A Snack Without Borders: Kibbeh

Kibi at Mariscos Yucatan
Kibi at Mariscos Yucatan
D. Gonzalez

One type of appetizer, many different spellings. Kibbie, kibi, even quibe. Through migration and trade, kibbeh, a Middle Eastern meze standard, has integrated itself into the cuisines of Brazil, and Mexico's state of Yucatan. And since Los Angeles is home for many with roots in those regions, kibbeh in its various interpretations can be found at many of the restaurants and grocery stores serving those communities.

In her comprehensive cookbook The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, Claudia Roden notes that descriptions of kibbeh have been found in the ancient writings of the Assyrian Empire as a dish served to the king. Kibbeh remains a national dish for Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. However, kibbeh is not one dish, but rather has a variety of styles, united by the use of bulgur and cracked wheat, as a binder. Kibbehs can be made with various meats, fish and even fruit. In North Holywood, Lebanese restaurant Hayat's Kitchen makes two different types of kibbeh: the familiar top-shaped fried kibbeh and the raw kibbeh nayyeh.

Listed on their cold maza menu, Hayat's Kitchen's kibbie nayah is made from ground beef with bulgur, so it creates a smooth and springy meat spread. Seasoned simply, kibbie nayah makes perhaps the most proper accompaniment to Hayat's mixed olive and house-made pickle plate. After stuffing the rich meat mixture inside torn pieces of pita, we enjoy interspersing our bites with the bright pickled turnips and briny olives.

Kibbie Nayah from Hayat's Kitchen
Kibbie Nayah from Hayat's Kitchen
D. Gonzalez

Fifteen years ago, when Enrique Canto first opened Mariscos Yucatan, he wanted to focus just on mariscos, Mexican seafood dishes. However, his wife Lula insisted that he also make available the foods they both grew up with in Yucatan's capital of Merida, including kibi. Canto's kibi contain ground beef seasoned with yerba buena (Mexican mint) and are mixed with coarse bulgur. His kibi are disk shaped, like cookies -- crunchy, meat-filled, habanero-topped cookies. When we complimented his ability to get the outside so crisp while keeping the inside moist, he replied, "Well, I always cook as if I'm the one who is going to eat it."

It has been estimated that Brazil has the largest population of people of Lebanese ancestry outside of Lebanon. Therefore, kibe can be found on the home-style Brazilian menus of Woodspoon Downtown, and Moqueca in Oxnard. Further, Brazilian market Supermercado Brazil carries frozen kibe to prepare at home. Hot out of the toaster oven, these kibe omit a deep herbal aroma, and are gauzy and delicate to the touch. When cooled down, they retain their soft texture while still being able to hold up to generous squeezes of lime, which is the Brazilian way to eat them. Wrapped in lettuce leaves, these lime soaked kibe have turned into one of our favorite snacks this summer, no matter how you spell it.

Kibe from Supermercado Brazil
Kibe from Supermercado Brazil
D. Gonzalez

Hayat's Kitchen: 11009 Burbank Boulevard, Suite 117, North Hollywood, (818) 761-4656. Mariscos Yucatan: 3469 Tweedy Boulevard, South Gate, (323) 357-0906. Supermercado Brazil: 10826 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, (310) 837-4299.


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