I thought it might be fun to do a category post with a few ideas included, since some of these are so simple. Those of you who have traveled extensively in the Middle East know how much the sharing of beverages is integrated into the culture. Here are a few ideas that are outside of the basic “tea experience”.
- Nana – If you’ve ever had “chai bil nana” or tea with mint, then the name of this hot drink will sound familiar to you. It was introduced to me by an American expat coworker of mine who is married to a man from Lebanon. If it is late in the evening, and you are leaning away from having any more caffeine, you may want to try ordering just plain “nana” or mint for your hot beverage while you linger over sheesha pipes with the girls. It’s basically just some broken up mint leaves with boiling water poured over the top and left to steep. It’s soothing, social, and caffeine free.
- Cinnamon - The lady who owned the school I taught at in Kuwait had several Egyptian traditions in her family. We were all invited for New Year’s Eve at her house during Ramadan one year. This is the drink she served. It’s apparently a traditional Ramadan drink in Egypt. Basically, she slow-stewed cinnamon sticks in water over a bed of coals for the day. You could add sugar if you wanted, but just on it’s own it was a nice hot beverage with a fabulous aroma.
- Lemon with Mint – Basically, you just mix up your lemonade as you normally would via the concentrate juice or fresh lemons. From there, you strip a bunch of mint leaves from your house plant (or buy some if you don’t grow it at home) and toss them into the blender with the lemon drink. This breaks down the leaves to little bits and distributes the mint flavor more efficiently through the beverage. You can even freeze a bit of the lemon drink ahead of time and mix it in with the liquid lemon beverage and mint leaves to have a frozen version of this popular drink.
- Ginger – This was first introduced to me in Saudi Arabia. I think most of us have tried the general ginger tea available in most western grocery stores, but this is just straight slices or grated pieces of ginger root in boiling water, left to steep. I warn you, this stuff without sweetener is definitely a taste you will have to work to acquire. However, the Saudis swear by the healing properties of this beverage when you are on the edge of coming down with something. I was over there on a business trip for several weeks and after numerous days and evenings of working around the clock and having dinner at midnight (not that I’d trade the lamb chop BBQ under the palm trees and stars with the camels for anything – way cool), I was starting to get run down. Everyone pumped me full of this stuff, and I swear I felt much better. I spoke with someone who had a background in herbal medicine once and was told it was because ginger raises your internal body temperature similar to what your system does naturally, using a fever to kill germs. I don’t have a huge medical background, and you may want to run it by your physician as well before using it as your sole means of recovery from illness. I just know it worked for me, and they’ve been using it in that country for generations. Worth a try, at least.