Food in the Field gives a sneak peek into what CNN's team is eating as they travel the globe. Today's contributor, Mark Hill, is the Director of Photography for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. He is based in Atlanta, Georgia.
In May of this year, CNN International asked me to go to the United Arab Emirates to shoot some photography for their news bureau. Since I haven’t been to that region in ages, I jumped at the chance. Two long international flights later - one detouring around Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud - I was in Abu Dhabi.
The next morning was a quiet one filled with meetings and location scouting. I hired a driver so I could get some generic shots of key sites in the city. But first, I wanted a good meal. The driver assured me he knew the perfect spot and after a hot drive through the congested city I found myself at the entrance of a Subway sandwich shop. Once I stopped laughing, I explained I wanted authentic food: local grub, real regional fare. “Oh, Arabic food is what you want,” he exclaimed, as if to say, “why didn't you just say so?”
Off we went.
Soon he pulled into a crowded parking lot and pointed to The Lebanese Flower Restaurant and Cafeteria. The busy dining room was crammed with glass-topped tables, brightly colored drapes and heavy wooden chairs. My arrival brought lots of stares, from diners and servers alike, with my multiple cameras and pale, freckled skin. But the owner quickly befriended me and explained the menu in flawless English.
I told him that I wanted to try the food his restaurant was known for and he didn't disappoint. First came a relish plate filled with pickles, olives, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and a fresh mint garnish. A basket of fresh pita was accompanied by a bowl of the creamiest hummus I have ever had and a light white dip. He explained the dip was labneh - basically yogurt whipped with garlic - which was wonderful with the pita. Without a doubt, that first bite of labneh was a high point of the entire trip.
The owner then brought my main course: a plate heaped with roasted shawarma meats and vegetables topped with a spicy salad. He showed me how to fill the pita with the meat, salad and a little labneh. It tasted so fresh without too much spice to hide the flavors. The sliced lamb was sweet without tasting too heavily of mutton and I was happy to find the chicken wings lacked the grease I’m used to in the U.S.
Needless to say I was full the rest of the day! My only regret was that I couldn't return for an encore.