Kibbe and Myth in the Mississippi Delta

Travel Blog  •  Joanna Kakissis  •  02.07.08 | 11:06 AM ET

imageIf you go to any family-run diner in the Mississippi Delta, chances are you’ll find tabouleh, dolmas and the Lebanese meat dish called kibbe tucked between the barbecue and fried chicken on the menu. That’s because waves of Lebanese settled in Mississippi between the 1870s and 1960s, setting up grocery stores and restaurants to make a living, according to NPR’s Kitchen Sisters and “the Faulkner of Southern food,” John T. Edge.

One of the most noted is Abe’s BAR-B-Q in Clarksdale, where you can feast on kibbe, cabbage rolls and stuffed grape leaves as well as hear a few stories about Ike and Tina Turner, who used to work at a grocery store owned by Abe’s family.

But I was most intrigued by a vision from 1924, when Abe’s first opened: Abe, an immigrant from Zahale, Lebanon, watched legendary blues guitarist Robert Johnson playing near some sycamore trees. Could it be where the evanescent Johnson met the devil and exchanged his soul for killer blues chops? Now that’s my kind of American story.

Related on World Hum:
* Searching for the Perfect Cup of Chai
* My Patatas Bravas Are Better Than Yours

Photo by elisart via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Joanna Kakissis's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, among other publications. A contributor to the World Hum blog, she's currently a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

2 Comments for Kibbe and Myth in the Mississippi Delta

Eva Holland 02.07.08 | 12:13 PM ET

Wow. Abe’s just went on my Must-Visit list when I pass through Clarksdale next month.

I’ve been dreading my food fate on this upcoming Southern road trip - I don’t eat beef, pork or lamb - but knowing there’s Lebanese food close to hand makes me feel a lot better!

John M. Edwards 02.07.08 | 9:08 PM ET

Hi Eva:

Interesting story. If Honest Abe of Lebanon discovered Delta legend Robert Johnson, we wonder how many other undiscovered blues fingerpickers might have passed through the joint for a Near East-inflected meal. Maybe “Leb” Belly?

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.