How to have a great Middle Eastern meal in Orland Park area
This a “How To” for Americans interested in experiencing the exotic and exciting flavors of Middle East and Arab foods. A lot of Americans ask me all the time how to enjoy a great Arab and Middle Eastern meal and I am happy to help you enjoy the food menu at one of the best Middle East restaurants in the Southwest Suburbs, Zwar Restaurant at 9328 W. 159th Street in Orland Park, which has a growing Arab population. This How-To story should help make it an easy experience
By Ray Hanania
A lot of Americans tell me they want to have a great Middle Eastern or Arab meal at a local restaurant but they often feel that the culture and environment makes it difficult.
They are not familiar with the music, and it seems the customer bases is mostly Arab Americans who are speaking Arabic so they feel out of place, sometimes.
That’s true with every ethnic group.
But the biggest issue is what to order? What’s on the menu? That is an easy question that I can answer and help first time visitors to Middle East restaurants enjoy themselves and to enjoy a new and sometimes unfamiliar meal.
Zwar in Orland Park at 9328 W. 159th Street in the Jewel-Osco commercial strip is probably the best place to go to enjoy a truly authentic Arab World or Middle Eastern food menu.
The owner’s name is Saeda Alhmoud. She is phenomenal. The chef there is one of the region’s best, Fathi, and has been cooking at Middle East restaurants for years.
The first thing is, don’t be afraid to go into the restaurant. Arabs are very friendly and welcoming. Saeda is phenomenal. And if she is not there, anyone of the staff will help you through the menu options.
Grab a seat. The menu is published using a QR Code that is on every table. QR Code menus are the latest Fad for all restaurants, not just Zwar. So take a picture of it with your cell phone and tap the link which will automatically pop up and you can review the menu, which I will walk you through below.
If you don’t have a cell phone, don’t worry. They will provide you with a menu.
Here are some of the top selections I suggest that you might try.
There are several soups but Lentil Soup is my favorite.
There are also several salad options. Tabouli Salad is heavy with parsley and it includes something called “burghul” or “cracked wheat” which is softened by soaking in lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil. The amount of parsley varies depending on what Arab country is making it. Lebanese put a lot of parsley in their Tabouli. Palestinians ad cucumbers. Jordanians have a balance of parsley and no cucumbers.
Jerusalem Salad is a diced tomato-cucumber mix with Tahini, a sauce made from crushed sesame seeds. Most people will love the taste of Tahini so don’t be afraid to try it. It’s an ingredient in Hummus, so chances are you already are familiar with it and probably didn’t even realize it.
You can also get a Middle Eastern salad without the Tahini, and you can also get a traditional salad.
Almost everyone loves Hummus, which is ground garbanzo (chick peas) mixed with Tahini and lemon juice topped off with olive oil. It’s a great side dish that you eat with the flat Syrian bread. Break off a piece of the Syrian bread and use it like a small edible spoon and scoop up the hummus. They usually put whole garbanzo beans on top and some spices to give it a tangy flavor.
I love mine with lemon juice.
But that’s not all. You can have a dish of Baba Ghanouj, or a dip made from crushed and finely chopped roasted eggplant flavored like hummus with Tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and spices. Personally it’s not my favorite but some people love it.
Another dip you must try is the white garlic dip, or Muthawama, a pureed garlic and potato mixture that you also use the Pita or Syrian bread to enjoy. This is always popular with customers. Zwar makes the best. (There is also a Toum garlic spread that is often spread like butter but is a little different.
Every restaurant will also bring out a dish of cracked green olives, and pickled beets and pickles. Enjoy those by hand as you wait for your meal to arrive.
And of course you can order Falafel — who doesn’t love Falafel? And you can enjoy stuffed Kibbee, a deep friend football shaped vegetarian crust filled with diced lamb and beef combinations with spices and roasted slivers of almonds or pine nuts.
Now here are the exciting main options.
Everyday, all Arab restaurants basically have similar menu items, although honestly the chef at Zwar is the best cook and the food is always phenomenal, which is why I suggest you go to Zwar first to begin your Arab World food experience.
You want the food to be great for your first experience.
Let me start with one of the unique foods that is usually only available one day a week onFridays, first before going into the regular food menu selections.
Mansef on Fridays
Friday, however, is an important religious day for Arab Muslims and as a consequence, Zwar and most other restaurants serve a dish called Mansef. Mansef is basically a traditional bedouin meal that was popular in Jordan, Palestine and Syria but is available in other Arab countries. It consists of rice, two large lamb chunks, usually lamb shoulder. And, there is a separate bowl of what is called Jameed, or goat yogurt. You can spoon the Jameed onto the rice and the lamb, or you can dip the lamb and rice into the Jameed bowl. Whatever suits your fancy.
The Jameed is great tasing and is one of the popular ingredients for one of the most popular menu items, Mansef.
Give that one a try on Fridays.
Also on Fridays, you can order stuffed grape leaves. Basically, if you have seen my Tiktok videos and online food articles, you may know that this consists of a grape vine leaf in which a little rice mixed with spiced and diced lamb is placed on the leaf and then rolled into a small “cigar-like” form.
Give the grapeleaves a try. The leaf basically holds the rice and meat together and when cooked is soft and easy to eat. You won’t even notice it. The perfect cooked stuffed grape leaf has rice that is not mushy — which means the rice has been rinsed several times to remove the starch and is not over cooked.
Zwar has great grape leaves.
Now for the rest of the week
Lamb is a favorite of Middle Eastern menus and I understand not everyone likes lamb. That’s ok because you can get steak, mixed and spiced hamburger meat and chicken.
The mixed hamburger is called “Kufta.” It usually has basic spices — not hot. And, it has parsley.
So you can get a shish kabob with lamb chunks, chicken, Kufta or a combination. The kabobs often come with two types of rice, next to each other on the plate, typical yellow rice and a reddish saffron rice, often popular at Persian restaurants.
You might also have heard of something called shawarma, which is the Arabian version of the Greek gyros. You can order a shawarma plate of chicken, or lamb-beef mix, or you can have it in a Syria Bread sandwich. People put tahini on the sandwich, slices of onions, pickles and other sauces.
This should give you a great start on a Middle Eastern meal, especially if this is your first time.
If it isn’t your first time, you know what I am talking about.
Don’t be afraid to go into Zwar Restaurant and taste the many great menu items of Middle East, Arab or Mediterranean foods. And let me know how you enjoyed it.
For more information on Zwar, visit their website at: zwarrestaurant1.com
Check out Zwar’s Tiktok where Saeda Alhmoud posts Middle Eastern foods by clicking this link: www.tiktok.com/@saedahalhmoud
(Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter. A political analyst and CEO of Urban Strategies Group, Hanania’s opinion columns on mainstream issues are published in the Southwest News Newspaper Group in the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News, The Reporter Newspapers. His Middle East columns are published in the Arab News. For more information on Ray Hanania visit www.Hanania.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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