I’ve always considered myself a Foodie because I love to eat and know so much about food, but I found out some disturbing information regarding the term while talking with my sister the other day. She informed me that Anthony Bourdain, whom I idolize on certain occasions (such as when cussing or being a smart-ass), characterizes a Foodie as such: “One who is willing to eat things outside of their comfort zone”. She then tells me that he ate the heart of a cobra while it was still beating…
…that settles it, I am NOT a Foodie!!
I’m an Eatie.
I characterize an Eatie as such: “One who’s an expert on food, who loves to eat and who’s willing to satisfy their cravings at a moment’s notice, then write about their eating experiences.”
So being the Eatie that I am, I was having a craving for some Middle Eastern food the other day, and I was craving hummus and baba ganoush in particular. I love homemade hummus and baba ganoush and I know the good stuff because I happened to be one of the original waitresses at the famed Middle Eastern restaurant, Kan Zaman, on Haight Street in San Francisco (the one where you sit on cushions on the floor to eat hummus and drink spiced wine and smoke hookah… yeah, that one). Anyway, I wanted to find some good stuff because there’s a lot of mediocre hummus and baba ganoush out there and I’m particular about my Middle Eastern food, as you can imagine. By the way, if you’re a woman, I don’t recommend that you work for Middle Easterners unless you like to be treated like a second-class citizen, since they have a certain “view” of women and their place in society, much of it being that you belong in the kitchen, a harem or a tent!!!
As as I was saying, I’m used to eating really, really great hummus and baba ganoush because I learned how to make it from Kan Zaman’s personal chef, a grumpy ‘ol bastard named Rajid, who happened to take a liking to me, probably because I loved his cooking! Like any man who cooks, all you have to do is compliment the heck out of ‘em and they’re like hummus in your hands! Anyway, he used to smoke cigarettes while he was preparing the food and there would always be one sticking out of the side of his mouth with this really loooooooong cigarette ash hanging off the end of it, and it never fell into the food as far as I knew, and he taught me how to make the good stuff and now I make the best! Why don’t you just make your own instead of going out to get it, you ask? Because, it takes a long time to prepare hummus and baba ganoush, and when I’m craving something, I want it RIGHT AWAY! I’m an Eatie, remember?
So I decided to go to Ali Baba’s Cafe in Newbury Park. I used to go there, like, ten years ago and the food was decent, but not great, but I decided to give it another chance. Right away I noticed that the two servers working were both women, of course since it’s a Middle Eastern restaurant, and one of them had pinkish-purpleish hair and was utterly calm, while the other was completely irritated and rushing around like a chicken, (of course she ended up being my server) so when she approached me and asked how many, and I told her it was just me, she looked around and then pointed at the only table available, a four-top, and said “Well I guess you’ll just have to sit there then.”
Just pause here for a moment and take it in, like I did…
Okay rude, maybe, but she is working for a Middle Easterner after all, and one can get grumpy. Then she slams a menu down on the table and walks off, and I thought to myself “This is hilarious!!” When she finally comes back to take my order, I was a little scared to be honest because I only wanted to order two things and I didn’t want to feel the wrath of her Khan, if you know what I mean. So I ordered what was going to be one small plate of hummus, and one small plate of baba ganoush, at $4.99 each. Well she let me know I should just get a large half-and-half plate instead of the two separate plates, because it costs less, and I was relieved since she was really nice about it, so I told her I also wanted a plate of pickles and one spinach sambosak, which is a mini turnover, and she interrupts me and curtly states that I might not get the sambosak since sometimes they’re out of them. Well I almost laughed out loud at that one, but then I thought the better of it because she’d be the one bringing me my food. Then she said she’d check for me and took off with the menu and my order. A few moments later she yells from across the restaurant that yes, they did have sambosak today and I would be getting one. I could just feel the love!
My food came out a very reasonable time later and I have to say, it was probably the best hummus and baba ganoush I’ve had in a long time! The hummus was smooth and creamy and lemony, and it had the perfect amount of tahini in it. Most places don’t put enough tahini in their hummus but Ali Baba’s had the perfect amount! The baba ganoush had that nice, smoky flavor and silky texture, just like you’d expect! None of it was too garlicky either, which was a relief, because the last time I went there, the baba ganoush contained large chunks of garlic and there’s nothing worse than biting down on a big hunk of raw garlic when you don’t want to! The dish came drizzled with a good olive oil, just like it should, and you get warm pita bread on the side. The plate of pickles was a nice addition, with small, tart green olives, dark purple kalamata olives and bright pinkish-purpleish pickled turnips that I realized matched the calm server’s hair. I wasn’t impressed with the sambosak at all though. It was really tiny, and the dough tasted stale. For two bucks, it certainly wasn’t worth it.
My moody waitress was worth it though, because she reminded me of when I worked at that Middle Eastern restaurant and had to put up with all kinds of crap, and then got to take it out on the guests, so it made me laugh! I guess in hindsight, it probably wasn’t all that bad working there; we were like a family, we served together, cleaned together, ate together, and squabbled together, so maybe there’s a part of me that kind of misses those good ‘ol days…
Ali Baba’s Cafe
2110-B Newbury Road,
Newbury Park, CA