The Mankousheh Culture: Lebanon’s Zaatar W Zeit Launches World Mankousheh Day

 

If there’s anything I miss about Lebanon, apart from my friends and family, it’s the food. Say what you want about the country – and after living in the U.S. for around half a year, I can definitely tell you I still have a lot to berate where I come from about – but the food is just something else. Not only is our diet healthy, but it’s also extremely tasty. I’ve come to appreciate that after my many months in America.

As far as I can remember, a hallmark of a Lebanese breakfast has been the mankousheh. My school had a small store in our common area that sold them whenever we had recess. My dad’s aunt was a baker and for as long as she lived, I remember her tiny black dresses with Zaatar stains on them from the mankoushes she used to bake and sell. Then, when we grew up and moved to cities, we moved to more “sophisticated” iterations, with whole wheat, and the like.

The fact remains, however, that Lebanon is a country of the mankoushe culture. And frankly, would you have it any other way?

On November 2nd, Zaatar w Zeit, whose rise to prominence among Lebanon’s diners was because of its take on the mankousheh (I mean, just look at their name), is announcing World Mankousheh Day to celebrate our heritage when it comes to this item that’s quite literally synonymous with every Lebanese growing up, to further potentiate the Lebanese identity of such a traditional meal.

In recent years, the mankousheh has gone through many changes, be it with ZWZ or other chains that produce it: different types of doughs, different toppings, etc… On World Mankoushe Day, however, the celebration is about going back to the basics of it all, the mankousheh that we all know, and that I believe was the first for all of us: zaatar, zeit and fresh out of the oven.

Cheers to our heritage, whether it’s men l forn or 3al saj or any other variety.

I commend ZWZ on such a great move. Here’s to further celebrations in Lebanese cuisine to further cement their identities in an ever changing world.

PS: If you’re in Lebanon, ZWZ is offering free mana’eesh all day today! 

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From Halaweh Tarts To Achta & Honey Eclairs: The New Fusion Ramadan Sweets You Can Find In Tripoli

Over the weekend, I ventured out to Akkar’s Ammou3a area for the first time ever with two friends tagging along. After a super long and arduous drive – those roads are horrendous – it only felt fitting to make a pit stop in Tripoli for a much needed food break. Naturally, Hallab is where we went.

Off-topic, but Ammou3a is a very beautiful area to visit and to do some hiking. The drive via the Fnaydeq road is much easier than driving up their through Akkar El 3ati2a, and discovering Akkar is an eye opening experience that every Lebanese should do.

Ammou3a views. #ammouaa #ammou3a #akkar #lebanon #livelovelebanon #nature #landscape #northlebanon.

A post shared by eliefares (@eliefares) on

Anyway, we got those menus and were informed that, exclusively for Ramadan – at least for now – they’re introducing new fusion sweets that they’d recommend we try. The three of us figured that would be more interesting than going for simple ice cream or knefeh, so off to that fridge we went and got an assortment of items, the most expensive of which is $3.

To say we were blown away is an understatement. I don’t even normally blog about food or anything remotely related to it, unless it is to turn it into a “to be or not to be” story of course, but this felt like it needed the exposure.

The amount of creativity in those new Ramadan fusion sweets is amazing, and most of them are based on Ashta, which is a Hallab specialty. As a person who absolutely loves halaweh and will miss it very much when I move to the U.S., the sight of that Halaweh tart was enough for me to foresake all reminders of diet and binge.

To say that tart was heavenly would be an understatement. As my friend put it, the most accurate description is: this is blasphemy.

We also tried the Ashta & honey eclair, and I have to say it was as good as the halaweh tart. The mix between what you’d expect to be a Western delicacy and what is very decidedly oriental works very well. I have to say, it was even better than the normal uneventful eclairs we’re all used to having at the many patisseries around the country.

The selection isn’t only summarized with those two items. There’s also an Apple and ashta tart, a tart with mhallbiyeh, as well as raha. A new maamoul with chocolate ashta, a tart with amareddine and a bunch of other items.

My friend tried the apple and ashta tart and texted – I quote: “The apple ones are orgasmic even after two days in my mom’s tupperware.”

Those items are only available at Tripoli’s Hallab, and trust me they’re worth the drive. In another highlight for the massive creativity, especially when it comes to the culinary field, that exists in Tripoli, there’s nothing I’d love more than to highlight this triumph for everyone’s taste buds that exists up North.

Another reason to make the drive is the possibility to win a suhour at Hallab. All you need to do is to take a picture of one of their ashta items – that Apple tart or eclair come to mind – and Instagram it with the hashtags #RamadanKashta and #HallabAddicts while tagging their Instagram account (@arhallab1881).

 

P.S.: This is not a sponsored post, nor was I given any freebies to write it. 

New Apple Based Knefeh & Maamoul: How Tripoli’s Hallab Is Helping Lebanon’s Apple Farmers

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, which I have for the past few weeks, you’d know that Lebanon has added yet another crisis to its list, with the latest being that our Apple farmers have no one to buy their product.

In short, the situation in neighboring Syria caused the export market of our apple produce to stagnate, leading to our farmers being unable to liquidate everything they grew during the season. Couple this with the fact that European countries are wary of importing Lebanese apples because of the use of insecticides, as well as very lax Lebanese governmental regulation towards the import of apple from other countries into Lebanon, and you have a crisis on our hands.

Over the past few weeks, Lebanon’s apple farmers have been protesting in an attempt to get the government to buy their products, even if at a loss to them, in order to offset their losses. The problem will remain, however, as long as our government doesn’t regulate the import of foreign goods that have an equivalent counterpart that is locally produced: why the hell do we need to import apples from France if we’ve got thousands of tons of Lebanese apple residing in warehouses across the country stagnating?

But I digress.

To help the struggling farmers make ends meet, Lebanon’s top sweets producer, Tripoli’s Abdul Rahman Hallab figured the best way to do so was to use our country’s apples into new sweets. It’s a win-win situation for both the farmers and Hallab: on one hand, having their products sold is what the farmers want and need, and on the other hand Hallab would be able to add new items to their menu that aren’t present in other Lebanese sweets manufacturers.

Earlier today, after taking my cat to the vet in Tripoli, I met up with my friend Zaher at Le Palais in order to try out their new “lahm b aajin,” except now it’s no longer just lahm with the advent of the soujouk and chicken varieties. I loved them, and recommend you try them.

Over the past few weeks, and in secret in their Tripoli HQ, Hallab bought over a ton of Apples as a trial phase and worked hard on coming up with new sweets that would at first be available exclusively in Tripoli before being distributed their other branches across the country over the coming weeks.

The sweets are as follows:

  1. Knefeh b teffeh: this includes three kinds –> one with apple and ashta, the second with apple and cinnamon, and the third with apple jam.
  2. Apple pie: not your usual apple pie as the crust is the one you’d typically find in Arabian, not Western, sweets.
  3. Apple maamoul: also not your typical maamoul-like entry, but the texture is very similar.
  4. Apple baklava: this comes in addition to their new chocolate based baklava.

I tried the first 3. The Apple baklava was not available when I was visiting. To say the new desserts are phenomenal would be an understatement. Granted, I like apple-based sweets. Apple pies are always awesome. But there’s something about merging apple with traditional Lebanese/Arab sweets that makes the combination extremely good, and I highly recommend it.

My preference is as follows:

  1. The knefeh with apple and cinnamon,
  2. The knefeh with apple and ashta,
  3. The apple pie,
  4. The apple maamoul,
  5. The knefeh with apple jam.

You can’t go wrong with any of them though, as they are all just wonderful.

To note, this is not a paid post. I’m writing it because I thought the gesture towards the farmers is beautiful and it has culminated in new takes on traditional Lebanese food entries that are worth noting. It’s not every day that we can talk about apple based knefeh or maamoul, and based on what Hallab told me those items will run for a limited time as well.

Here’s hoping Lebanon’s farmers find their footing soon. Other companies that are trying to help them include McDonald’s, Spinneys and Classic Burger Joint. I hope others follow suit soon. Until then, make sure you visit Tripoli for the awesome new knefeh (or be lazy and wait until they arrive to a Hallab near you).

 

From Bikini To Burkini, Or Why Lebanon’s Tripoli Is Awesome

A picture of two veiled burkini-clad women, and another bikini-wearing on one of Tripoli’s popular beach islands is going viral today across Lebanon’s internet-sphere. The last time this many people were interested in the city was to berate it for the way it voted in an election, but that election is now long past and so has those people’s attention from this great city up North.

In that picture, the two stark opposites represent this city that I love more than anything else. So I figured, in this small space that I have, that I’d try to tell you – kind reader – of why this city whose picture you’re so eagerly sharing is worth your time.

1) Bikini versus Burkini:

Bikini:Burkini Tripoli

Picture via @Jadgghorayeb

Over the years, many Lebanese have come to associate an image with Tripoli as that of a city that is ravaged by war, where Islamists reign supreme and where seculars – or anyone who does not want to live by the Sharia for that matter – is not welcome.

The constant and progressive decimation in the city’s reputation is slowly being reversed as of late, with many flocking to its pristine beach islands, to the growing safety of its streets.

The above picture, however, is not an anomaly. It’s the culmination of years in which the city’s varying components co-existed calmly, away from politics and hateful rhetoric, and here they are in all their glory.

2) Beirut’s food prices will have a seizure:

Hallab

You’ve all seen that infamous “Grand Café” picture over the past few weeks and the comparison (although inaccurate) to potential trips to Istanbul that that same bill would’ve covered. Many of you have complained about the price hike in diner chains you’ve loved for years. Now let me tell you a short story.

Yesterday, I took a group of my friends who hadn’t visited Tripoli but to do some necessary paperworks that people of the North have to do in it to one of the city’s restaurants. Their first reaction scanning the prices of that menu – one of Tripoli’s more expensive places, may I add – was to ask one question: how?

Four main courses, drinks, and appetizers later, our bill was less than half of what we would’ve paid for the same combination at any given place in our country’s capital. And the food was great.

In fact, the food is great everywhere. From the restaurants offering Lebanese to those offering mixed cuisine across the city, to the vendors selling cheese and kaak, to the many coffee places many of which I love – Ahwak for the win – to the sweets places and palaces that the city have become synonymous with, you can do no wrong.

3) Lebanon’s biggest old souk is there:

 

Everyone loves to go to Jbeil to see its “authentic” great souks. And while Jbeil’s old sector is awesome, it is dwarfed by what lies in Tripoli’s old city.

Not only is Tripoli’s souk one of Lebanon’s biggest, and is relatively well-kept, but it has retained a flair of authenticity with it being a melting pot of all of the city’s inhabitants, across their sociopolitical status.

The old souks are still divided based on the different services they offer, from khan el saboun to khan el dahab, to the many Ottoman-styled hammams inside them. They’re a must-visit if you’re in the city and in the mood for some meet up with Lebanese history.

4) Citadel St. Gilles is awesome:

Built by the Crusaders, Citadel St. Gilles in Tripoli’s Tebbaneh neighborhood is an extremely well-kept fortress that, because of its location, is rarely viewed as a touristic destination. But it is, and you’d be missing out by not checking it out.

It’s almost 900 years old, has been morphed over the years by the many occupiers of the city into what it is today, and the place being almost always not crowded gives you a visiting experience that view other touristic spots in Lebanon offer.

The entrance is also a simple: 5,000LL.

5) Rachid Karame Forum is spectacular:

Designed by the late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, the Rachid Karame Forum at the entrance of the city is a vast space that’s probably the most accurate representation of the wasted potential of the city.

Intended to be the hub of an economic forum as plans to turn the city into a Lebanese economic capital were underway, the place is now almost a ghost-town of modern unfinished architecture and landscape designs that will surely blow you away.

6) The Palm Islands are amazing:

Pic via The Daily Star

Pic via The Daily Star

A natural reserve set forth by the Lebanese state, a section of the Palm Islands has been made available for beach-lovers to visit in order to exercise their favorite hobby. From clean sands to pristine waters, the islands are near-free to get to – unlike all the resorts in or around Beirut and its greater area.

Fun fact: the Arabic name for the Islands is rabbit islands. It is as such because during the period of the French occupation, rabbits were let loose on the island. What were two soon became hundreds, and therefore the naming occurred.

7) Timmy’s in El Mina is the pub to go to:

IMG_6535

When I say alcohol, Tripoli is probably the last place you’d think of. But there’s a pub in the old neighborhood in El Mina called Timmy’s that will help you change your mind a little. It’s an old traditional sea-side Lebanese house that has been turned into a massive space for those who feel like they need to wind down after a long day or week.

From sand-stone interior, to chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, to doors manned by a camera based on which the owner decides which clientele he wants to admit or not, the only adjective that could describe the place is exclusive but approachable.

When I was there, I had a discussion with the owner about why he adopted such a policy. He said that he wants to keep the place at a high enough level to attract people to his city. And attract people he does. For the moment, most of those who flock to Timmy’s are either from Tripoli or from the neighboring areas of Zgharta or Koura or sometimes Batroun. But that could change.

8) El Mina’s corniche is one awesome walk:

The same night when I had a few friends try out one of my favorite restaurants in Tripoli and they got shocked with how cheap and good it was, I took them on a drive around the sea corniche in Mina. Stretching for more than 3 kilometers, it is one of Lebanon’s longest and more authentic.

From vendors in small kiosks on the side, to kids flying around kites, to men praying in the heat while they fish, on that corniche you’ll see all kinds of kinds, in a city that has everything you’d see.

9) The people are the most kind-hearted you’ll find:

From close friends, to the people that would give you money for park meters when you’re out of coins, to the hefty portions you’re served anywhere you go, to the overall sense of welcome they infuse in the air of their city, the people of Tripoli are some of the most kind-hearted welcoming people you’ll meet in this country.

I’ve had the pleasure to know many of them, some of whom were like my family at a certain point, and I call myself lucky for doing so.

10) Life exists North of the Madfoun:

The Lebanese border does not end sligthly north of Jbeil. Venture out. Explore a little. Odds are you may be surprised – even if for a picture involving a bikini and a burkini. Suck on that Cannes?

Meet Amanda Saab, The Lebanese on US’ Masterchef: Changing Stereotypes & Shining With Lebanese Food

Amanda Saab Masterchef USA

Meet the awesome Amanda Saab.

A few weeks ago, an acquaintance of mine was gushing about how excited he was that there was a Lebanese candidate on this season’s Masterchef, which airs on FOX every Wednesday in the US.

On that episode, Amanda Saab had done a fusion cuisine dish, based on our very own Lebanese pride and joy: it was kefta with sumac aioli and jalapeño-dusted potatoes. Her favorite comfort food? Kebbeh nayye.

From that moment on, it’s only been looking up for her. She’s now considered by many to be one of the show’s front-runners. Amanda and I have spoken a couple of times on Twitter, and I’ve noticed how many people are rooting for her whenever a new episode airs. She keeps getting attention the more she progresses. But this is not only what’s impressive about Mrs. Saab.

Originally Lebanese and born in Michigan, when Amanda Saab does not cook, she works as a social worker in Seattle where she lives with her husband, Hussein. Cooking was her way to deal with the grief and horrors she witnessed in her every day job. Her inspiration cuisine is Lebanese, but she likes to add twists to it.

Amanda Saab is also the first Muslim candidate to go on the US’ Masterchef. She’s also the first veiled woman to go on any American primetime TV show.

I’ve been following up with news around Masterchef for a while now, and it’s safe to say that Amanda Saab is changing minds about Islam, about Muslim women and about Muslim-Americans for the general American audience.

This is to say that even if Amanda Saab does not end up being the show’s overall winner, which I do hope she is (the show has already been filmed), with her participation in Masterchef, she’s challenging preconceptions that Americans have about women in headscarves: when they’re seeing Amanda follow her passion, and do it in such a glorious way, they can’t but reconsider what they thought they knew.

At a time when the only news of Islam that’s propagating around the world is ISIS and their terror, Amanda Saab  is showing that there’s another side to Islam, and it’s people like everyone else, with scarves or without, who can cook and who can’t.

Ramadan Kareem and good luck to Amanda!

 

 

Al Arz Tahini… Made in Israel

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An Israeli company is using the Lebanese Cedar to market the well-known Tahini, used to prepare dishes such as Hummus, in order to sell it in some major markets.

Check out the pictures of the item, taken by Twitter user @KhaladK:

Before you freak out, the pictures are not taken in Lebanon. Mr. Khalad is one of the many Lebanese who decided to seek a better life abroad. In his case, the country in question is Australia, which is where the pictures were taken.

According to @KhaladK, the Israeli product is of a better quality than its Lebanese counterpart, which leaks the oil it contains and isn’t as appealing. He didn’t purchase it of course. He sent me the pictures out of curiosity’s sake.

There’s nothing scandalous, in my opinion, about this. I just found it interesting and possibly conversation-worthy to point out the use of the Lebanese Cedar to sell a Lebanese paste by companies residing in non-other than Lebanon’s sworn enemy.

Globalization sure transcends blue lines. The tahini is also kosher.

Thoughts, if any?

Lebanese Restaurants: What Will Your Price Limit Be?

I decided to go out with a few friends tonight for dinner. Pretty mundane stuff, right? Well, with med schools and all such dinners have become quite rare so I tend to jump on them whenever I can.

We went to a place we were all familiar with: nothing too fancy, supposedly, and prices that were acceptable, supposedly.
We were given the menus. I looked at my go-to item and it seems since I visited that place last back in September, prices had taken a hike.

That same hike also happened last year across many of the country’s restaurants. And then the year before that. And the year before that. And we can go on for several years more but the sentence would become too wordy and tedious.

As we made our way back home, my friends and I wondered: when will Lebanese restaurants realize that it’s unacceptable to have these yearly price hikes that come in like clockwork when there are very few reasons (read none at all) to warrant them?

Lebanese restaurants don’t exist in vacuum. They exist in a country where salaries have not increased since last year and where the economic situation has become very tough for many people who used to frequent such places.

Have they seen their business take a dip over the past year? I doubt. And I doubt they’ll be affected this year as well. But we’re fast reaching the point where burger joints will stamp the word gourmet next to their names and cater only to select clientele because, you know, Lebanese love their exclusivity.

I’m not saying restaurants shouldn’t open a charity-esque business or not work for profit because that defeats the purpose of their existence.  I’m just saying there comes a time when the price of a French fries platter that doesn’t contain that much fries almost hitting $5 is way too much.