Basketball took me everywhere when I was a teenager. My teammates and I would play along España in Manila, where many times we had to stop the game to let a jeepney pass.
We also joined leagues in other places. I played a lot in Philamlife Homes on West Avenue, Quezon City. After the games, we would hang out at the stores in the park to take our refreshments.
There, my attention would fall on flatbreads being sold in the store. I learned that there were a lot of Middle Eastern students who lived in the area and bought these breads. I had no idea what they were supposed to be eaten with.
The next time I saw these breads again was on the streets of Northern Europe. It was the first time I saw a huge chunk of meat swirling in a roaster. The chef had a huge knife and he would shave off thin slices of grilled meat, then stuff it inside the flatbread along with tomatoes and onions and some white sauce that I later learned was garlic yogurt.
It looked so good I had to try it. With the hot sandwich in my hand, an iced Coke in my pocket and cold air blowing from my mouth, I would walk the streets of London, humming my way back to the hotel. I went back to that food place every day up to the time I left.
That was my introduction to Middle Eastern cuisine. I would also feast on a Gyro sandwich along Broadway in New York City as a student, and later on, at Myson De Gyro on Rue St. Michel in Paris.
The Gyro craze soon caught on in Manila, but it was far from what I used to eat in Europe. The ones made here are so thin they look like lumpiang shanghai.
In search of the authentic
I’ve always been in search of well-made, authentic Middle Eastern cuisine. I love the use of different herbs and spices, and how a simple meat dish is transformed into something interesting. I particularly enjoy basmati rice with a variety of herbs and spices.
Many Middle Eastern restaurants have opened in Manila. A handful serve authentic and delicious dishes, but a lot more are pale versions of the genuine ones.
A Middle Eastern restaurant is like a burger place to me. Anytime I see one, I have to try it. Most of them serve the same dishes, but seldom do I find a dish that will surprise me.
A recent tip from friends from Cebu made me visit a Middle Eastern restaurant along the Burgos area in Makati City called Ziggurat. I ended up going there three days in a row, and I just had to let my family try it, too.
Ziggurat, I am told, has been in operation for the past 10 years. There is an open dining area with tables having throw pillows on the floor. As I sat down, I was handed what looked like a newspaper, which turned out to be the menu. It had a pretty extensive list.
I was so confused about what to order that I just asked: “What are your bestsellers?” I ended up with a platter of nine dips called Mezze Sampler, eaten with flatbread. I favored some over the others, but eventually ate and finished them all.
For another appetizer, I had the Moroccan chicken hearts. Interesting, but the flavors were not that great.
What blew my mind and kept me raving during the meal were the ground beef and lamb, and the Chicken Tikka, which came with a most delicious Delhi Tingle rice and the even better Yemeni Lemon Ginger rice. These were so full of unique flavors, I had to take some home to the family.
There was also Couscous T’faya, an African lamb stew. And my wife Tessa told me she enjoyed the Moussaka that I let her try.
There are so many more items on the menu that I know I will go back to this place again and again. The owner told me that Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi had three Filipino cooks who escaped during the crisis in Libya. He met the three cooks, and they taught him how to cook the late strongman’s favorite dishes, all of them spicy—which are now included in the Ziggurat menu. I would love to try what Gadhafi eats.
Ziggurat is at 101 Sunette Tower, Makati Ave. cor. Durban St. Call tel. nos. 9752912 and 8975179. From Edsa Buendia, turn right to Makati Avenue, right to Burgos, then left on the first street.
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