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Lebanon report with Pictures, June 2005


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Since you guys were so helpful, I have decided to take on this rather monumental task. :rolleyes: I will have to do this in installments, as I work through my stacks & stacks of photos. We begin, of course, in:

Beirut.

It is really hard to figure out where to start. Beirut looks nothing like I remember it. We lived there when I was born but we moved north in 1978 because of the war. A few places near our hotel in Hamra were familiar: Horseshoe, Café du Paris, Wimpy’s…a couple of bookstores... But Downtown? Here is what it looks like today:

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This building, left un-renovated, on the former green line is more the way I remember things:

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(If you look closely at the buildings in the renovated Downtown, you can still see the bullet-holes. )

There was a small but moving tribute to Hariri in Downtown:

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The footsteps mark where Hariri walked…

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...to the table where he spent the last hour of his life. Perhaps it is typically Lebanese that someone has already made off with a few of the metal prints. Ah well.

Okay, since this is a food site, I will stick to the fun stuff as much as possible. Downtown in the summer is overrun with rich gulf tourists. Still, it is a pleasant place to hang out, for lunch or in the early evening. Beirutis really don’t go out for dinner until at least around 9 o’clock, so you will probably have no problem finding a table before then. We tried Al-Balad for Arabic food (good, and if you want to see what the old currency looked like take a trip to the bathroom). La Posta does decent Italian (no hot-dogs on the pizza, Elie!) and Casper’s & Gambini does all kinds of currently hip sandwich type stuff. In the latter two places try to sit on the back terrace, there is a great view of hariri’s big mosque (under construction) and the roman ruins they found when they dug up the place.

For going out, Monot street is a good place to start. Don't bother before 10pm though. We ate late at a good (and packed!) Mexican place, Pacifico I think, and then caught an excellent indie/punkish band over a few Almazas (the local beer) at Shakespear’s, down the street. There is a bar, 1975, that has waiters in militia uniforms and sandbags instead of seats, but as my cousin said, we lived through the real thing, let’s leave this for the kids who didn’t... There was supposed to be a music festival that evening but that was the day the head of the communist party was assassinated, so it ended up being a fairly subdued night out. Under the circumstances we decided to skip Che Cafe, though I hear that's also a fun scene. I’ve been told Solea, 37 degrees and Lime are also hip with the kiddies. Basically, walk down the street and pop in wherever it looks interesting, okay?

For a slightly less college-kid crowd, head to nearby Gimayze. There is a cute little bar with a dragonfly theme (it might even be called dragonfly) housed in a very old shopfront. Godot is also a good one. I think Gimayze café showed up in the movie West Beirut, so it is worth stopping in just for that.

In Hamra, we made De Prague on Rue Makdissi our second home. I wish I could airlift the whole damn place with everyone in it to wherever I happen to be living at the moment. Great music, great crowd,great atmosphere. Chez Andre is also nearby, old school, very weird little place but very Beirut. And please, at least have an espresso or something at Café de Paris, if only for old time’s sake. That place has so much old Beirut soul. I really wish they would get a wireless connection, so they could get some of the crowd packing the Starbucks across the street.

As far as food, you are right at the university, so there's lots of cheap stuff. I really liked the “Le Sage” chain for great saj (sage?) toasted cheese sandwiches. I think the menu is only in Arabic, but you know, just ask a native – most younger people speak fluent English. Zaatar wa Zeit is also a good place to get variously topped man’ouch. There are probably fancier places to eat but at that point we really couldn't stand to look at anything more than a sandwich. Oh yeah, walk around the university. You just need to leave your ID with security at the front gate. Beautiful campus.

If you want to hang out on Raouche, Bay Rock was recommended to us by a friend. As with everyplace else, this joint didn’t start happening until around 10 pm, but they serve very decent mezze, very reasonably priced, especially if you consider the view: basically right over Pigeon Rock, looking out on the sea. One thing you can try here is the “sardine bizri” which are little inch-long sardines that are dredged in flour and fried. You squeeze a little lemon juice on them and eat them whole, like chips. Very good, but you get enough to feed a family of four for all of 8000LL. We also got hummus, mtabbal and that kind of stuff. After 10, the place filled up with packs of grannies smoking water pipes. Which, you know, is a good thing.

What else? This is not food, but do go to the National Musem. At the beginning of the war the curator built concrete walls around everything to prevent looting, so this was my first time seeing the stuff. Marvel at the freakishly realistic baby statues circa 500 BC from Echmoun’s temple. If you are feeling brave, walk up the green line towards Achrafieh for lunch. Then walk up to martyr square and say hi to the tent hippies. Then you could have an espresso in the cafe on top of the virgin megastore right across the street.

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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Sounds like those folks eat later than the Spaniards! Do they all have long siestas in the afternoon or/and do they sleep in? What are typical open hours for food stores and such in Beirut?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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It may have been that summer vacation had just started, or that we have really high unemployment. Keep in mind we're talking Beirut though, not the rest of the country. Tripoli shuts down at 9, and that's on a good night.

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Sounds like those folks eat later than the Spaniards! Do they all have long siestas in the afternoon or/and do they sleep in? What are typical open hours for food stores and such in Beirut?

Yups, they are nitebirds in Beirut. But this has to do as a way of life. In most cities where nitelife is heavy (except old London with archaic closing times) dinner must start as late as possible as it is a disgrace to hit the niteclubs/discos...before midnite.

So dinner at around 22.00hrs and niteclub around 24.00hrs. But in Beirut this goes on at 04.00hrs for breakfast at Marrouch or Knafeh bel Jebn at Samadi or a Mankusheh at the bakery and hit the sack at 06.00.

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Behemoth, I just want to thank you for this thread. I was in Lebanon a couple of weeks ago and I found it hard to leave. I had the most incredible meal of my life in Anjar- I know it's touristy, but I don't care. We were on our way to Mdoukha, a tiny, pastoral village in the Bekaa Valley. The nearest town to Mdoukha is Kharbat Rooha- pretty melodramatic. But it's is pretty much how I felt when I left Lebanon.

('Kharbat Rooha' means 'her soul was destroyed' :shock:)

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The nearest town to Mdoukha is Kharbat Rooha- pretty melodramatic. But it's is pretty much how I felt when I left Lebanon.

A couple of days with my family would probably cure that :wink:

But anyway, in terms of Beirut nightlife -- I have to hand it to them, I don't think any other city comes close. There is that intense "stay out all night drinking" atmosphere that probably comes from all the kids who are out of sight of their parents for the first time (in a still somewhat conservative culture, both for muslims and christians), coupled with a deep sense of irony & black humor that comes from the fact that the building you are drinking in may well have contained dead bodies 20 years ago. I may be exaggerating a little, but basically the end result is a scene where people really seem to want to get away from everything and have a great time, so they are laid back and don't take themselves all that seriously, if that makes any sense.

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Welcome back!

I am looking forward to your report. Did you actually go in the Barakat building- my friends and I snuck in one day and the inside is just as it was after the war, graffitti, abandoned letters, we even picked up bullets and grenade pieces from the war (you can read an article abut it here).

As to the eating schedule, I remember my friends mom would get up really early, around five, then sleep through most of the midday, and then get up and stay out very late. I don't think this is typical, but everyone tries to avoid the heat of midday. On weekends a big late lunch around two is the main meal of the day and then you would nibble in the evenings. Things don't get going in restaurants at least until after nine in Beirut.

I am really looking forward to your stories, as I will be back there in the winter. I've been in cntact with a lot of my friends there and reminiscing about 5 am snacks at zaatar wa zeit, etc.

That's a nice little tribute to Harriri, we are keeping an eye on political developments with our fingers crossed. And we used to joke about the gulfi influx that begins around now, but I guess it's good for the economy.

Hope you are adjusting back to the states in the meantime...

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Thanks for putting this together for us Nadia!

My last time in Beirut dates back to 1997 so the downtown area back then was a huge construction site. My younger sister who goes back every summer to visit her in laws (out of 6 siblings, she's the only one who married a Lebanese!), tells me that it has changed dramaticaly in recent years, and it certainly shows on the pictures you posted.

I'm looking forward to reading and seeing more!!

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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The nearest town to Mdoukha is Kharbat Rooha- pretty melodramatic. But it's is pretty much how I felt when I left Lebanon.

A couple of days with my family would probably cure that :wink:

But anyway, in terms of Beirut nightlife -- I have to hand it to them, I don't think any other city comes close. There is that intense "stay out all night drinking" atmosphere that probably comes from all the kids who are out of sight of their parents for the first time (in a still somewhat conservative culture, both for muslims and christians), coupled with a deep sense of irony & black humor that comes from the fact that the building you are drinking in may well have contained dead bodies 20 years ago. I may be exaggerating a little, but basically the end result is a scene where people really seem to want to get away from everything and have a great time, so they are laid back and don't take themselves all that seriously, if that makes any sense.

Yes it makes perfect sense.

I'm especially enjoying reading in between the reports on food. :wink:

I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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Nadia-

First off, welcome back!

To say I am looking forward to the rest of the report is an understatement. I feel so homesick now and I cannot wait to my trip to Lebanon -hopefully- next year.

It sure sounds like you had no problem finding the good stuff so far. BTW, Bay Rock was the place I mentioned in the other "planning" thread...you know the one my friends took me to but I could not remember the name, with a great view. Also it is a relief :smile: to learn that you got no hot dog on your pizza, can you elaborate a little on the Italian food you had. I honestly never venture and eat anything but local stuff when I am there, so some pointers from you might come in handy.

looking forward to more of the report and pics, (Tripoli, Mina,...Shawarma)

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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

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Elie, thanks for the title change. Right now we have houseguests from Germany so I am a little short on time. I will probably add the Chouf mountains and the South next, then the Bekaa valley and finally Tripoi, Koura and el Mina (my home turf and therefore where we spent the most time). To be honest I am putting the north last because it will take me some time to organize my thoughts about everything we saw and did there.

As far as the Italian food at La Posta... we only had lunch. A decent Margarita pizza, and some various antipasti, mostly grilled vegetables. We also had a grilled calamari salad that was quite good. I mean, you won't think you're in Italy or anything, but the produce is excellent and local, so it is at least as good as any decent trattoria in the US. Their espressi were well made (but then one rarely gets bad coffee in Lebanon.) They had good bread. I believe the chef is Italian. We also drank some homemade limoncello, which I enthusiastically recommend. (I enthusiastically recommend drinking in general...)

At Casper's and Gambini, we were with a bunch of old family friends so I wasn't paying that much attention. I do remember my mint iced tea was very nice. They mostly have salads and sandwiches, light fresh stuff.

Note that the order in which I am posting things does not match our itinerary. By the time we were staying in Beirut we had already spent a week being plied with all sorts of festively weighty eats by well-meaning family and friends. We really needed a break, hence the relatively light Mexican and Italian meals.

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The Chouf Mountains:

The Chouf mountains connect Beirut with the Bekaa valley. Originally we had planned to do a road trip over the Chouf mountains through Sofar, Deir el Qamar, Beiteddine, Jezzine and some nearby waterfalls. But then my passport renewal took an extra day because of all the election chaos, so I had to cut this trip short to go to Tripoli. Anyway we only managed the first few places, and made marathon-like loop through the South before coming back to Beirut. In other words, I was unable to aquire my long-coveted funky Jezzine-ware carving set. (Real horn, none of that melamine stuff, please!)

This is a beautiful part of the country. It is a (Druze leader) Jumblatt stronghold and whatever his eccentricities, the man has done a lot to preserve the natural beauty of the area. Again, because of the war this was my first time here. I think this region is famous for its preserves, though needless to say we didn’t get a chance to sample any. We did get to eat some serious mountain food, but I will talk about that in the next installment, as it was a little closer to Sidon and I don’t feel like editing those photos just yet. Oh, the region was also historically famous for silkworms, though China pretty much conquered that market.

Okay okay, one small aside. My grandmother was given to adopting all sorts of weird little creatures and breeding them. At one point when I was about 4 or 5 she decided to raise silkworms, in what was at the time my bedroom. Her little industry was quite successful but it was hard to sleep at night with all the munching sounds. Also the stacks of mulberry leaves made it hard to navigate my way to the bathroom at night...

Anyway, as you head up the mountains from Beirut, you come to beautiful Sofar, where all the rich arab types used to summer before the war. Edward Said mentions in his autobiography coming here every summer as a kid. There are lots of umbrella pines, which is of course why pine nuts are so much cheaper here:

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And this is Beiteddine, the castle built by prince Shihab starting in 1788. It was very badly destroyed in 1982 but restored by Jumblatt, and is today still used as the summer presidential palace:

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The second picture is of the hammam. Nice place for a bath, huh?

The rose gardens outside are absolutely lovely:

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Apparently the foraging bug never left me. Capers grow wild here:

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Coming up: the south.

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Sidon and Tyre were the big cities of ancient Phoenecea. Here is what Sidon looks like today:

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There is a nice little souk to explore, you can buy fish straight from the source, plus they make the lovely traditional olive oil soap here.

After looking around the famous water castle (Crusader era but built atop Phoenecian and Roman foundations)

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we stopped to buy some "Sanyoura" for the family from a local sweetshop:

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Sanyoura is a type of powdery cookie for which Sidon is famous. We also bought some lovely arabic ice cream:

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Arabic fruit-flavored ice cream is very similar to Italian gelato, but with perhaps more traditionally Lebanese flavorings such as mulberry. But the milk and pistachio flavors go through an additional process: if you ask for "bouza madqouqa", what you will get is ice cream out of which most of the air has been beaten. The ice cream contains an ingredient which holds it together called sahlab (an orchid-tuber extract if I understand correctly?) so you get this funky sort of chewy texture which is highly prized. I have heard that in one part of Syria they beat so much air out of the stuff that they actually hang it in strands from a nail and literally cut pieces off on order. My aunt gave me a little vial of mastic (gum arabic) and a recipe so I am planning to experiment a little. :smile:

For lunch, on recommendation, we headed up to Echmoun's temple, about 15 minutes by car in the mountains above Sidon. Near the temple there is a nice little-known restaurant called "Restaurant Echmoun" or somesuch. It is vast, right on the river, and probably gets quite full in the evening as they hire popular singers. But for lunch we had the place to ourselves. They happen to offer dishes cooked with Qawarma, which is lamb shoulder cooked and preserved under lamb fat for the cold mountain winters. Clifford Wright gives more info and a recipe here.

If you get a chance to go, order the hummus with qawarma, it is fantastic. Also their kefta was supurbly seasoned, as were their makdous -- miniature eggplants stuffed with walnuts and hot pepper, preserved in olive oil. The place is very nice, beautiful view of the river, great service and I think we paid about $10 per head for a great little lunch mezza and a few Almazas.

Finally, we ended the day in Tyre. This photo is of one small part of the vast ancient city. Does Ahiram = Hiram in English? In any case, we was king here and apparently great buddies with King Solomon, who got the cedars for his temple shipped from this very port.

26148741_da003aa146.jpg

Have a good weekend everyone!

(edited for silly typo)

Edited by Behemoth (log)
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I loved Saida/Sidon, I have wonderful memories of delicious fried sultan ibrahim there (red mullet). As you pointed out, the fish can be bought almost right off the boat. I also loved the old city (an incredible mase of small streets and alleys) which we were told on my visit that some parts have remained the same since the Pheonicians.

Arabic fruit-flavored ice cream is very similar to Italian gelato, but with perhaps more traditionally Lebanese flavorings such as mulberry

You might have answered a big question of mine, is "tout" mulberry in English?

I really miss eating real 'ishta (milk skin) ice cream, I've never seen it here in the US.

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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You might have answered a big question of mine, is "tout" mulberry in English?

I really miss eating real 'ishta (milk skin) ice cream, I've never seen it here in the US.

Yup! Tout = mulberry.

It is very difficult to make ishta here because from what I understand you need raw milk. My aunt who lived in Paris for a while told me she made friends with dairy farmers at the markets there and they smuggled her a few litres whenever she had a craving :smile:

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Just so you know, missing is the photo of my husband attempting to drink directly from an "ibirq". He was very good natured throughout the trip, considering all we put him through... :rolleyes:

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Nadia, that silk worm story is very amusing, I can picture it too. Thanks for sharing it.

I've never heard of the type of Syrian ice cream you mention, you can actually just cut strands out??! Fascinating. On a side note, be careful when using mastic ins anything. It STICKS like nothing else and is almost impossible to remove. I had to throw away a spoon I used to stir ice cream mixture after adding mastic to it :wacko:.

Zeitoun, yes, mullberry is Tout. The same stuff whose leaves the silk worms love so much!

Nadia- How do sweets in Sidon compare to the Tripoli ones? I have never been to Sidon and would love to hear what you think.

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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

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Nadia- How do sweets in Sidon compare to the Tripoli ones? I have never been to Sidon and would love to hear what you think.

The sanyoura and ice cream were both very good. But it is seriously hard to compete with Halab when it comes to anything that contains ishta. Hallab's cream is so fresh you almost feel like it might be healthy :wacko:

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Nadia- How do sweets in Sidon compare to the Tripoli ones? I have never been to Sidon and would love to hear what you think.

The sanyoura and ice cream were both very good. But it is seriously hard to compete with Halab when it comes to anything that contains ishta. Hallab's cream is so fresh you almost feel like it might be healthy :wacko:

Are you saying Aishta is bad for you? What if you add fruits on top and drizzle with honey? I am sure your arteries will be just fine then :biggrin:

Elie

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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

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The nearest town to Mdoukha is Kharbat Rooha- pretty melodramatic. But it's is pretty much how I felt when I left Lebanon.

A couple of days with my family would probably cure that :wink:

But anyway, in terms of Beirut nightlife -- I have to hand it to them, I don't think any other city comes close. There is that intense "stay out all night drinking" atmosphere that probably comes from all the kids who are out of sight of their parents for the first time (in a still somewhat conservative culture, both for muslims and christians), coupled with a deep sense of irony & black humor that comes from the fact that the building you are drinking in may well have contained dead bodies 20 years ago. I may be exaggerating a little, but basically the end result is a scene where people really seem to want to get away from everything and have a great time, so they are laid back and don't take themselves all that seriously, if that makes any sense.

Beautifully expressed.

I am sitting here with sticky butter'd fingers after eating three pieces of warm nammoura while reading through this great thread.

I met some friends at Casper and Gambini's last month. I love the patio. I actually didn't know it was a franchise until I looked it up just now. I skipped dinner and had two desserts instead: the molten chocolate cake and the sticky toffee pudding. I got on the plane and had a pretty intense sugar crash :blink: .

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Sidon and Tyre were the big cities of ancient Phoenecea. Here is what Sidon looks like today:

Phoenicians? Does mean that the Ancient Lebanese invaded Algeria? :wink:

Invaded is not really the term to be used.

The Phoenicians established trading routes and post in Algeria and saw the birth of Carthage (Tunisia now).

- Berbers: Original indigenous population with the great dynasties of the Almoravides (Al Murabitun) and the Almohad (Al Muwahiddun)

- Pheonicians: Traders

- Romans: Invaders and occupiers

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Sidon and Tyre were the big cities of ancient Phoenecea. Here is what Sidon looks like today:

Phoenicians? Does mean that the Ancient Lebanese invaded Algeria? :wink:

Invaded is not really the term to be used.

The Phoenicians established trading routes and post in Algeria and saw the birth of Carthage (Tunisia now).

- Berbers: Original indigenous population with the great dynasties of the Almoravides (Al Murabitun) and the Almohad (Al Muwahiddun)

- Pheonicians: Traders

- Romans: Invaders and occupiers

I meant it has a joke for Nadia. :smile:

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