Tucked away in a strip mall on Primrose Drive (north of Lawson Heights Mall) is Petra Market, a treasure trove of food products from the Arabic countries in the Mediterranean. I’m fascinated by grocery stores full of unknown-to-me products but also a little nervous about trying things, so I was really happy when Nour Dabbour, the owner of Petra Market, showed me around and told me about the different items.
Nour is trying to stock products from as many Middle Eastern countries as possible. He even stocks the same product from a number of different countries because he says that each country’s product tastes slightly different. Za’atar, a spice mix, is a prime example with packages from Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and each one is a slightly different colour with a slightly different taste.
The most popular areas of the store are the nut and treats bars with an amazing assortment of Middle Eastern candies and mildly spiced nuts. Nour gave me a variety to try and I’m really enjoying them. The giant, cheese-covered cashews are my absolute favorite. The candied fruit looks like European glacé fruits but is quite different. The fruit has been dried whole and then preserved in a honey syrup, so there is still a pit in the apricot and a stem on the crab apple. They’re really tasty and not too sweet; I’ll be going back for more.
Nuts are popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, so there are nuts in the nougat and halvah, as well as nuts to add to rice dishes, and mildly spiced nuts for snacking. The three most popular nuts in the Middle East are cashews, almonds and pistachios.
The candies are really interesting as they offer different combinations of jelly (as in Turkish Delight), nougat and fruit. Then they’re usually rolled in nuts, but there is one that is rolled in rose petals. You can also buy a jar of rose petals to make tea. Mixed herbs and rose petals are a traditional remedy for stomachache.
The Arabic countries have a long history of pickling vegetables in order to preserve them. I was fascinated by the pickled wild cucumber from Lebanon, the pickled thyme and the pickled okra. Nour says that many of his store’s products come from Lebanon, which is a major food producer in the region.
If you like to experiment in the kitchen, you’ll find lots of ingredients that are hard to find anywhere else. There are grape leaves and grenadine molasses, green raisins from the Persian Gulf to be used in rice dishes, lots of beans (lupins, fava, chickpeas, lentils), frozen okra and molokhia, and much, much more.
I definitely recommend visiting Petra Market (Bay 6-A – 234 Primrose Drive). There are all sorts of tasty products to discover and Nour Dabbour is a charming, helpful host who will happily answer any questions you may have.