A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

… and newness creeps in: Lebanese restos in New York

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on October 13, 2008

Yesterday morning I was idly flipping through the pages of the latest Time Out New York when I saw this on the restaurant page:

On the top left, an announcement about a new Lebanese restaurant opening in midtown:

Naya means “new” in Arabic, and this Middle Eastern restaurant is going for a modern look—white walls and backlit Phoenician hieroglyphics—with an accessible menu. Watch out for hummus and chicken shawarma, plus wines and beers from Lebanon.

I’ll leave skewering the “modern” Phoenician hieroglyphics to someone else. What puzzled me was the statement that “naya” translates as “new”. Confused, I turned to my living Lebanese dictionary, who was trying to sleep in.

Have you ever heard of the word “naya”, meaning “new”? I asked.

Hunh? H replied, clearly hoping that I would abandon my early-bird ways and let him drift back to sleep. In the end, though, he agreed that he had never heard the word “naya”.

I can’t find it in my Arabic dictionary, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I did find a website called Baby Namer that also lists Naya as an Arabic girl’s name meaning “new”. And of course, in Beirut there is always the Karakas Communist bar Abou Elie – which as this Facebook group points out also goes by the name Naya. (Abou Elie is the only bar I have frequented that provides fresh fruit as bar nibbles. Fancy a banana with your beer? You’ve come to the red – er, right – place.)

Where I do see naya listed as meaning “new” is in online Hindi/Urdu dictionaries. Maybe its Lebanese origin is the gift of the Arab world’s many subcontinental workers.

Does anyone know about this? Do any of you use the word “naya” for new? I’m mystified – but I would love to learn.

Back to Time Out: the article on the top right-hand side of the page featured Ilili, another New York Lebanese restaurant that opened last year, and its new specialty: Lebanese ice cream.

Here’s the magazine’s description:

Imagine your ice cream isn’t creamy and dense, but stretchy like taffy, or melting while still seemingly solid. It would be tempting to chalk it up to the work of some zany chef tooling around with chemicals and turning food logic on its head. But that’s not the case at ilili, where chef Philippe Massoud makes chewy ice cream($9 for three scoops) that boggles the mind, using age-old techniques. In order to achieve the springy texture of his confection, which comes in pistachio and ashta (milk) flavors, he follows a traditional Lebanese recipe—albeit one aided greatly by modern machinery. Massoud works in small batches, making an eggless base of milk, sugar, flavorings and a solution of salep, the powdered tuber of an orchid native to Turkey that acts as a thickener and gives the dessert its gummy consistency. After the mixture passes through an ice cream machine and Massoud kneads it in a bread mixer, it’s transformed into a thick and pliant mass that you can stretch with your hands. In the mouth, it’s like an ice cream marshmallow, cold and spongy, slowly dissolving while remaining chewable.

Ugh, said H when I asked him about it. Apparently not all traditional dishes excite warmth in Lebanese hearts – although I can say that mine warmed immediately at the mention of 2ashta, which New York dieters should realize is clotted cream, not milk. And it is delicious.

6 Responses to “… and newness creeps in: Lebanese restos in New York”

  1. ajnabiya said

    All I can say after reading the description of the ice cream is “YUM!” And, I am jealous…we have a few good Lebanese places here in Atlanta, but no one attempts the ice cream. I will have to live on the memory of the treat I enjoyed last in Zahle…by the Berdowny river…mmmmm..

  2. snarla said

    Never heard of Naya. Every time I read something like this I go scurrying for the dictionaries, because I’m hardly going to claim that I know every word in Arabic.
    But that one’s a head-scratcher.

  3. Hello sabaya🙂

    Ajnabiya, glad to have brought back such good memories! And Snarla, thanks for checking on “naya”. It remains a mystery word!

  4. ST said

    First of all, i have to say: that ice cream sounds decidedly ‘dimashqiya’, not Lebanese – though you do find it in Zahle, and at Al-Shami bakery on Mar Elias😉

    I have known girls named Naya, but i never thought of looking it up in a dictionary…but i can definitely confirm that I’ve never heard it used in everyday conversation to mean “new”.
    At first glance, I thought maybe they misspelled and mistranslated ‘nayeh’ = raw…though I imagine that wouldnt be a very appetizing name for a restaurant for most New Yorkers!

  5. ZZMOM said

    IN LEBANON I HEARD “NAYA” USED AS A GIRL’S NAME…WHEN I ASKED ABOUT THE MEANING…I WAS TOLD THAT THE PARENTS CHOSE IT AS A SHORTENED VERSION OF ‘SEDNAYA’…THE CHURCH IN SYRIA…

  6. Hiiiii ST – we miss you! Too funny about the Shami ice cream – I have a feeling that this chef would not consider your description a compliment😛

    I wondered whether “naya” was supposed to be “nayeh”, since “raw” is I suppose a type of “new”. But you’re right: this would not be a turn-on for most US diners.

    ZZMom, welcome! I have been to Sidnaya, and I love the idea that people name their daughters after that beautiful place. It does seem a bit inappropriate for a restaurant, though :)!

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