Are you feeling extreme cabin fever from a week of below zero temps? Why not take a trip to sunny exotic Lebanon? You don’t need a passport or an airplane ticket. Just get on the brown line headed west to my favorite Lebanese market Al Khayyam, at Kedzie and Lawrence in Albany Park.
Perhaps you feel intimidated of going into an store whose ethnic products you aren’t familiar with. Here are 8 staples of my pantry/freezer for you to try which are my main reasons to keep visiting this store!
- Spices: This place has an amazing selection of spices at great prices. You’ll pay less then half for twice the amount other places offer! If you need whole cumin, fennel, or anise seed, this is the place to go. You can find exotic spices such as sumac and black caraway among others (i.e. I can’t remember or never knew their names).
- Lamb: They sell leg of lamb here ranging between $3.50 – $4.00 per lb, half the price of larger grocery stores (if they even have it).
- Pomegranate syrup: Also known as pomegranate molasses, this bittersweet syrup is an ABSOLUTE STAPLE in my house. I love using it as a sweetener for savory foods. The tart flavor tempers the sweet when adding to things such as soups or sauces balancing the flavors while giving depth at the same time. I can’t live without it!
- Baklava: The best in the city (in my opinion)! They have a great selection of different kinds of Baklava affordably priced at $6.99 per lb.
- Rose water: I love the subtle taste this can bring to a dish, especially apple pie. I originally found this store. Many years ago, I asked a Palestinian friend where I could find rose water in the city. She told me I could buy a small bottle for $7 at whole foods or I could get a large bottle at Al Khayyams for only $2. The choice was clear and its been true love ever since.
- Labna: A mix between sour cream, yogurt and cream cheese, Labna is a delicious addition for any meal, including Kraft mac and cheese. A great tip from Katherine of BackGarage.com, is to substitute labna for the milk, which gives a tart flavor and extra body to an otherwise limp boxed meal. If you’re going the boxed direction anyway, might as well make it interesting!
- Mango Puree: For around $2 a can, this is a great pantry staple. Tip: you can make a quick mango lassie for last minute guests. Just use canned puree instead of fresh mango and mix with yogurt or even milk and a pinch of sugar in a blender. Bam. Everyone loves mango lassis. If you’ve never had one, its time to try one out!
- Fresh Pita: Last but definitely not least, the fresh pita baked daily is almost everyone’s favorite reason for visiting here:
“We went into Al Khayyam in pursuit of pita ($1! So cheap!). We made our way through the doors and zipped straight to the bakery section. There was an older man, working at the stove, heating up the pita. He greeted us with a polite “Hello!”, and a huge smile. “I want that!” she pointed at the pita in the oven. He gladly obliged, pulling it out and stuffing that and a few other pieces of just heated pita into our bag.” -Lauren G of Yelp
“Here’s a tip: They make the white pita in the morning and the whole wheat in the early afternoon.” -Amanda P of yelp:
Al Khayyam is also a great place for adventurous foodsters (I’ve decided to hip-up the over used term “foodie”) to get lost in the aisles, playing one of my favorite games “What is this and what the hell do you do with it?” While shopping I always have the constant urge to buy these products which, although, I had no idea what they are, I know I just have to try. I have no self control!
My recent mystery food buys included a package of Carcedina, which I still have no idea what it is exactly. As it looks to be a flower petal, I assume you boil it to make a tea, but the jury is still out. I also got a container of Black Caraway which I’ve had better luck trying to research. I’m so glad I bought it because apparently the Prophet urged “Use the black caraway for, indeed, it is a remedy for all diseases except Death.” I found this compilation of thought provoking articles which beside giving me helpful info on the medicinal uses of Black Caraway, whose intro gave me a great hint at improving my range of appeal. For now on, I will address each blog post “Dear Human Beings:”.