No Vegetarians Here

Also published on Look Out Libya

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.

Sheep oblivious to their fate

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.

Grilled osban, a delicacy that is well loved guring Eid al-Adha

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.

Roadside knife sharpening

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 carcasses 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.

One stop roadside vendor for all of your butchering needs: barbecues, chopping blocks and coal

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

9 Comments Add yours

  1. ohblogdia says:

    Good article as usual. It’s good to read your writing. Always something new I can learn.
    Happy Eid al-Adha Sarah! Send my regards to Haitam & Dana Banana🙂

    1. Happy Eid to you too Azizi, hope to see you soon🙂

  2. Sally says:

    Eid mubarak. We drove down an ‘abatoir’ street when we were in Tripoli and it was quite gruesome! However, at least you know where the meat comes from. The osban look delicious – a sort of barbecued Libyan haggis.

    1. I can imagine how shocking that was! Now that you mention it, I’ve realized that I’ve never tried haggis before. My hubby did once and he went blue in the face, so that kinda put me off🙂

  3. FreeQA Dawn says:

    Essalamo Alaikom and eid mubarak
    thanks fro taking the time to right this blog, i is like it very much, and i would like to say that this eid is my first time slaughtering the little shaun, and whenver some1 hears about it they ask the same question, “but how come? ure not married”, yes im not married but im practicing see, and the Odhya isnt linked to mariage, anyone who wants to sacrifice can do so, so i think that should be pointed out to the people … power to teh people after all..
    and as for cavemen …….. i think darwin ate a bad fruit and got it all wrong.. and i always have been a great lover of the outdoors, nature n all, but not in a panzy vegan way … anyway, i guess thats why my steam is always off, id like to let it out by other means though, and blood dripping hands is not one of em
    and as for the origin of sacrificing.. i think it dated back to more well more than a millenium before islam, u might have a typo there or summit..
    thank in all for giving me a good article to read .. and long live Chechnya😦

  4. Thank you for an amazing blog. I only just came across it. Your insights are both fascinating and very insightful. Please continue your great work.

  5. Sorry I meant to say that your insights are both fascinating and very educational🙂.

    1. Thanks Tripolinights and welcome to the We Are Food blog🙂

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