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By Sarah Elmusrati

For a country in which most of the population lives along 1,770 km of Mediterranean coastline, I find it fascinating that lamb rather than fish is the protein of choice in the Libyan Diet. Lamb takes center stage in all Libyan meals and is considered a status symbol where wealth is measured by the size and abundance of meat served.  The most likely explanation for this stems from the tradition of the annual Festival of Sacrifice, Eid al-Adha.

The ritual of the slaughter has its roots some two and a half centuries before Islam, when the prophet Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his then only son Ishmael, and was pardoned at the last moment to slaughter a sheep instead, after proving his faith and obedience. 

Just like Eid il-Fitr, Eid al-Adha also known as Eid al-Kabir (Greater Eid) is another one of those religious holidays that center around food. In the less prosperous past, partaking in Eid al-Adha meant that most families saved up all year to buy a lamb and were very frugal in its consumption. Everything from head to toe, and I do mean everything, is put to use. Hardly a thing goes to waste.

Sheep skins and wool are aired, salted and dried to make rugs, or woven into sweaters. The head and feet are scorched on an open flame, and made into a stew.  Some of the offal is fried in a dish called glaya. The stomach and intestines are used to make osban, stuffed with rice, fresh herbs and the remaining offal. Meat is seasoned simply with salt some of which is grilled. The rest is hung to dry for several days, before frying and preserving in sheep's fat, a type of jerky called gideed.

The sight of red tinged water running under garage doors can come to a shock to those of you experiencing this festival for the first time, looking more like a bloody massacre than a religious sacrifice. But most Libyan kids go unfazed by witnessing the slaughter, from which comes the benefit of knowing the source of their food. Libyans are not very refined, and tend take things as they are.  It is hard to put off a Libyan from having their share of lamb. Where most expats cringe at the thought of going to a local butcher with meat and guts hanging in all their gore, it's hard to wipe the smile off the face of a local with his prized dinner in hand.

For Libyan men, Eid al Adha provides an opportunity to vent some steam, and get connected with the caveman/hunter in them. It is also a rite of passage for most boys. Libyan women, who would prefer to forget that they once lived in a cave, are usually stuck with the more tedious chores, compensating by buying all the kitchen gadgets that can make their day that little bit easier. In any case it is a very social affair, with coals on the fire all day long, families over-gorging on meat downed by bottle after bottle of the Libyan favorite, Pepsi. 

No room for vegetarians here I'm afraid.

Happy Eid al-Adha


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Published Nov 2010