Where: Teta Mona, 100A Lygon Street Brunswick East
What: Unassuming Lebanese comfort food
Bloat score: 2 – The belt had to be completely removed
I had a hilarious conversation with someone over the weekend who thought my bloat scores were based on how much I’d overeaten, as opposed to how much I was reacting to the fructose and lactose-addled food that I was forcing my malabsorbing body to process. I can’t say he was wrong – I do constantly ignore my body’s subtle ways of telling me it’s full, which in turn exacerbates my symptoms, so let’s say my bloat scores comprise a little from column A and a little from column B. But for those who are first-time readers, know that I do have intolerances that cause significant bloating that isn’t solely from overeating.
It would have been easy to follow my intolerances at Teta Mona, a cosy and contained Lebanese eatery on what wankers like me term the ‘good end’ of Lygon Street, but Teta Mona has a sharing menu and that put a spanner in the works. Before I was diagnosed with my intolerances, sharing menus delighted the part of me that wanted to try each and every thing on offer. Nowadays, it incites a deep-seated anxiety, because I have to make the decision between wanting to follow my intolerances and putting everyone out, or saying ‘screw it’, as I did at Ricky & Pinky, and paying for the consequences after.
So I performed a delicate dance by both abiding by and disobeying my dietary restrictions – ordering the onion and garlic-free rez wa djaj (wild rice with buttered almonds, baby spinach and organic quinoa and spiced free-range chicken); the onion and garlic-free samboosek bi jebne (pastry envelopes filled with haloumi, feta and parsley); and the onion and garlic-free shanklish salata (a salad comprising sun-dried yoghurt, oregano, tomato, cucumber and olives). Note that these dishes were already onion and garlic-free and didn’t have to be altered to be made so, which is always a plus in my book.
I didn’t have the heart to tell my friend that I couldn’t technically eat the pastry envelopes, due to the wheat, but figured I’d be fine if that was the only fructose-y thing I was eating and provided I swallowed a few Lacteeze pills before ingesting all the cheese.
My expectations of a bloat-free evening came crashing down on me when I bit into the first pastry envelope. Crispy and moreish, the little parcels reminded me of the cheese puffs that my mum used to make throughout my childhood. Until I realised there was a syrupy sweet liquid that was drizzled over the parcels…a concoction that tasted a lot like honey.
I don’t know if many things make me bloat faster than honey, which is notoriously high in fructose. It could have been the ‘nocebo’ effect, but I instantly felt my tummy swell in protest. But as a person with a dietary intolerance as pesky as fructose, you can’t very well go to a restaurant and reel off the full list of disparate things you can’t eat, can you? I suppose this is why people of my ilk don’t eat out often.
With my enjoyment of the parcels tinged by the slow dawning realisation that I would later pay for this short-lived pleasure, the wild rice dish was my favourite. Reminiscent of the famous chicken pilaf at Lebanese institution Abla’s in Carlton, the wild rice was buttery, aromatic and incredibly tasty – the well-flavoured tender chicken a perfect counterpoint to the nuttiness of the quinoa and the flaked almonds. I rarely go to a Lebanese restaurant without ordering an iteration of this dish, and it’s always without onion and garlic, which makes it one of the few things I can eat with a clean conscience.
The olive and yoghurt salad came with some pita bread, which I liberally consumed, seeing I was already going to experience the symptoms of the ill-fated honey drizzle.
Those three dishes were sufficient for my friend and I, but we weren’t full full. A quick skim of the dessert menu only yielded more flaky pastries and honey, however, so to prove to you guys that I can occasionally follow my intolerances, I didn’t order any. Which explains the bloat score of 2, as opposed to 4 or 5.
But if you’re a regular person, my perennial favourite baklava and the rose crumble (rose water and crushed walnut booza with a semolina walnut cookie crumble) on the dessert menu sound amazing. As do the other things on the menu that I couldn’t eat – the fried cauliflower with dukka spice, the yellow and green pea falafels, the spiced beef and pine nut sausages and the many dips.
Teta Mona is a great little eatery if you’re hankering for some Lebanese and intent on following your intolerances. Or not. Next time, I will fight against my love for sharing menus and order that chicken wild rice dish – all for myself.
Teta Mona is open from 5.30pm to 10pm Sunday to Thursday and from 5.30pm to 10.30pm Friday to Saturday.