricots in a little puff pastry treat a few weeks ago. The apricots have the right balance of sweetness and tartness, and the texture is divine just like glaceed fruit. They are very easy to eat straight out of the jar.
So we set a date to pack up the car and head to Granville. (I should really point out now that Granville is about half an hour from my place, and we didn’t even need to cross the Harbour Bridge!) We compiled a list, thanks to Helen Greenwood (again!), so that at least we knew where to visit. But numero uno on our list was of course ABU HUSSEIN, the grocery store that had so generously supported our fig jam (and created our apricot jam) habit.
First stop: ABU HUSSEIN 170 Clyde Street, Granville.
The shop itself is just off Clyde street, down a side street, and the entrance is quite inconspicuous. We are here!
We walk in gingerly, feeling like we have wandered off the street and into Lebanon. It is absolutely fantastic!! The store is packed with men and women calmly filling baskets and trolleys with all manner of Middle Eastern delicacies. It is busy, but not hectic. The shelves are crammed with our familiar fig jam and much, much more.
We grab a basket each and start shopping. The local ladies are so kind and helpful, pointing us in the direction we need. Sesame-seed-encrusted rings of bread, piles of fresh warm lebanese bread, arrays of chillies, baby eggplants, exotic juices, jams, pickles of all varieties, enough varieties of hummus and tahini to drive you nuts, olives, nuts…and so on. Definitely worth going back soon.
Next stop BEIRUT BAKERY, 66 South Street, Granville. Lebanese bread. That’s all. But hot, fresh and fabulous. No photos allowed of the inside of the bakery, but you can have a peek at the conveyor belt and the room PACKED from floor to ceiling with packets of bread. So we bought, and we ate, and we carted many packets home.
Next stop, heaven. EL SWEETIE, 75 South Street, Granville. Pretty much across the road from Beirut Bakery. A baklawa-lover’s DREAM PLACE. Wow. A truly mouth watering and spectacular selection of baklawa, knef, mamoul…but sadly you can only eat so much in one day.
Next stop (yes we know what you are going to say) was LUNCH. Like we needed lunch after all that. We were recommended EL JANNAH charcoal chicken at 4-6 South Street. We were already pretty full, but when you are on a mission, what choice do you have.
Lunch was delicious. Natanya lined up and ordered, I held the table and then we scoffed down their wonderful chicken with a generous side of garlic sauce. Phew. Full on garlic taste, the sort that reminds you that you;ve eaten it all day long. Nevertheless, a great lunch after a hard morning.
After we’d had bread, sweets and lunch all in the wrong order, it was time to find the best basmati rice in town. Our book is loaded with great basmati rice recipes and we have learnt over the years that a good quality basmati can make the difference between an ordinary dish and spectacular one.
So we headed straight to TAJ at 11 Harbord Street, Granville. Wandering through the dusty warehouse crammed with Indian and Pakistani goods, we found the rice. Sacks and sacks of the stuff. We each bought a 5 kg bag of Lal Quilla Basmati. Hard to believe that a couple of months later, mine is now long gone – we eat a ton of rice at my house – and it was a beautfiul rice with the longest grains you have ever seen. (Another great Basmati that we do enjoy is the organic basmati from the Sydney website Honest To Goodness.)
So we came home fully laden with shopping bags, stuffed to the eyeballs with delicious Lebanese fare and happy as anything.
Mission completed and, having had a really wonderful day, we hope to do it all again soon.