Streets of Beirut XXVIII

If you’ve walked all along the Corniche to this point, after the Manara and Raouché…

Ramlet el Baida - Beirut beach by night

Ramlet el Baida

…then it’s a good time to stop off at the Pâtisserie Ghazi Al Hallab & Fils for some delicious znoud al sitt pastries.

There is bread and salt between us

Récits et Recettes by Walid Mouzannar

Récits et Recettes by Walid Mouzannar

Even a cookbook can tell you a great deal about Lebanese society. This weekend I was at my father-in-law’s maternal cousin’s husband’s book signing in Sursock. (That sentence of course would just slip off the tongue in Arabic.) The book comprises two main parts, the first half being personal anecdotes, traditions and family tales and the second being recipes.

What I didn’t expect to find was an index at the end dedicated solely to names of people mentioned in the book. On a double-page spread all the surnames which appear in the book are listed alphabetically next to the relevant page (or pages for a happy few).

Now most people aspire to some kind of fame, especially in a small community where fame is easier to achieve and always seems to be almost within reach.

I remember a writer from the local gazette of the small town I grew up in pointing out that for every local person mentioned in the paper because they caught a large fish, won a dog show, or broke  Read the rest of this entry »

Streets of Beirut XVI

nuts streets of beirut

heaps of nuts like untopped balusters

This scene highlights two qualities always shown in food here: the profusion and the visual display. The minimalism of western restaurants hasn’t caught on here, fortunately. Frequently at the vegetable shop the beefy grocer behind his old-style scales raises his eyebrows at my huge bush-like bunch of coriander and says “Only one?” My few limes he throws in for a song – they hardly register against his large weights. Then he gets back to making pretty colour-coded piles of peppers and lining the cucumbers up in geometric formation. For the purists, this shot is from Baouchriye, not Beirut.

Streets of Beirut XV

man selling strawberries

man on a mission

It doesn’t matter if the Lebanese are driving a Hummer with extra lights and tinted windows or if they’re pushing a cart of strawberries, they have an innate sense of their own right of passage. They exist therefore they have right of way. The cart would not be intimidated by the Hummer, either. The road belongs to all of us, not to everybody else, which is a good angle to view things from.

Mifteh al buttn, liqmé

sour plums Lebanon

sour plums

Lebanese food is famous throughout the world, but some of my most curious discoveries here have involved trying foods I grew up with but in a different form.

As a child I remember we kept a bottle of rose water in the bathroom. A drop or two would be added to a hot bath or to the iron, like lavender oil, but never to pastries or hot water as in the café blanc. We had plum trees up the garden and I often fought off wasps to eat the bursting ripe ones. Here plums are often served sour and dabbed in salt. Almonds, too, are often presented unripe, a milky white kernel in velvety Read the rest of this entry »