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Hassouni

eG Foodblog: Hassouni (2012) - Beirut and beyond

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i never actually saw any dishes with the courgette flowers (thats not to say there arent any though) however courgettes nearly always seemed to have them still attached. The ones i saw were always very small though so i didnt buy any (despite LOVING stuffed courgette flowers)

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Late lunch today was kind of not what I wanted (I'm going to get my saaj come hell or high water!). Was in Ashrafiye with the parents, and stopped at a coffee shop for lunch. My general rule here for eats here are "if it's not Lebanese, prepare to pay for quality." What we had wasn't bad but I would've definitely preferred something local. We were at the Colombiano Coffee House on Sassine Square - probably the most Western part of Beirut. The coffee was actually seriously good - especially the filter coffee (rare here).

I had a chicken salad, which was fine, but nothing spectacular:

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The chicken was actually the best part.

My mom's omelette was quite nice though - I should've got one too:

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On the way home stopped at a local greengrocer (in Saqiet al-Janzir, Beirut peeps) to get some fruit and veg for the house. This is a pretty typical sight over Lebanon, nothing fancy, just a huge variety, great quality, and very reasonably priced.

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Lemons the size of baseballs:

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Loubya aka green beans - the flat kind. Delicious in loubya bi zeit (featuring in tonight's upcoming dinner at home).

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Cucumbers!!

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Green, fresh almonds:

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Quinces:

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Sweet lemons - Numi Hilou in Iraqi Arabic...no idea in Lebanese Arabic

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These are really great - they're like a very thin, tight skinned orange, with flesh sort of like a pomelo but sweeter and slightly more tart, with a really amazing floral taste riding along too. If anyone has a Super H Mart back in the States near them, lately they've been selling them.

Tangerines/mandarins:

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Oranges from trees no more than 50 miles away, probably a lot less:

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Zucchini with flowers:

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Purslane - I think this is called Ba'leh locally:

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Beautiful looking artichokes:

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Went across the street to Fakhani, a small chain of tiny grocery/convenience stores for milk, yogurt, and labne.

Their olive and pickle selection:

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The whole shop. Along the back wall is a huge shelf of American cereals, which I can't imagine anyone eats what with the native breakfast being so freakin' awesome.

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Back at home, the produce was whisked away immediately by the housekeeper, so no shots of that, but here's a somewhat shoddy tutorial for making Turkish coffee! There are several ways but here's how I do it. Add an extremely heaped teaspoon or a tablespoon of coffee per serving - this is a 4 serving pot, so I added 4 tablespoons. Added to that 2 tablespoons of sugar, which in retrospect was rather too much - I typically add 1/4 - 1/3 sugar: coffee. Place on stove on medium-low and do not stir!

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The sugar will absorb the water and cause everything to sink. I stir when it's all sunk.

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Eventually it'll start foaming:

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Let it foam until it's about to break, take off the heat for a few seconds, and put it back on, and repeat so that it foams up 3 times. By the 3rd it's done. Take it off the heat, let it settle for a bit, and pour. There's a bit of an art to getting the entire top of the cup covered in foam, and if you're serving more than one cup, proper procedure is to pour little by little alternating between cups to distribute the foam equally.

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Decent, if not perfect! :rolleyes:

PS, a close up of a box of Minn al-Sima from the same maker I mentioned. Unopened. Hopefully it'll be breached tonight?

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PS, that's mostly Kurdish, not Arabic, on the box.

:shock: The blossoms still on the squash!!! WOW! I want, I want, I want! That only happens around here if you pick from your own garden.

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Breakfast - hotel Lebanese breakfast, foul, labne, and a mini croissant. Lunch - Into the mountains today for an attempt to see the more southerly Cedars of Lebanon at the Barouk nature reserve - after driving an hour and a half, and walking a kilometer in the snow, found the entrance to the reserve completely closed and snowed in by about 2 feet of snow. But! We found a little hut selling all kinds of local produced food items - jams, honeys, homemade pomegranate syrup, homemade orange flower water...

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After sampling it, we bought a kilo of cedar honey! It was the most delicious honey I've ever tasted. Here it is at the restaurant at the end of the plowing, where I of course had a...Turkish coffee.

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View from the table

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Full bar in the mountains

Outside:

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Got my saaj on down the mountain in Beiteddine at:

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Complete with sweeping views of Beiteddine Palace (built by Amir Bashir, one of the more powerful local rulers in Ottoman times):

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..and a sweet wood fire:

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The proprietress making our mana'ish:

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I had a nice just-squeezed orange juice:

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Et voila les saajes.

House special homemade cheese - possibly goat? Apparently it's a secret

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My dad's sujuq and cheese:

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Still on a kishk kick (say that 5 times fast) I had kishk w awarma. This was the greasiest thing I've had on the trip, in a yummy way. Lamb grease. mmmm

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FYI, THIS is a saj (device):

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Across the valley, stopped in the historic town of Deir al-Qamar to wander, and spotted some local produce...

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Backyard lemon tree

And olives just sitting on a stone fence. No idea what they were doing there!

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Edited by Hassouni (log)

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Back in Beirut...

Went for coffee at Bread Republic, where I did NOT have a Turkish coffee!! I had a "ginger and honey" - plentiful slices of ginger in boiling water with honey added. Quite lovely:

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Apologies for the crappy pic...

Bread republic storefront:

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And a couple of their menus:

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Also got a loaf of "champagne bread" (no pic), which is a very nice white crusty loaf with very chewy, airy crumb.

Went downtown to meet a friend for an argile, had an Almaza with requisite munchies:

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Yes, this was one of the smart downtown cafes that Sheepish recalls.

Then went back to Kaakaya, where I had a mint lemonade:

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Back at the apartment, I was told that the cedar honey was great, but we already have a vat of comb honey direct from Iraq:

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The container it's in is only a bit smaller than a filing cabinet drawer...

Then, the main attraction - Dinner!

Went with my parents to Basma in Ashrafiye, which features some modern riffing on Lebanese classics while remaining grounded in tradition.

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Took a pic of most of the pages of their menu:

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VERY reasonably priced prix fixe- 35,000 LL, or about $23

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Mains

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Hot mezze

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Cold mezze

If anyone's French or Arabic ain't so hot, feel free to ask for a translation.

Here's fattoush, shanklish, and a mix dip of labne and muhammara:

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Bread: marqouq, pronounced mar'oo', or paper-thin bread. This is also traditionally made on a saaj, and is a more rural type of bread, whereas khubz 'arabi is more urban, I guess. Nowadays both are found everywhere, but mar'oo' is sort of more "homey." It has a tangy taste, and a bit of a bite, but is very chewy when fresh. It goes hard VERY quickly... This was nice.

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Popcorn. Don't ask why - it wasn't ordered.

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Fattoush on my plate:

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Arak, of course:

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Shanklish and labne/muhammara. It tasted much better than it looks here!

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"Roulade de poulet" or - dijaj sakhen bi 'aj'ouj. Almost like pastilla - shredded chicken laced with lots of allspice rolled in mar'ou' and crisped up (possibly baked? it didn't seem fried). This is fantastic and I've never seen it anywhere else.

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Main dish: Sayyadiyye - or "fisherman's dish" - a modern interpretation of a classic - seared fish filet on rice, served with pine nuts, fried onions, and what appears to be a yogurt sauce. The fish was excellent, the sauce very nice. The rice fine but not spectacular - but then, and I swear this is not my chauvinism coming out, Iraqis do rice the best among all the Arab people!

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Evidence of other main dish - house kabab, which was actually excellent, despite me not holding Lebanese kabab in high regard. Well-spiced, done medium, with nice grilled garnishes (chile, tomato, miniature oniony thing), and an interesting, almost chutney-like sauce on the side:

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Turkish coffee, obviously. Asked for it with sugar, they said it's nicer with sugar on the side, I said oh no it isn't, please add it to the pot. It came unsweetened. But it was good and the presentation was pretty:

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Oof! Long day!


Edited by Hassouni (log)

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Guess I'm the heretic who said I could bake my own pita bread-have a bread machine recipe, pop on the pizza stone,3-5 breads for a day or two, works for me...now if I just had some convenient olive trees, I'd be set...I'd much rather have other folks cooking for me, those kishk & shanklish look wonderful...

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Oh my, much as I'm enjoying the tour of Beirut, your "unsuccessful" trip to the Barouk nature reserve was really remarkable. That shop selling honey and the "full bar in the mountains" look like worthy destinations in their own right. Thanks for a blog full of unexpected and delicious food delights.

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Absolutely marvelous blog. As a product of a very white-bread, middle America upbringing, it had never occurred to me to consider Lebanon a tourism or culinary destination. You have changed that. Thanks for broadening my horizons.

Edited to fix iPad's auto correction!


Edited by kayb (log)

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Another foodblog from Lebanon! Be still my heart! One day I shall eat there. Y'all make it so tempting!

What is zouhourat tea (seen on one of the menus)? And when ordering "mint" tea in Lebanon, is it always that ubiquitous green tea with lots of mint found all over the Middle East?

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Tickets booked for mid may :-) loving the blog hassouni, had forgotten how much I liked basma!

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This is all lovely. I can't decide which I like best: the scenery, the food, the restaurants, the menus. The mountain scenery is particularly beautiful. And that gigantic honeycomb! Wow!

I do love freshly cooked fish, and the sultan looks wonderful. What kind of seasonings were used with the fish you showed us?

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Another foodblog from Lebanon! Be still my heart! One day I shall eat there. Y'all make it so tempting!

What is zouhourat tea (seen on one of the menus)? And when ordering "mint" tea in Lebanon, is it always that ubiquitous green tea with lots of mint found all over the Middle East?

Zouhourat I guess means "flowers," - I think it's chamomile or another herbal tea. Tea culture here breaks my heart and crushes my soul. Actual tea here is almost always Lipton tea bags. Mint tea is either that plus a spring of fresh mint, or just an infusion of fresh mint. Green tea with mint is more of a North African thing.

Tickets booked for mid may :-) loving the blog hassouni, had forgotten how much I liked basma!

Ahlein! Yeah, it's really good :smile:

This is all lovely. I can't decide which I like best: the scenery, the food, the restaurants, the menus. The mountain scenery is particularly beautiful. And that gigantic honeycomb! Wow!

I do love freshly cooked fish, and the sultan looks wonderful. What kind of seasonings were used with the fish you showed us?

Nothing at all. Scaled, gutted, and fried/grilled. Superb.

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Thank you! Thank you, for a lovely visit to a lovely country and wonderful food.

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Outstanding blog, Hassouni!

The snowy mountains look great. Fried fish just how I like 'em. The green market resplendent with tip top produce. Restaurants and cafes look homey and fun. And my favorite word for "eat"...

The lahme b'ajine as snarfed down in the car

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Awesome blog, one I will definitely use as a point of reference, very educational for me.

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In the first of the menu pictures from Basma, there are hot mezze (choose 5) listed. How are potatoes provincale prepared? What is the difference between the two hummus offerings? On another menu page it simply lists fattat - can you explain that one a bit more, please?

Finally, you noted that the saaj-made bread is more tangy than the khoubz arabi, which is the more urban take. Any ideas about the difference in the dough for those two?

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In the first of the menu pictures from Basma, there are hot mezze (choose 5) listed. How are potatoes provincale prepared? What is the difference between the two hummus offerings? On another menu page it simply lists fattat - can you explain that one a bit more, please?

Finally, you noted that the saaj-made bread is more tangy than the khoubz arabi, which is the more urban take. Any ideas about the difference in the dough for those two?

Potatoes provençale, according to the Arabic, appears to be potatoes with coriander (as in, the leaves) and garlic - there's an Arabic word there that I don't know (harqousa, lebanese readers), but it seems to be a riff on the classic hot mezza that's similar to patatas bravas and has been pictured before.

There are three hummus offerings I saw - plain, self explanatory; spiced - which should mostly be hot spices; and with meat and pine nuts - the meat will typically either be awarma AKA lamb confit, or otherwise cooked small cubes/strips of lamb.

Fattat is plural of fatteh - you can read about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatteh but basically it's meat or vegetables swimming in spiced yogurt and olive oil sauce with crisped bread pieces and chickpeas.

As for the bread - I suspect khubuz 'arabi is made with yeast and rises quickly, while the khubuz mar'oo' is a) probably a sourdough and b) made with whole wheat. It certainly does not have yeast, that's for sure. Perhaps it's not even a sourdough, since it never really rises. It must be a difference in the wheat - khubuz 'arabi is white, and mar'ou' is brown...so....your guess is as good as mine?

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Last day in Beirut, and what a day of contrasts.

Breakfast at the hotel - A slice of the really good Bread Republic champagne bread, some pain au chocolate and half a cheese croissant, with a few scoops of arabic bread and labne, with cucumbers and olives.

Went to visit a Lebanese friend who I used to work with who now is back here, working in Dora, one of the endless coastal suburbs of Beirut, just beyond the far more interesting Armenian neighborhood of Burj Hammoud. Surprise: the traffic was soul-crushing!

He just moved back here from six months in Texas, and he is the most gung ho American-culture-lover I've seen. He took me to a great institution of Lebanon - Roadster Diner, which is exactly what it sounds like. A retro themed diner chain. It is incredibly popular here - I guess people get tired of labne, hummus, and mana'ish every day. Here's what the endless suburbs look like right by the entrance:

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And inside:

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I got a draft Almaza and the requisite free munchies, only this time instead of nuts, it was Chex Mix:

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We decided to go all out and got the starter sampler:

Buffalo chicken strips, onion rings, fries, and cheese sticks. The rings and chicken were quite good.

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I got a "Philly cheesesteak:"

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Which was good, although the steak was in chunks and not slices. Strange. Only had the half. My friend got the chicken version, which was apparently spicy and garlicky.

Back in Beirut, went for a walk with my parents along the corniche, and saw some familiar signs in Raouché:

The ka'ak vendor, who sells the Beiruti version of a soft pretzel or a bagel, except thinner, crisper, hollow, and shaped like a handbag:

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The vicious rip off vendor of Arabic coffee ($2 a pop! The guy further down was 67 cents):

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NOT Turkish coffee, nor proper peninsula/Gulf Arabic coffee, but the Levantine version, coarse ground coffee, brewed for hours and served out of the distinctive pots shown, mostly sold on the street. The pots have a little chimney in which the vendors occasionally add bits of charcoal, presumably to fuel a fire to keep the coffee hot, almost like a traditional Samovar.

Obligatory shot of the Pigeon Rocks...I didn't go in them this time, but Bay Rock and Dbaibo are the two cafes at Raouché with the best view of them

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Then tonight - to celebrate my friend's upcoming birthday and as a farewell dinner for me, my friends and I had dinner at Al Balad, probably the best place to get dinner downtown. The food is great, cheap, comes out quickly, and is, to use a phrase, "hella legit:"

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We ordered an absurd quantity of food:

The biggest dish of olives I've seen:

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Quarter bottle of Arak mixed in a pitcher, as is the right way:

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Fattoush and hummus. Not pictured - tabboule:

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Shanklish and waraq 'enab, in this case, as sometimes happens, called waraq 'areesh:

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R'aa'aat (rkakat) jibne w sujuq - cheese and spicy sausage rolls

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Deep fried halloum. Dear God.

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Potatoes with coriander and garlic (provençale? maybe)

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Some sort of cheese man'ooshi thing:

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A much better baked good - lahme b'ajin bi dibis rumman - flat pastry with ground lamb and pomegranate syrup

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Yet another man'ooshi thing - feta ("bulghari" in Arabic) with rocket and tomatoes:

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Birthday cake for my friend as brought in by his sister:

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Finally, after passing by Ka3kaya (again...yeah..), and the rather disappointing new waterfront development of Zaytounay Bay, the aforementioned sister and I went to Falamanki for some tea and argile. I had tea with anise (yansoon):

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I prefer this to tea with mint, if it has to be a Lipton teabag.

And now I'm finished packing as I write this. Maybe there'll be something tasty at the airport?


Edited by Hassouni (log)

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Safe travels, Hassouni! What a glorious ride you've taken us on! This is a blog I'll return to again and again.

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Deep fried halloum. Dear God.

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My thoughts exactly.

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Thanks hassouni! Lovely trip down memory lane and some new sights too - have loved reading this blog :-) sadly Beirut airport lacks anywhere great to eat - hope you picked up a last almaza though! Safe journey home!

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Thanks for sharing your week with us. Maybe we can work it out so a bunch of us can be there at once some day:)

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Thanks so much for a fascinating food-and-travel blog! Have a safe trip back.

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Thanks for this most interesting week of food and travel.. and more food.

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Oh, alf shokr!

Thanks for a wonderful tour, with evocative writing and tantalizing photos...and thanks for answering our questions and comments.

In these days of reading about the Arab Spring (in whichever country) your foodblog is especially encouraging. This has been a great pleasure, and has given me fresh inspiration to break out my Lebanese and Egyptian cookbooks.

Safe travels, and thanks for sharing with us

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