Tasting Home in a Restaurant in Jordan
The Secret Relation Between an Arabian Dish and Taiwan's
"Never knew how close they were, Middle East cuisine and Taiwan," said the 'Daughter of Taichung' when she first encountered Mulukhiyah in a restaurant in Jordan.
The Secret Relation Between an Arabian Dish and Taiwan'sBy Shueau
There is a mysterious relationship between a local delicacy in Taichung and a common Arabic dish.
Growing up in Taichung, I have long taken pride in our one-of-a-kind local cuisine. Speaking of Taichung, if the first thing that pops into your head is the famous Sun Cakes (太陽餅), I would say you know nothing about Taichung cuisine. In fact, Sun Cakes have never won the hearts of Taichung locals, well, okay, at least not for me. I’m perhaps even more interested in Wife Cakes (老婆餅).
You can find a lot of unheard-of foods in Taichung, such as the “thick soup noodles” I have grown up eating. This dish which my mother often cooks for me holds a sacred spot in my heart. Yet, when I went to college, I was shocked by the fact that no one in my class knew what thick soup noodles were. What's more heartbreaking is that I’ve been seeking and seeking in the streets of Taipei, but never finding a single stall selling my favorite thick soup noodles. It was not until then that I realized it was a dish peculiar to Taichung. I suddenly felt quite sorry for my classmates.
The Curious Green Soup in Jordan──Molokhiya
After leaving Taipei for Jordan, I once had a chance to dine at the most well-known restaurant in Amman–Al Quds. As I scanned through the mouth-watering menu with a rumbling tummy, I spotted a dish I have never seen before–Molokhiya（ ملوخية）. Getting a bit tired of roti and beans, I decided to give this weird-looking green soup a try.
The curious green soup was quickly served. It looked like some kind of spinach soup with a weird twist. I felt a spark of anxiety, as the soup didn’t look quite assuring. Yet when I tried a sip, my head was bombarded with questions. How come it tasted so familiar? Why did I feel like I have tried this before? Why did the image of Taichung Park suddenly emerge in my mind? What….what was this taste? Wasn't it the Soup of Jutes I have been eating since I was a child?
A Secret Delicacy in Taichung–Soup of Jutes(麻芛湯)
Thank you, readers, for bearing with my boring monologue. I can’t believe I have already written 500 words just to bring up the topic–The Soup of Jutes.
The soup of jutes, along with some other jute leave recipes, is a local delicacy that can be found in Nantun, Taichung (台中南屯). Though they are quite common on the family table in this district, they are little known to outsiders.
Jute belongs to the genus Corchorus. It is the tender leaves of a Corchorus plant, an edible vegetable that is very common in the traditional markets in Taichung.
Jute leaves are never stir-fried. In Taichung, we usually cook them into soup, along with some whitebait and sweet potato. We often drink it cold in summer, as some sort of special cool-off treat. There is something in the leaves that thickens the soup, which also allows the jute mallow to be made into jute nougat candies, jute biscuits, jute popsicles, jute bread…tons of other products.
I know jutes like the back of my hand. Why? Because I live right next to the Jute Art Culture Museum in Taichung. Jute is such a historical treasure to the Nantun community that the locals built a museum to promote the culture of jute. I used to go to the art museum for field trips, trying jute dyeing on my own. With a childhood intertwined with jutes, I was as if brought up by the plant. I am the daughter of jutes.
Mulukhiyah–A Middle-Eastern Homemade Recipe
Why did I suddenly jump to the topic of jutes? Because the mysterious green soup I’ve found in the streets of Jordan tasted exactly like the Soup of Jutes in my hometown. This secret local dish that none of my classmates in Taipei have ever heard of turned out to be a common homemade recipe in Jordan.
Mulukhiyah, ‘the food of the kings,’ is known as an Egyptian national soup. It is a common dish in Middle East countries. Arabians would mash the Egyptian spinach and cook it into soup, just exactly what we do in Taichung. What differs is that we have it as cold soup in hot summer days, while Mulukhiyah is always served hot in the Middle East, poured over some pilaf or served with rotis.
In the Middle East, recipes of Mulukhiyah vary a bit from country to country. Arabians in Jordan, Syria, and Palestine usually add some chopped chicken into the soup, while in Alexandria, a port city in northern Egypt, seafood is added to rich the taste.
The unexpected encounter with Mulukhiyah in a restaurant in Jordan cast a ripple of nostalgia in the heart of the daughter of Taichung. Next time I get to travel in the Middle East, I would definitely spare some time to enjoy another bowl of this green soup that tastes exactly like home.
Never knew how close they were, Middle East cuisine and Taiwan.
Translated by Sharon Tseng.
Crossing features more than 200 (still increasing) Taiwanese new generation from over 110 cities around the globe. They have no fancy rhetoric and sophisticated knowledge, just genuine views and sincere narratives. They are simply our friends who happen to stay abroad, generously and naturally sharing their stories, experience and perspectives. See also CrossingNYC.
This article is reproduced under the permission of Shueau. It presents the opinion or perspective of the original author / organization, which does not represent the standpoint of CommonWealth magazine.