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Lebanon Trip Report 2007


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#1 FoodMan

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 06:53 AM

I will use this thread to gradually post (4 or 5 posts maybe) what food-related pictures and notes from a recent trip to Lebanon, mainly Beirut and North of Lebanon.

Unfortunatly, this particular trip was a busy one since we went for my brother's wedding. As such we did not get to do as many things, see as many sights or hit as many local food joints as we normally would have. Everyone was so damn busy! I even forgot my camera at a very crucial spot. Here goes what few pics I have. Hopefully, you will find them worth a quick look.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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#2 FoodMan

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 06:59 AM

Jabbour

In 2.5 weeks in Lebanon, I think I ate here maybe 10 times. The Shawarma at this place in Beirut’s Dora area is sublime, the best anywhere. Not just the beef/lamb one but also the chicken version is juicy, packed with flavor and delicious. Jabbour’s Shawarma is always a highlight of any of my trips to my home country.


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Chicken Shawarma on the right, the beef/lamb one on the left


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Shawarma is the main attraction for me and Diana here, but Jabbour is a full fledged Lebanese restaurant/sandwich shop. In this one display you see some of the possible choices like lamb kebabs, kefta, lamb liver, tongue, kidney and one of my favorites lamb testicles! You just place and order and the guy in the back grills the skewer over charcoal and makes you a nice fresh pita bread wrap with it (i:e Lebanese sandwich).


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This is a not so good closeup of a chicken Shawarma and a glass of cold no-corn-syrup-included Pepsi. All of us look forward to drinking this Pepsi! This sandwich contains in addition to the chicken pickled cucumbers, lettuce, french fries and lots of garlic sauce…it could be messy. The beef/lamb one will have tahini sauce, pickled turnips, parsley, raw onions and tomatoes.

More Lebanon trip photos to come…

E. Nassar
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#3 docsconz

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 07:10 AM

Looking forward to following this, Elie! Just out of curiosity, what would be the cost of the shawarma at this restaurant and how does it compare to others in that area? Also is there a difference between a shawarma and a gyro?
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#4 prasantrin

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 07:19 AM

I'm really looking forward to this! Lebanon was on my "must visit soon" list until the 2006...shall I say "conflict"? (Trying not to get my reply edited).

Did you find that the country, or at least Beirut, has recovered sufficiently to encourage tourism once again?

#5 FoodMan

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 08:07 AM

Looking forward to following this, Elie! Just out of curiosity, what would be the cost of the shawarma at this restaurant and how does it compare to others in that area? Also is there a difference between a shawarma and a gyro?

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I think the Shawarma here was 2500 L.L. which is about $1.70. You can find cheaper Shawarma, probly as low as $1. Even the not spectacular specimens are still pretty good IMHO, which just drives me crazy when I see Beiruties plonking down $5 -$8 for a lame Big Mac meal down the street!!

Gyro to me is the Greek equivelant, is made with a thick pocketless pita (as opposed to the thin pocket one viewed here) and as far as I know is not found in Lebanon. I did not walk into any shops that sell 'Gyro', only 'Sandwich' = 'Pita bread wrap' made using Lebanese bread with pocket. Hope this helps.

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#6 melkor

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 08:11 AM

Gyros are also made with ground meat rather than the traditional stacked slices of meat shawarma uses. Elie, I'd love to visit Lebanon at some point - it looks fantastic... Unfortunately it doesn't look like a visit is in the cards any time soon...

#7 docsconz

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 08:16 AM

Gyros are also made with ground meat rather than the traditional stacked slices of meat shawarma uses.  Elie, I'd love to visit Lebanon at some point - it looks fantastic...  Unfortunately it doesn't look like a visit is in the cards any time soon...

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That depends. In NYC and in my experience, "gyros" are the name generally used for what is described by Elie as "shawarma." In fact, the only "gyros" that I have ever had had the stacked meat. Of course, that may be a function of misnaming in the US and in Greece it may very well be as you describe.
John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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#8 melkor

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 08:27 AM

Gyros are also made with ground meat rather than the traditional stacked slices of meat shawarma uses.  Elie, I'd love to visit Lebanon at some point - it looks fantastic...  Unfortunately it doesn't look like a visit is in the cards any time soon...

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That depends. In NYC and in my experience, "gyros" are the name generally used for what is described by Elie as "shawarma." In fact, the only "gyros" that I have ever had had the stacked meat. Of course, that may be a function of misnaming in the US and in Greece it may very well be as you describe.

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The ground meat shawarma is usually served in lazy shops that order a frozen gyrokones, it's not the sort of thing made on site. Ground meat shawarma shops are the shawarma equivalent of the Sysco brown-sauce Chinese restaurants. Greek gyros as far as I know are supposed to made from formed ground meat - but I'm mostly clueless on Greek food.

Edited by melkor, 21 September 2007 - 08:28 AM.


#9 FoodMan

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 08:30 AM

About tourism in Lebanon:
As much as it pains me to say it, we would not have gone this year if it was not for my brother's wedding. The situation, what with political unrest, the Nahr El-Bared camp problem and the upcoming elections was a bit risky. We made sure to return before the elections are scheduled to start (next week).

With that being said, Lebanese and Lebanon have a very short recuperation period. Even now, Beirut was busy, restaurants were full, beaches (we went twice) were hopping and the capital seemed normal. Every now and then we were reminded of where we were at by the extensive security checks everywhere and the army check points towards the north (due to the now resolved Nahr El Bared camp problem). If the upcoming elections pass safely, then by next summer tourists will start trickling back! In any case always use your judgement and what is ok for me might not be for you (I did live through 15 years or so of civil war as did most Lebanese...so I do not scare easily).

My kids had so much fun, I really would love to go back soon. So, I hope all turns out and stays well.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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#10 ChefCrash

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 08:42 AM

Glad to hear that you had a nice, safe trip albeit rushed. Can't wait for more photos.

#11 Kouign Aman

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 09:45 AM

Posted Image
This is a not so good closeup of a chicken Shawarma and a glass of cold no-corn-syrup-included Pepsi. All of us look forward to drinking this Pepsi! ...

More Lebanon trip photos to come…

View Post


I really have to learn to eat breakfast before logging on. This looks divine. :drool:
The tablecloth is also lovely, and it amazes me to see it in a sandwich shop. It looks like handmade crochet? Or is it a clever plastic copy?
As for the Pepsi; Ribena is the same for my mom when she travels to England. She really looks forward to it. Interestingly, we can get it here, but here she doesnt want it. Its part of the experience of 'home'.

Will later pix include wedding food? <Fingers crossed>
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#12 Stevarino

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 10:55 AM

Ellie,
The chicken shawarma looks really tasty! I have never had the opportunity to have the real thing. Most of what I have seen/witnessed, is the ground meat looking thing, that I've never found to be very appetizing.

And that place looks very tight, organized, focused, and clean, unlike the places with the ground meat stick.

I wanted to ask about the garlic sauce. Is it like a alioli/ olive oil emulsion?

Would you say that Turkish/Ottoman style of cooking is the major influence in Lebanese cuisine? and what would be some things that make the two different?

Thanks

#13 FoodMan

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 11:37 AM

Posted Image
This is a not so good closeup of a chicken Shawarma and a glass of cold no-corn-syrup-included Pepsi. All of us look forward to drinking this Pepsi! ...

More Lebanon trip photos to come…

View Post


I really have to learn to eat breakfast before logging on. This looks divine. :drool:
The tablecloth is also lovely, and it amazes me to see it in a sandwich shop. It looks like handmade crochet? Or is it a clever plastic copy?
As for the Pepsi; Ribena is the same for my mom when she travels to England. She really looks forward to it. Interestingly, we can get it here, but here she doesnt want it. Its part of the experience of 'home'.

Will later pix include wedding food? <Fingers crossed>

View Post


LOL...nah that corchet is my mom's! We had taken a few sandwiches 'to-go' for my wife and kids.

As for wedding food. Well, I was the best man so I was not taking many pics. Whenever I get the pictures from the 'official Photographer', I'll see if i have any pictures of the food.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com


#14 FoodMan

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 11:47 AM

Ellie,
The chicken shawarma looks really tasty! I have never had the opportunity to have the real thing. Most of what I have seen/witnessed, is the ground meat looking thing, that I've never found to be very appetizing.

And that place looks very tight, organized, focused, and clean, unlike the places with the ground meat stick.

I wanted to ask about the garlic sauce. Is it like a alioli/ olive oil emulsion?

Would you say that Turkish/Ottoman style of cooking is the major influence in Lebanese cuisine? and what would be some things that make the two different?

Thanks

View Post


Oh man...wait till you see the Abou Koko Kebab shop pictures for an idea how a tiny operation can be efficient and organized and tight!!

You are correct about the garlic sauce. It is basically an emulsion of vegetable oil (gives it a mayonaise white color and consistency), garlic, lemon juice and salt. IT is used HEAVILY. My wife makes sure to order hers with light garlic, because subtlety with 'Thoom' (ie Garlic) is not a Lebanese trait :)

Yes, Turkish style is defintily a big influence (example: Donner Kebab is pretty much Shawarma). As for your other question, well, I am not sure this is the right thread for it. I am also not an authority on Turkish food, so I really do not know the answer. I know the two are very similar though.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com


#15 Adam Balic

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Posted 21 September 2007 - 03:27 PM

Gyros are also made with ground meat rather than the traditional stacked slices of meat shawarma uses.  Elie, I'd love to visit Lebanon at some point - it looks fantastic...  Unfortunately it doesn't look like a visit is in the cards any time soon...

View Post


That depends. In NYC and in my experience, "gyros" are the name generally used for what is described by Elie as "shawarma." In fact, the only "gyros" that I have ever had had the stacked meat. Of course, that may be a function of misnaming in the US and in Greece it may very well be as you describe.

View Post


The ground meat shawarma is usually served in lazy shops that order a frozen gyrokones, it's not the sort of thing made on site. Ground meat shawarma shops are the shawarma equivalent of the Sysco brown-sauce Chinese restaurants. Greek gyros as far as I know are supposed to made from formed ground meat - but I'm mostly clueless on Greek food.

View Post


I don't think there are any hard rules for the composition of the meat in a Greek gyros, more likely to be due to local resources.

The lebanese version looks great.

#16 Pontormo

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Posted 23 September 2007 - 11:17 AM

It's wonderful to see this report, Foodman. Congratulations to your brother & I'm glad your children had such a good time.

Since you had mentioned trends in Lebanese markets earlier, I hope the camera wasn't forgotten during at least one trip to the market...
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#17 FoodMan

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Posted 24 September 2007 - 12:00 PM

Abu Koko

I had never been to Abu Koko before. It is not exactly new, but when I was living in Beirut 12 years ago, I am not sure it was that popular. In any case, I went there because my cousins insisted we pick up some sandwiches from there for dinner one night. They claimed this place makes outstanding Kabab sandwiches. Kabab here refers to ground lamb and/or beef mixed with spices, formed into a log shape (1 inch thick and maybe 6 inches long), skewered and grilled over charcoal. So off we went and I was not disappointed.

Abu Koko is small, even by Lebanese standards and also located in the Dora area close to Jabbour. It’s long and narrow with some counter space to eat your food. Most people eat their wrap on the go, at the 3 or 4 tables he has outside or in their cars. What was fascinating to me is that the place was bustling busy with one guy (Abu Koko himself??) manning the cash register and taking the order, two guys making the actual sandwiches and one guy grilling everything! It’s quiet a chore keeping track of everything, especially for the poor fellow who is actually making the sandwiches. For our order alone we had about 12 sandwiches and almost each one different than the other (no pickles, extra hot sauce, no vegetables/with fries,….). The guy did not screw up a single one and never missed a beat.


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A shot of the sparse menu. This is the guy you need to talk to to get your custom Kebab sandwich.

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I was trying to see if I can get a picture of our meats grilling. Since, we were waiting for our order, I am assuming quiet a few of these were ours.

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The sandwich maker posing for the camera. He asked me to make sure he gets his pic on-line.

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Making Kebab sandwiches

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The Assembly line. Typically one of the guys was putting on the vegetables and the other one (pictured above) was adding the meat and finishing the assembly.

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Abu Koko’s selection. I only ate the Kebab, seen here at the bottom, and that’s what 80% of the people get. My wife tried his chicken Tawook sandwiches though and said they were quiet good.

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I could not wait to get home. Mine (both of them) had in addition to the Kebab meat, hummus, onions, parsley, tomatoes, pickles and extra hot pepper paste. It is amazing how good and inexpensive this was ($1). Too bad I only had the chance to get to Abu Koko only once, but it is definitly on my radar for future visits.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com


#18 prasantrin

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Posted 24 September 2007 - 02:19 PM

At both the kabab and the schawarma places, you got your food to-go, I assume because you were bringing back dinner for other family members. But could you have eaten it on the street, if you wanted? I mean, while walking around? Or is there an unwritten rule about not walking while you eat? (like there is in Japan)

#19 FoodMan

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Posted 24 September 2007 - 02:33 PM

At both the kabab and the schawarma places, you got your food to-go, I assume because you were bringing back dinner for other family members.  But could you have eaten it on the street, if you wanted?  I mean, while walking around?  Or is there an unwritten rule about not walking while you eat?  (like there is in Japan)

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Correct, I was taking food back home. People at places like that either eat standing up infront of the shop, sitting at the few tables he has outside or in their cars. You almost never see people walking around and eating. Not sure if it's a rule. It's just nice to take 15 minutes and eat your meal instead of rush I guess.

E. Nassar
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#20 ChefCrash

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Posted 24 September 2007 - 04:21 PM

Great shots Foodman, If those are Kababs then what is Kafta on the menu? Also what are "Daran" and "Orfali"?

#21 Smithy

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Posted 24 September 2007 - 08:40 PM

Thanks so much for the virtual tour, Elie!

How are the chicken tawook sandwiches seasoned? Lemon, garlic, cinnamon, ...? What about the kabob sandwiches?

I assume these folks didn't make their bread, but got it from not far away. Did you have a chance to see the pita being made? Better still - any photos?

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#22 FoodMan

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Posted 25 September 2007 - 11:48 AM

Great shots Foodman, If those are Kababs then what is Kafta on the menu? Also what are "Daran" and "Orfali"?

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I believe Kafta and Kabab are more or less the same thing here, difference is in the seasoning. The Kafta will be more heavily seasoned and will include minced onions and parsley in the meat as opposed to the Kabab which is just ground meat and spices.

As for Daran and Orfali...I do not know.

E. Nassar
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#23 infernooo

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Posted 25 September 2007 - 09:36 PM

Jabbour
Posted Image
Chicken Shawarma on the right, the beef/lamb one on the left


Just out of curiosity, if you get the chance, could you please ask one of these shops what exactly is in the shawarma shown above? (beef/lamb primarily). I have read that it is thinly sliced lamb alternated with lamb fat and some other things - lemon juice, herbs, garlic etc, but I feel it is actually made like some kind of meatloaf... anyways I would greatly appreciate it if you do get the chance to ask :-).

Thanks!

#24 FoodMan

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 12:49 PM

Thanks so much for the virtual tour, Elie!

How are the chicken tawook sandwiches seasoned?  Lemon, garlic, cinnamon, ...?  What about the kabob sandwiches?

I assume these folks didn't make their bread, but got it from not far away.  Did you have a chance to see the pita being made?  Better still - any photos?

View Post


Tawook sandwich usually has lots of garlic sauce, pickles, tomatoes and maybe fries. Kabab sandwiches, as I mentioned above have hummus, onions, parsley, tomatoes, pickles and hot pepper paste.

Sorry, no pics of Pita baking.

E. Nassar
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#25 FoodMan

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 12:55 PM

Jabbour
Posted Image
Chicken Shawarma on the right, the beef/lamb one on the left


Just out of curiosity, if you get the chance, could you please ask one of these shops what exactly is in the shawarma shown above? (beef/lamb primarily). I have read that it is thinly sliced lamb alternated with lamb fat and some other things - lemon juice, herbs, garlic etc, but I feel it is actually made like some kind of meatloaf... anyways I would greatly appreciate it if you do get the chance to ask :-).

Thanks!

View Post


Nope, definitly NOT like meatloaf. That is the Greek version discussed above that is made like meatloaf. This one is like you mentioned made from thinly sliced lamb and beef alternated with lamb fat. The whole thing is marinated before getting on the skewer. The marinade usually has stuff like spices, garlic, onions, vinegar, wine...
BTW I did buy a couple of packets of 'Beef Shawarma Seasoning' to try and recreate some of this at home. The seasoning is a combo of maybe 10 different spices. If you like I'll post what these are. My goal is to make my own blend using this packet as guide.

E. Nassar
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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com


#26 infernooo

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Posted 26 September 2007 - 03:35 PM

That would be terrific - thank you!

#27 FoodMan

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 11:33 AM

That would be terrific - thank you!

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Better late than never. Here is the lost of ingredients from the packet of Shawarma spices:

Allspice
Cinnamon
Ginger
Black Pepper
Nutmeg
Cloves
Coriander
White Pepper
Garlic
Salt

E. Nassar
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contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com


#28 FoodMan

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 11:38 AM

Lebanese Sweets

I am really not going to do the sweets you can find in Lebanon any justice here. As far as I am concerned (and a few million others in the region might agree), the place called Abdul Rahman Hallab & Sons (a.k.a The Sweet Palace)in Tripoli, North Lebanon, is the best middle eastern pastry maker in the world. This place is simply unrivaled in terms of freshness, artistry and taste. I never think of driving through Tripoli without a stop here. Unfortunately, my useless brain managed to forget the camera when I did stop on this visit and the chance of taking photos of the place is lost till next time. So, here is the consolation prize. My grandmother on her way to Beirut stopped there and picked up a couple of trays of delicacies. Glad she did!!

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These here are ‘Znood El Sit’, meaning ‘The Lady’s Arm’. You’ll find many Arabic desserts named after women’s anatomy. I guess, they are more attractive than saying ‘Big Burly Guy’s Arms’. Anyways, these particular ones here are delicious for only a few hours after they are made. They are filo dough, brushed in butter, filled with cream, deep fried and soaked in syrup!! They are absolutely addictive when fresh.


Posted Image
The picture above is of the usual ‘Mshakal’ (Combination) tray you get from Hallab. This one travels very well, and I made sure to bring a couple of pounds with me. All I have to do is let them know that I need them packed for travel and they’ll give me individually wrapped pieces in a strong cardboard box.



The following pictures are from another well known sweet shop called Sea Sweet. There are a few of them around the country, mainly in and around Beirut. Sea Sweet makes very good western style pastries and candies in addition to their -mediocre- middle eastern stuff. They do make excellent ice cream though.

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Edited by FoodMan, 09 October 2007 - 11:40 AM.

E. Nassar
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#29 Smithy

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 08:33 PM

Elie,

I don't see much use of chocolate in Middle Eastern sweets. I've noticed it before in Egypt, and your photos above seem to support that: the photo with the "western-style pastries" shows some chocolate frosting, but even then it seems less emphasized than in this country. Honey, nuts, fruit, syrups seem to prevail over chocolate in the Middle East. Can you comment? Is there generally a disinterest in chocolate, or am I just looking in the wrong places?

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown


#30 FoodMan

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Posted 09 October 2007 - 08:55 PM

Elie,

I don't see much use of chocolate in Middle Eastern sweets.  I've noticed it before in Egypt, and your photos above seem to support that: the photo with the "western-style pastries" shows some chocolate frosting, but even then it seems less emphasized than in this country.  Honey, nuts, fruit, syrups seem to prevail over chocolate in the Middle East.  Can you comment?  Is there generally a disinterest in chocolate, or am I just looking in the wrong places?

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Certainly you are correct about the 'no chocolate in middle eastern desserts' observation. Although -THE HORROR OF HORRORS- we do see chocolate kenafi (as opposed to the cream or cheese filled ones) in many a shop now :smile: . I certainly would not say there is a disinterest in chocolate though. It is very much used in cakes and western pastries as well as in many bonbons and other confections. Like I said, my post does not do sweets in Lebanon justice.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com