Lebanese and a Lesson at Droubi's

My family has been going to Droubi's for as long as we've been in Houston. It was one of the first restaurants my dad visited when scouting properties ahead of our move from South Bend, Indiana. As I'm sure you can guess, it seemed quite exotic to him at the time.

Pretty soon, Wednesday became Droubi's Day. The buffet counter at this slightly ramshackle grocery, deli, and cafe changes its assortment daily, and my family fell in love with Wednesday's offerings, particularly a dish of potatoes with garlic and cilantro, brightened with a tart spritz of lemon. We would eat early dinners those days, as the place always seemed to sell out early.

My wife and I don't live quite as close to Droubi's these days, so Droubi's Wednesdays have slowed. Whenever we get the chance, though, we revisit the tradition, feasting on lentils, rice, and lamb. We picked up a bunch of food to go, recently, and got a little something extra with our order.

As we were looking over the day's selections, deciding how much to order rather than what, Mr. Droubi offered assistance. When we requested Mujadra, he beamed, despite our horrible pronunciation. We were pronouncing it based on the Egyptian spelling (megadarra), and poorly at that. Still, Mr. Droubi was pleased. "Not too many Americans know this," he said, demonstrating the proper pronunciation and declaring his love for the simple dish of lentils, rice, and caramelized onions.

These are the food experiences I love. It's no big secret that a little enthusiasm and knowledge (even imperfect knowledge and poor pronunciation) can open up doors and create connections, but I still find myself happily surprised every time it happens. We went on to talk to Mr. Droubi for a good half hour, while our kids danced to the strains of Middle Eastern pop music running through the store.

We asked about some of our other favorite dishes, and were regaled with stories of their origin, and his. My favorite lesson of the day was on Molokia. We'd been eating this dish of leafy green vegetables stewed with chicken and spices since I was a kid, serving it atop rice laced with vermicelli, yet knew nothing of its history.

According to Mr. Droubi, Molokia roughly translates to "vegetable for the king's family," and was considered food fit for Egyptian royalty. As Mr. Droubi told it, the vegetable had in fact been reserved for royalty in Egypt until 1943, when it was made available to everyone. The tender, slightly mucilaginous greens (they are related to the mallow family) are still considered a delicacy. Mr. Droubi told us of a girl he knew when he was younger, who promised that her mother would make the dish for him, if he visited her family in Lebanon.

I did a bit of digging and found much of the same information regarding the dish's history, but have been unable to confirm or deny the detail about Molokia's reserved status and subsequent legalization for the masses. Either way, it's an interesting story, and added another layer to our experience. I think Mr. Droubi enjoyed the interaction as much as we did.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall