The Middle East seems so far from us. A distant land, a mirage flickering on the horizon of a sea of shifting sands. A thing of fairy tales and ancient crumbling cities or news segments of violence and revolution. However regardless of this detached image of the Middle East this culture really isn’t that far away, but rather it can be found right around the corner or down street if you know where to look and have some help finding it…
For most Americans when it comes to the Middle East there is no in between. It is either this place of terrifying violence as displayed by the news or dramatic cinematic images of the Lawrence of Arabia variety (as described above). However despite this well advertised image, the Middle East exists beyond our media and even in our daily lives. Because within Denver you can find a vast representation of this multifaceted culture, from Lebanese restaurants to Moroccan hookah bars and Persian markets. These places blend into the buildings and street corners we drive past every morning. You might not even notice them because they are unfamiliar to you. But, if you so choose, you might want to try these places because in the end you will probably not only learn about an amazing and complex culture but something new about a very familiar place, the place you call home. And if you do, you’ll quickly realize you are missing out on a whole new level of life going on around you. So if you’re looking to gain a little knowledge, experience and possibly adventure here are some suggestions of how you can see a piece of the Middle East while staying inside Colorado. And although it will never be like hoping on a plane, it might just help you get an idea of what it could be like:
Where to go
In order to experience a foreign culture within the U.S. it is important to figure out what people from that region do within our culture to make themselves feel like they are at home. The best way to do this is to be-friend a person of that country/culture but for most of us our groups of friends don’t always resemble the U.N.. Therefore I will do my best to search out activities, stores, shops or cultural events that exist here in Colorado that will give you a taste of that week’s selection. As for this week’s region, there are two things you must do in order to have a Middle Eastern experience (or the closets thing) in our lovely state:
1. Visit a Middle Eastern Market: There are two great markets in the Denver Metro Area one is the Arash International Market in Aurora and the Middle Eastern Market in Denver off of Colorado and Iliff. Both have a variety of Middle Eastern goods for sale. This includes unique spices, teas and Turkish coffees imported from the larger Middle Eastern region. Arash also has a superb selection of authentic hummus that is so good you’ll probably dream of it and then end up driving out to Aurora just to get more. Also a frequent visitor to the market told me that if you go on Thursdays they have fresh produce that is excellent.
2. Hookah: Although most Hookah bars are inhabited by rowdy college and high school students on Friday and Saturday nights, it is also a place of culture. Because Hookah is a large part of many Middle Eastern lifestyles and many people of that region make it apart of their daily lives. Also even if you are not interested in part taking in smoking flavored tobacco, these places often serve excellent Turkish coffee and sometimes desserts. So you could easily find yourself catching dessert and coffee here after a night of Middle Eastern eats. There are a lot of option for Hookah bars in Denver and you would not have to go far to find one either. Habibi Hookah Cafe in Englewood serves great Turkish coffee and if you’re lucky the owner might read your fortune once you’ve finished. Also Marrakech Grill is both restaurant and Hookah bar and therefore can offer you a more complete middle eastern experience.
What to Eat/Drink
Food is always the gateway into any culture. One dish can provide the indescribable essence of any region. It can summarize all the things that cannot be spoken but must be tasted. And that’s is why in order to experience any culture you must eat their food made by them as much as possible. Therefore here are a couple of recommendations of my personal favorite Middle Eastern restaurants in the Denver Metro area. But keep in mind that there are many different types of Middle Eastern restaurants because the term “middle east” is vague and represents a vast variety of different cultures and ethnicity. So I urge you to not stop at my suggestions but to rather use my recommendations as a starter’s guide for you and your culinary exploration of the complex Arabia.
Damascus Grill: Okay so maybe I am partial to Syrian food because my grandmother was half Syrian and I like to pretend that a part of me belongs to this culture but in reality I am just as much of a foreigner as anyone else. But what I do know is what is good to get here because I am a frequent visitor of both its DTC and Littleton location. So for starters you must order hummus (hommus) of course and yoghurt drink if you like yogurt and something tangy. They also they have great authentic Syrian dishes such as Kibbi and Syrian sausage as well as more traditional middle eastern dishes such as shawarma and kabob. Either way you will not be disappointed. And make sure if you’re feeling indulgent to get dessert because they have great exotic desserts you probably have never had such as Rose water Pudding, Saffron pudding and Nammura ( a cake made with almonds, butter, farina and rose water syrup).
Jerusalem’s: This place is a well known institution especially for DU students and has a more funky feel with its small spaces and outdoor seating. However just like Damascus it has great Middle Eastern food and has great traditional dishes as well. I would recommend the gyro or shawarma combo plate. They give you a lot of food as well so it might even be a good idea to share if you and your fellow diner are starving.
What to do at Home
After you’ve wined and dine and explored all that Colorado has to offer for Middle Eastern food and adventures its important to try to bring some of this experience back home with you. This way it will not be a one time thing, rather you can make this experience, just as you do with your travels, a part of your home life. So I encourage you to buy souvenirs, take note of your favorite dishes and experiences so that you can try them doing it yourself. You might even be able to use your new found recipes or skills useful for a party or you can use them as a way to teach your friends or kids about this new culture. This way you can easily expand your repertoire of cooking skills or at least acquire new interesting decorative pieces for your house. One way you can do this for Middle Eastern culture is attempt to make Turkish or Arabic coffee.
The first thing you’ll need is a Turkish Coffee Pot (also known as an ibrik), you can buy them at either the middle eastern markets discussed earlier or at World Cost Plus Market. They run anywhere from $16 t0 $40, but there is no need to spend more the $20. Next you will have to purchase Arabic coffee, which does not necessarily have to be from the Middle East (although cardamom aspects of Turkish coffee are distinct and delicious to the region). Rather you can buy any type of coffee you like and grind the beans extra fine. I recommend you use the in-store grinders found at most grocery stores since they often have a Turkish coffee setting. This way you will ensure that you have the beans ground correctly which is very important for making Turkish coffee. Below you’ll find the necessary steps to making turkish coffee, along with some pro tips.:
- Add water to the ibrik, about 1.5 ounces of water per cup of coffee
- Add sugar to taste then stir
- Bring to a boil, remove from heat and add a teaspoon of coffee per cup
- Boil coffee.
- Remove the ibrik from heat immediately after bringing to a first boil
- Boil coffee again.
- Allow remaining powder to settle before serving. Add an ice cube to the pot after boiling twice to speed the process and sink the grounds to the bottom of the pot.
Pro tip: Make sure that you do not drink all of the coffee in your cup and rather leave the very bottom untouched because that is where most of the grinds still reside (and if you choose you can flip your cup upside down and leave it to dry so that you can read your fortune in the patterns left on the interior walls of your coffee cup).
Hopefully after you have done, ate, drank and made all things Arabic you will feel a little closer to understanding this region. And maybe you will find it is something you want to incorporate into your daily life or maybe you’ll realize it’s just not for you. Either way you will come out with a new experience that will show you not only how others live in different parts of the world but also how they live in our own community.