IZZN'T IT LOVELY? CORK HAS A NEW PALESTINIAN CAFÉ
14 George's Quay
Phone: 085 149 5625
Irish Daily Mail
8 June 2019
Isn't it wonderful how Ireland is becoming such a cosmopolitan, multicultural country? While our neighbours in Britain seem set to cast themselves adrift in a world where you need to stick together if you're not a superpower, we seem to be embracing Europeanism ever more enthusiastically.
In the recent local elections, a new generation of politicians from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds were elected, underlining their commitment to their new - and in some cases not so new- home. Hurling and camogie teams in national schools all over the country have plenty of brown kids.
The vast majority of us are delighted at this, especially as we watch intolerance grow around the world. But we have a few homegrown racist loudmouths who strew their toxic hatred and chauvinism through social media. They are not who we are and they never will be. I won't dignify them nor give them the oxygen of any publicity by even so much as describing their vile behaviour but I would urge us all to be vigilant and to call them out for what they are when we need to.
And I have happy news. This week I want to report that Cork city now has a Palestinian restaurant, Izz, which specialises in the Middle Eastern flatbreads known variously as manakish, manakeesh, man'ousheh or, as here, manaeesh. The Alkarajeh family, who spent a year and a half in Direct Provision, are the people behind Cork's newest restaurant, having established a fine reputation for their food at Mahon Point Market.
We shared a plate of mezze to start. There was proper hummus (maybe a little light on seasoning but there are as many hummus variations as there are people in the Middle East) with the texture of chickpeas rather than the glossy, tahini-heavy stuff (most of which, I'm told by an Arab friend, is imported in cans). The baba ghanoush was light and fluffy, tasting properly of aubergine if not smoke. Stuffed vine leaves were freshly lemony, while pickled baby aubergines stuffed with chopped walnuts were rather lovely. Tabouleh was authentically almost entirely chopped flat-leaf parsley with just a few flecks of bulgur. All of this came with a perfectly pillow-shaped puffed flatbread like the ones I've seen called batbout in Morocco.
Manaeesh are flatbreads with toppings and they are made by hand here. I know this because I could see the process as I was ordering at the counter. So, a little like pizza but the bread element is softer.
Mine was topped with beef, appropriately spiced, with optional cheese melted on top. The element that really made this work, suggested as an extra topping by Izz himself, was sliced jalapeno peppers, hot, crunchy and tart to cut the richness.
Our other version was simply topped with shredded, spiced chicken, sharpened with sumac and given extra texture with finely diced onion. Yoghurt and pomegranate seeds on the side made an attractive foil.
There were three desserts. We eschewed the sticky cinnamon buns in favour of basbooseh, the Middle Eastern classic semolina cake, and warbat, an equally classic filo pastry affair.
The basbooseh involved not just semolina but also coconut, rosewater and sugar syrup. It's heavy and very sweet and not something to be undertaken lightly; but it's certainly satisfying with a coffee. The warbat - essentially a rosewater flavoured cream encased in filo - was a pleasant enough taste of the Middle East in the middle of Cork but it needed a less dense and more custard-like filling and more leaves of filo. (This is something that I've often eaten on the Edgware Road in London rather than in the souks of the actual Arab world, admittedly).
The bill for this feast, with a flat white, an Americano and two bottles of mineral water, came to just over €50.
Virtually all of the customers, when we visited, were Corkonians larruping into stuff that our parents wouldn't recognise. This is one of the many things about immigration that I love, the enrichment of our food culture.
Long live the New Irish!