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Friday, 26 July 2013

Al Hakawati الحكواتي - The Story Teller tradition & another traditional recipe

Al Hakawati (The story teller)

حكواتي
Hakawati is an Arabic world that Literally means 'a story teller'.

In Arabic Culture a Hakawati is the person who is known for his/her talent in story telling, that who attracts everyone to sit and eagerly listen. However, never one to tell none-sense or aimless stories of self heroism - which traditionally is seen as a shameful act of boasting - rather one to tell meaningful stories with universal wisdom.

سرد ارتجالي - 
Spontaneous Narrative


Back in the day, when TV was not yet an essential part of people's life Hakawatis الحكواتية were one of the main sources of entertainment. People would gather, usually in coffee shops - however sometimes even at homes - and the Hakawati will narrate stories of heroism or romance in the form of tragedies and comedies including all sorts of events and characters that are either fictional or real. Most of the times the narrative is spontaneous  and on a few occasions the stories are pre-conceived. All stories however will have a morale in the end and all people would listen to know the morale of the story. The Hakawati might even tease them as s/he (more often he than she) narrates, and people would be urging him/ her to continue. Adults, children and most probably even their pets, all sat and listened.

It is said that at times, if an issue arises in the community for which no solution is found, a Hakkawati would narrate stories suggesting solutions, without being so obvious as in reference to the actual drama taking place! It is even said that some mothers would discuss their children's issues - such as the choice of bad friends, or rejection of some traditions... - with a Hakawati and ask him to narrate a story to insinuate a resolution for such conflicts!

While Hakawatis were never limited to Ramadan, Hakawati sessions did condense in Ramadan. So much so that in Ramadan many Hakawatis would be in competition, as to who attracts more people and whose stories are better... some would even go to far away places in search for more exotic stories to bring in more audience. The Hakawati tradition lived on for many years in most of the Arab countries, but started diminishing in the past few decades, which is sad really, because it is such a beautiful tradition that is truly authentically entertaining.

Painting by Egyptian painter Ihab Hulusi of a coffee shop in Cairo pre 1920

In the past few years some efforts have been put to revive the Hakawati Tradition, especially during Ramadan. Cities such as  Beirut, Cairo, Abu Dhabi have all brought Hakawati productions to their city's cultural life. One must admire the people who understand the importance of reserving culture, even if it no longer is part of our daily life. Because these traditions are an open display of a society's unique spirit, that, which does not disappear with those gone, but remains to tell their stories. So I am delighted to know that more and more people are interested in reviving this tradition, as I would be one to sit in a Hakawati Session :) just like I did in my childhood, not because TV was not around, but because it was another and a just as good means of entertainment. While I would still enjoy my favourite TV shows, options are always good to have.
How do I explain this to my TV, playstation, ipad, and computer loyal children? No other way than by taking them to one! 'See for yourself' is always my most reliable approach ;)
On the same note of reviving old traditions, today's recipe is a very traditional Arabic Salad, known to almost everyone - the delicious Fattoush. While so many people know how to make Fattoush, many regularly request a recipe. So here it is, in case you don't know how it's made :)

Fattoush
Photo by Tala Soubra, Fork it Over Dubai

This Recipe is one of the Recipes that Tala Soubra provided while we spoke about Ramadan in Lebanon, which I will be posting tomorrow. I have used it here as I saw it fits very well with today's post. Both the Hakawati and Fattoush are very traditional, yet both have an eternally good flavour, one that is still pleasantly savoured today. 

فتوش
Fattoush
A small Narrative
Do you know that the Arabic word fattoush refers to the breaking of bread. Very similar to the English word 'Sop', derived from the Latin word 'Sup' which is the root for the word supper, as back in the day supper was the breaking of bread that is then soaked in broth. This supper using 'sop' (the broken bread soaked in broth) has become to be known as soup. Can you see the connection between 'sup' and soup?
Similarly the concept of Fattoush relies on the use of broken bread which is then dressed with the Salad dressing and back in the day, food was simpler than it is today and most likely reliable on the mixing of simple ingredients to make up the full supper.

Fascinating how all foods and cuisines are essentially so similar. Looking back in time, puts it all into perspective. 
Choose organic whenever you can
good, traditional farming is way
better than mass production
More on this in the Soups Post coming soon


You Need
4 Tomatoes
2 Cumbers
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
1/8 cup sliced radish
1 juice of a lemon
¼ cup olive oil
2 small Pita bread
2 tsp salt
2 table spoons sumac
2 table spoons pomegranate syrup
Place the Pita bread in the oven and bake until it becomes toasted, around 5 minutes.

Chop the tomatoes and cucumbers and place them in a large bowl. Add the parsley, mint leaves and sliced radish. Add the lemon, oil, salt and sumac and toss everything together.

Right before serving, break the toasted Pita bread into pieces and sprinkle over the top of the Fattoush. Serve cold.


***

Food For Thought
Let's focus on our similarities instead of our differences; regardless of the details, we are all the same in the end.



I hope you have enjoyed getting to know about the Hakawati Tradition, and hope this post inspires you to go to one when available.  I would love to hear your thoughts... have you ever been to a Hakawati Session before? Did you have any member in your family who is a gifted story teller? Do share with us and keep the tradition alive. 

Come back tomorrow for 
Ramadan in Lebanon :)


The world is beautiful, all its people are beautiful, all cultures equally important, and all the same in the end - all out there for us to explore...
Ramadan Kareem

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