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February 27, 2004

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Food that Nurtures the Soul
Arysha's Lebanese delights at our doorstep

Imran H. Khan

There was once a very trivial question that many people sought hard to answer, "Do we live to eat or do we eat to live?" Even though it had boggled the minds of many people for many ages, it does not bother much the present generation of food freaks that happily go to restaurants and eateries and simply eat for the 'pure joy of eating'. The equation for 'eating' is directly proportional to 'cooking' because as we all know something that's not too appealing we won't appreciate, as to something that looks like it has been sent from above. Such is the fine art that melts the hearts of men, the delicacy of which can be judged from simply its aroma.

In sync with the art of cooking, Arysha Catering Services Ltd. located in South Link Road, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan 1, recently had a gala opening ceremony to welcome to its parlour a great magnitude of food lovers of Dhaka. This is a restaurant from Lebanon that had crossed many harsh lands to come to us with a wide range of exotic, Middle Eastern food. What makes Lebanon hell for people on a diet is the the fact that this country specialises in a lot of items such as kebab (usually plane lamb or beef with or without vegetables as garnish), kibbeh (minced lamb meat with a form of wheat), shawarma (chicken or lamb and a lot of other fillings within two breads), falafel (fried chickpea balls served in pita bread), baba ghanouj (eggplant and tahini dip) and much more. What makes Lebanonese food so appealing is the fact that, "they only cook it using garlic and olive oil which not only makes is healthy but it tastes absolutely astonishing," says Shah Altaf Hossain, one of the six partners who own Arysha. He goes on to say, since we all love to eat we should refrain ourselves from eating useless junk food that does more harm than good and try to eat something nourishing. No points for guessing his favourite place of nourishment.

Arysha means two clusters of ripe grapes side by side on a grape tree. Once you are in Arysha, you may be a little taken aback with the menu because most of the items will have a Middle Eastern ring. Many items may look a little similar but even then, a simple change in the filling or the 'frying mechanism' will surely change the taste of the entire dish. Even though presentation is by far one of the most important elements while a dish is being served, texture and contrast plays a vital part in a meal's success. Take for example something that is very creamy. This item will unquestionably combine best with something that is crispy (and vice versa). Maybe that is why 'potato chips and ketchup' is a couple made in the (food) heavens. Arysha has done well to keep the right amount of contrast to make each dish perfect in terms of taste and appearance.

A four-course meal would surely not be complete without the grand finale of 'sweets'. Arysha has a fiesta of sweets to offer including Boorma (a nutty sweet), Cream caramel, Maamoul b'Ifustik (a biscuit form of sweet with soft crushed nuts inside that just melts in your mouth), Maamoul b'Itamir (a biscuit form of sweet with grape paste filling) and much more still to come.

Arysha's Executive Head chef, Ahmad M. Hammoud, has come from Lebanon with two assistants to train a team of fifty of the establishment's chefs in Lebanonese cuisine. Hammoud, 30 years in the chef business, is modest and says, "I'm not a chef. The word chef means something really great. It's too big a word for a simple person like me to carry." One bite of any of his dish, however, tells another story. Each mouthful is sheer poetry.

Coming from a family with 14 other siblings, he was always interested in what happened in the kitchen. He would regularly "have a finger in the kitchen", nagging his mother about her items and always being critical about everything she cooked. He always had a knack for cooking. A new cooking school had opened in Beirut in 1967 and Hammoud was quick to enrol and completed a three-year diploma. After graduating, he joined Maerush Island, a popular tourist complex in Lebanon. He enjoyed 11 years of his life there and left when the war started and since then, has always been on the move. He has been to Iraq, Egypt, Athens, Dubai, New Zealand, Lebanon, Dubai and finally, to Dhaka. He had been in Iraq for four years and was a cook in the Al Rasheed Presidential Hotel. He used to cook for all the VIP's which was quite challenging he says. "Everything that the people ordered were special dishes and they all had a lot of care put behind them to make them perfect. It was really fun and I always had to be on my toes," says Hammoud. He resigned when the Gulf war started.

Hammoud's favourite dish is homos and he feels very proud of it as it is the asset of the Lebanese kitchen. Married with two children, he has two dishes that are his own creation. Arysha Chicken and Rodi Pasha, the latter being named after his son. Rodi Pasha is simply minced chicken balls, cooked in fresh cream and white sauce, but the final creation has nothing simple about it. Though Hammoud's family is in Dubai, nothing will keep him in one place for too long because itís his passion to travel around the globe. All the while, he is training chefs of different nationalities the secrets of his land's cuisine, leaving not only his marks with the hundreds that he has trained, but also with the thousand whose taste buds he has enticed.

With a wide range of healthy nutritious food, Arysha is the latest addition to the range of gourmet cuisine available all over the city. With their catchy slogan, "People eat to liveÖ Some people eat to live longer", they hope to win the hearts of the food connoisseurs of Dhaka and also make sure what they eat is healthy, wholesome food.

Photo by Imran H Khan

 
         

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