While we were waiting for the food, we all went up to the roof of the monastery for a view out over the city. !!! These nuns have the best view in the city – it’s insane!!! We were so close to the Dome of the Rock, you felt like you could almost reach out and touch it! By the by – if you’ll indulge another nerdy history rant – the Dome of the Rock (“Qubbat el-Sakhra”, in Arabic) was commissioned to be built by Caliph Abd al-Malik in the 680s CE, making it the oldest known Islamic structure on Earth. The rock that gives the ‘Dome of the Rock’ it’s name, is, according to Muslim tradition, the rock on which Muhammad was standing when he ascended into heaven. And, underneath the rock there’s this cave that Muslims call the ‘Well of Souls’ where the souls of the dead supposedly linger before they disappear into the afterlife. Spooky in a cool way 😉After taking in the amazing sights, we came back downstairs where the nuns presented us with bag after bag after bag of food. We thanked them about a thousand times over, lots of hugging and besos and then we started the walk back to the hotel/monastery where Stephen, Jad and Shadee were staying. Thing is, we were so hungry and anxious to taste the food that for now we could just smell, that Shadee and I peeled back the tinfoil covering one of the trays to reveal a steaming pile of kibbeh (ground lamb or beef cooked into patties with bulgar wheat, garlic, sumac, and pine nuts). The smell overwhelmed everyone and one by one, as we walked, all the kibbeh disappeared. So worth it.
We got back to the hotel around 7, and started unwrapping the rest of the food. There was tabbouli (a salad made with finely chopped parsley, bulgur, mint, tomato, scallion, and other herbs with lemon juice, olive oil, and all spice) grilled eggplant, chicken cooked with sumac (a deep-red spice made from the ground berries of sumac plants – tastes kind of lemony and awesome) and served over rice, hummus (mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini (paste made from ground sesame seeds), olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic), fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, meat pies, kibbeh nayyeh (raw kibbeh), stuffed kousa (stuffed zucchini), kafta (ground lamb grilled with spices – sort of like a hamburger, but better), stuffed grape leaves, and fresh pita bread. You know that scene in Chocolat, when everyone is sitting around eating at Judi Dench’s birthday feast – it’s in slow motion and you can just see everyone’s faces as they savor every bite of the food. Yeah, that’s what it was like. The only thing missing was the background music and Johnny Depp playing guitar. Birthday feast extraordinaire!