Some people are naturally gifted when it comes to ordering meals in restaurants. I, on the other hand, often manage to make ordering the simplest item (a cup of tea, for example) into a monumental task.
So perhaps it was fated that Saturday’s dinner with my aunt and uncle should produce some khaltic cringing.
They decided to take me to their favorite Lebanese restaurant, Tanureen (which my aunt wrote about here). Taking someone who lives in Lebanon to a Lebanese restaurant in Kuwait might have frightened off fainter souls, but my aunt & uncle are made of stern stuff.
Good thing, because I was about to become a small, diamond-wearing bull in a china shop.
Only this china shop was a Lebanese restaurant covered from floor to ceiling in mustard-yellow, Bedouin (or maybe Palestinian) textiles. The effect was lovely – warm and welcoming, reminiscent of a homey tent – but Lebanese it was not.
Tannourine, the village for which Tanureen is named, is a lush mountain-side spot in northern Lebanon. Its spring provides the water for one of the country’s best-known bottled water brands, the eponymous Tannourine, whose motto is: “The cedars drink Tannourine.”
The Tannourinis would probably die if they knew that Kuwaitis associated them with desert tents rather than snow-capped cedars.
But while I had indeed brought a bottle of Tannourine water with me on the plane (just ask me how secure I think the Beirut airport security procedures are … ), I hadn’t gone to Tanureen to defend the sensibilities of Lebanese Tannourinis. My troubles with the restaurant began with the beverages.
I didn’t feel like drinking tea, but I wanted something warm. So I asked for white coffee, i.e., water with an infusion of hot something or other: rose water, orange water, lemon water. I like lemons, so I asked for a white coffee made with lemon water.
The water, a tall older Egyptian man in a tuxedo, looked at me in horror. Apparently, white coffee was not on the menu.
So I did what H often does in Seattle: asked for hot water with some lemon in it.
The waiter looked at me again. I had been speaking English, but switched to Arabic, thinking that it might make my request more clear.
“Hot water with lemon,” the waiter said, laughing. “What you want is one hot lemon.”
I wasn’t sure that this was actually what I wanted, but a hot lemon seemed to be the best of the available options.
When it came, I realized my mistake. The cup and teapot looked innocuous enough.
But when I began pouring, I realized what I had ordered.
“One hot lemon” was just that: strained lemon juice, heated to boiling in a teapot. It looked like something else, and it tasted like … like I was sucking on a lemon.
“Oh well,” my aunt said, noticing my puckered up face. “At least we know you won’t get scurvy.”
And then I tried ordering a salad. The menu listed two salads that looked intriguing: the Tanureen salad, and the seasonal salad.
What is in the Tanureen salad? I asked the waiter.
We have many salads, he answered, Zen-like.
I tried again.
What is in the Tanureen salad?
Tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions. It is a green salad, he told me.
Okay, I said. What’s in the seasonal salad?
Same-same, he told me. They are the same.
But the prices are different, I said, confused.
Yes, he said.
You know, my uncle said, raising his eyebrows, we come here all the time and never have any trouble ordering.
So I just ordered “a salad”, and waited until the bill came to determine which one I had eaten.
The salad was delicious, as was the fish (especially with the special “hot lemon” sauce I added to it). But I don’t think my aunt and uncle will be taking me back to Tanureen on my next visit – or if they do, I imagine that they will ask for a children’s menu for me.