As the small bus slowly ascended the curvy narrow road to Beit Jan, one of the all- Druze villages that dot Israel, the unusual downpour of rain and darkening skies made it impossible to see the landscape. Suddenly the bus stopped. It couldn’t make the narrow curve so that it was left to the driver to figure out how to get to our preplanned private dinner. But cell phones do come in handy in situations like this and soon there were two cars and several umbrellas to take us to the home of Salmom Dabbour, a Druze Arab and his family who live in this part of Israel and are citizens of the country.
This evening was a much looked forward to event.
With a population of only 9,000 and located 1000 meters above sea level, making this the highest point in Israel, Salmom told us about the history of the Druze. Their religion has been separated from Islam since 1017 and they believe in one God and reincarnation.
Originally the Druze of Beit Jan concentrated on agriculture but now there’s a high respect for education with many young people obtaining university degrees.
Although they are Arabs and speak Arabic among themselves, they are very good citizens of Israel even going into the army when they are 18 years old along with all other Israeli young girls and boys.
It was unfortunate that we couldn’t see the renowned pastoral view but then the unique experience was more than enough to make up for that. The anticipation of meeting a Druze family in a Druze home in an all Druze village, 800 years old. However, most of the buildings and the Dabbour’s home, are modern, built in the 20th century.
Up several curved stone steps, in this high altitude of more than 1000 metres, the renowned crisp air and unexpected rain, the umbrellas came in handy.
Like family we were greeted into the Nabbour’s private villa. Our wet outer jackets taken, we were lead into a spotless, large room opening onto another area where the dishes for many of the courses were kept, the kitchen hidden behind. The long narrow room where the table had been set had a sparkling white cloth with white napkins and decorated with lacy white curtains. Happily greeting us was Salmom. Cheerily he said “I’m just the server here. Amal is the boss”.
Slamom’s wife, Amal, is a splendid traditional Druze cook who learned her skill from her mother. As part of the Druze tradition is to be hospitable to foreigners so she was pleased when asked to cook her homemade dinners for visitors. She couldn’t believe that she should and could be paid since hospitality, generosity, kindness and spirituality are so much a part of the Druze practice. However, pressured to do this time and again, much to the Dabbours’s surprise, this insight into Druze lifestyle, their authentic cooking became so popular that they started this ‘business’ about 4 years ago and haven’t had a slump.
Our group of 20 was fortunate to get the entire dining room but the house can accommodate up to 50 using the other rooms.The Dabbours decided to keep this evening a private affair giving us their undivided attention.
The meal was a triumph of cuisine and as the dishes were carried out by their daughter with the help of Salmom, we wondered when it would stop. I tried counting and managed up to 15 different dishes, some hot, some cool. One in particular was stuffed spring chicken and to this day, I regret not asking for the recipe.
We started with Amal’s wonderful lentil soup and then an assortment of starters like eggplant with tomatoes, pureed pumpkin, hummus (a must at most mid eastern meals), cauliflower with tahina, majadaara, a bulgar wheat which has been boiled with water and dried for four days and separated 8 times. This organic bulgar was the hit of the appetizers. Then came Maklooubia (chicken rice with herb sauce, fried onions and turned upside down like some grand cake..what a great presentation. Already groaning from too much, little did I realize that there was much more to come. Next was Kofta, a ground lamb with tahini. Lemon which grows abundantly in this region was in most dishes. So for 14 salads, soup, 3 kinds of leaf dishes and two meat dishes and of course dessert, the price is about $150 and worth every moment, every chew and every shekel.
We applauded the shy Amal whom we insisted come out from the hot kitchen.
The rain had let up and the cars were waiting to take us to the bus which somehow had reversed. A meal to remember in a memorable setting.