Each weekend, Jala Soufi awakens to the music of Fairuz, turned up loud by her dad as a way to summon the family to the table for a delicious Syrian Breakfast feast.
Soufi Family Brunch
After salivating over Soufi’s restaurant in Toronto in a recent New York Times piece, we reached out to Jala by email. The article noted their intention to share Syrian culture, music and art alongside their delicious food, and of course, that really resonates with this Culture Capsules project. If we can’t buy a plane ticket to Toronto, maybe we approximate it by exploring some of the tunes, tastes and stories of the Soufi family from our own homes.
When Jala and I spoke on the phone, I asked her if she had any favorite memories about food when she was growing up. She fondly recalled her dad blasting Arabic music (especially Fairuz!), early on weekend mornings, waking everyone in the house up. This loud music was the way to alert the house that it was time breakfast. On the table would be traditional Syrian sofra: a tapas-style feast of Labneh (strained yogurt), Grilled Halloumi cheese, Tis’iye (aka Fatteh), warmed up pita bread, strawberry jam, olives, Za’atar, and occasionally some boiled eggs.
At the Soufi household, Jala’s mom prepares breakfast during the week but on the weekends, it’s her dad. She says that “it’s all relatively quick because everything is bought and/or made in advance and stored in the fridge. You just have to set the table.” She noted that there is no need for forks or spoons; just warmed up pita bread.
To complete the feast, she also noted that their “favorite drink over breakfast is red tea with fresh mint. My dad loved to have grapefruit juice afterwards, as well.”
The first step is always to get the tunes going. If your household is still sleeping, by all means, keep the volume low until everything is ready, but in the full Soufi-style, you must put the music of Fairuz on loudly to summon your family to breakfast, just like Jala’s Abu (‘father’ in Arabic) would do. You can find the Soufi Family Breakfast Feast playlist here, for free on Spotify.
Jala mentioned that Fairuz, a famous singer from Lebanon who is extremely popular all over the Arab world, was a family favorite. A quick poll of my own friends from various parts of the Arab world confirmed that, some telling me they played her music at their weddings and one even telling me she is moved to cry when she hears Fairuz sing. Powerful stuff.
In looking into Fairuz more, I learned that listening to Fairuz in the morning is a tradition for many across the Arab world. [May 2019 note: In reading the novel “Cigarette Number Seven,” by Donia Kamal, in which music was an important element, Fairuz is not only mentioned often, but also her songs in the radio morning is explicitly mentioned.]
Jala also had me add two songs by Lena Chamamyan, a Syrian artist, as well as one by Zaki Nassif.
This feast doesn’t take too much time or effort, but it does take a bit of coordination to go smoothly. Here’s your overall plan.
- Put the playlist on for you – the chef!
- If you’re making pita you should start that with at least a 1.5 hour lead time but 2 hours would be easier. Once the first 4 steps of that are done, you can begin on the below:
- Get the eggs boiling so they have time to cool for easier peeling
- Set out the accompaniments: olives, za’atar, jam, olive oil. Prepare the pot/cups with the tea & mint.
- Make the grapefruit juice and keep it in the fridge.
- Drain and cut the halloumi, making sure it’s dried with a paper towel so it browns best.
- If making pita, this is the time to do step 5 of the recipe
- Boil water for the tea.
- Make the Tis’iye, except the garnish, and let it sit on the table to meld flavors a bit.
- Cook the halloumi and put it on a serving dish.
- Start cooking the pita per steps 6 and 7 on the recipe.
- Pour the hot water in the teapot/cups as desired.
- Garnish the Tis’iya.
- Re-start the playlist and increase the volume to summon others to the table.
- Enjoy the sounds and tastes of the Soufi Family Breakfast!
Items to have on hand
In addition to the items within the recipes noted below, make sure these are on your shopping list:
- Labneh (strained yogurt)
- Green & black olives (the Soufi family favorite is green olives marinated in olive oil, parsley & garlic)
- Fresh Syrian pita bread (they buy from the local bakery. You could also make your own, of course)
- Strawberry jam
- Olive oil
- Za’atar with olive oil
- Boiled eggs (they would have occasionally)
- Grapefruit juice (or grapefruits to make your own, of course)
Tis’iye (aka Fatteh)
Here’s Jala’s intro: “This is a warm chickpea yogurt dish we typically have on special occasions. It’s made up of layers of boiled chickpeas topped with baked pita bread squares, warm yogurt (with spices, tahini, lemon, garlic…), and garnished with fried pine-nuts, pomegranate fruit and parsley.”
Its never hard to enlist the help of my little apprentices. Here they are ripping store bought pita to toast for the fatteh, as the dough for our fresh pita rises nearby. While this was happening, I couldn’t help but recognize that some day they will be the teenagers who would need to be roused by music to come to the table, rather than the early-rising kiddos that they are.
Grilled Halloumi Cheese
Jala confirmed that the David Lebovitz version of grilled Haloumi cheese is a good one to follow. We concur.
Red Tea with Fresh Mint
This one is just as simple as it sounds, but oh-so-delicious! Just boil some hot water, steep some red tea along with fresh mint leaves and add sugar to taste. This was a favorite of the kids and adults alike. We were only able to find rooibos with cinnamon but it worked with the mint and a bit of sugar. YUM.
…. when it’s all ready, then reset the playlist to play from song one and increase the volume. “Baadak ala Bali” is such a pretty song that it feels like a nice song to wake up to… even if it apparently is about missing one’s beloved.
Thank you, Jala, for sharing your story, food, and related tunes with us! It was delicious, and unlike any breakfast we had prepared on our own. Can’t wait to try it again…. and we want to hear from you when you try this for yourself!