Dearborn Michigan has the largest population of Arab Americans in the United States, so it is no surprise the Arab American National Museum is also located here. This is the only museum in the United States solely devoted to Arab American history and culture. Located on Michigan Avenue in East Dearborn, tiles in various shades of blues and grey adorn the entrance, large glass windows span the the front at the street level. We found a parking space right in front, and went inside. The sun had come out, flooding the lobby in natural light, the space feels bright and airy. After paying our admission we entered the museum, once inside we were greeted by multiple exhibits stored in recessed Moorish archways. Each arch was trimmed in beautiful dark wood with ornate carvings and covered with glass, my favorite was the musical instruments. If you stand in the center of the room and look straight up you will discover a lovely dome painted with traditional designs, below the dome is a level of arched windows allowing more sunlight to spill in, followed by a level of gorgeous tiles. This area has a wonderful sense of serenity about it.
Take the stairs to the second level, you will find yourself on a balcony overlooking the ground floor and an even better view of the museum dome. There are three main exhibits on this level beginning with “Coming To America”. The Arab world is huge; it includes 22 different countries that reach from North Africa to West Asia. This section tells personal stories of the brave souls who left their home in search of a better life; actual trunks, suitcases, handwritten letters, personal papers and photographs are on display. The museum is laid out in such a way that you travel through a sort of maze, I like it when exhibits are laid out in such a manner, it makes it simple to follow the time line and see things in their proper order. I can easily follow along, reading about the experiences of different people; how they arrived, where they settled, and the folks that helped them along the way. “Living In America” introduces us to Arab Americans themselves, many traditions live on through the generations, the exhibits here give you a peek at their lifestyle. “Making An Impact” shares the stories of Arab Americans whose contributions have influenced our way of life from inventions and academics to science and entertainment, athletes and labor leaders. Here is a list of Arab Americans you may recognize: Jamie Farr, Danny Thomas, Candice Lightner, Christa McAuliffe, Helen Thomas, Ralph Nader, Bobby Rahal and Kathy Najimy. You can even listen in on an amusing phone call between LBJ & Joseph Hagar the Lebanese immigrant who founded the Haggar Clothing Company in Texas in 1926. It’s really fun to walk through and learn about the people who invented every day things like the typewriter.The gallery in the lower level hosts changing exhibits. This is a really nice museum and a wonderful introduction to the life of Arab Americans, it’s always fascinating to me to learn about another culture.
There’s a restaurant in Dearborn that we absolutely love: Al-Ajami, located on Warren. The food here is amazing! We made it in for a late lunch, as soon as I walked in the door my mouth began to water. The smell of their homemade bread baking in the wood burning oven permeates the air, revving up our appetite. The decor is contemporary; a mural depicting an evening desert scene is painted on the far wall. Booths run along the perimeter, and tables fill the main dining area. We were seated in a large booth, water arrived immediately. No need for a menu, we know what we want: A Vegetarian Combo and a Chicken Shawarma sandwich. The waiter brought out our drinks a basket of fresh from the oven pita bread and a platter of pickled vegetables. I don’t think you will find a better pita bread anywhere; warm soft pillows of tender bread, a scattering of sesame seed on top, so fragrant and delicious, we nibbled a bit, then the main meal arrived. Falafal, grape leaves, mounds of hommous, taboluee and baba ghanouj, this is the good stuff, fresh and made from scratch. The Chicken in the shawarma is cut into flavorful chunks, pickles are added, it’s rolled up tight in pita and served with the best garlic sauce I’ve ever had. Warning: if you have the garlic sauce it’s best to invite the rest of your table to join you, or at the very least the people with whom you will be sharing a ride home with……. We ate till we could eat no more.
No visit to Dearborn is complete without a trip to Shatila Bakery. Located just a little east on Warren, this is a dessert lovers paradise. As soon as you walk in the door you realize this is no ordinary bakery. The center of the building is a cafe; largePalm trees are wrapped in white lights, the left wall is made into a water feature. One entire side is showcase after showcase filled with tantalizing treats. One section is traditional Mid-Eastern pastries; bakalava, bird nest, fingers and burma. Then there’s the French pastries……I have never seen a selection such as this; they are almost too pretty to eat…almost. What’s your fancy? Chocolate, kiwi, pistachio, strawberry or vanilla. They make cakes, mousse, tortes, tarts and cheesecakes. Are you more of an ice cream person? Not to worry, they have that too! This place is amazing, the pastries are delicious and the prices are unbelievably low.