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.

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).

 

The Tripoli You Don’t Get To See

I can go to Beirut today and take my camera with me. I can go to Hay el Sellom and take as many pictures, film as much footage as my heart pleases and broadcast them online with one tag only: THIS. IS. BEIRUT.

Am I doing Beirut a disservice in the process? Perhaps so. Is my portrayal of Beirut’s poorest neighborhood as representative of the entire city accurate? Perhaps not.

But isn’t that exactly what Lebanese media and people are doing to this Northern city?

I went to a cafe the other day named “Ahwak Ben Tafesh.” I can safely say it’s probably my favorite cafe in all of Lebanon. Starbucks and other generic places, move over. The place had charm and served the best carrot cake I ever had, which was actually homemade. As I sat there, observing the people walking in and out, I saw some of the most gorgeous women wearing tight jeans and revealing shirts, guys talking about going out to a pub somewhere with their girlfriends, a couple holding hands with the guy’s hand on his girlfriend’s thigh.

But most importantly, people we chatting and laughing and making plans. Just like normal Lebanese youth do everywhere else.

Then I went to the bathroom at Ahwak and saw this:

Ahwak Ben Tafesh Tripoli Lebanon

A stone’s throw away from Ahwak is a restaurant called La Plaka. I have yet to try out things beyond the salad part of its menu – blame the diet – but that place served one of the best chicken caesar (don’t worry, I made some sauce-modifications) that I ever had. The place was spacious with very nice interior decorations – huge armchairs, flat screen TVs everywhere, chandeliers dropping down from the ceiling – and better yet, they actually abide by the smoking ban.

All of what La Plaka offered me came at a cost of… 10,000LL. Yes, for the entire salad that normally costs double that much at any Beiruti place. Then I remembered a similar incidence in Gemmayzé when I ordered a salad that comprised of only lettuce and cucumber sticks and ended up paying about $20.

On the same street as La Plaka is a newly opened burger shop called Ten Burger which is trying to bring the Classic Burger Joint experience to Tripoli. Their burgers are excellent. They also come with french fries and coleslaw. And a soft drink. All for less than $10.

Tripoli is also famous for “Le Palais” or as we all like to call it “Al Hallab,” which offers the best Arabian sweets you can find probably anywhere. You can ask for a tour of the place’s kitchens where you see how they make all the delicious food you end up gorging on later. I witnessed how they do the famous “7lewet l jeben,” got to taste their self-made ice cream and gateaux. The place is beautiful and extremely distinctive. If you thought you are getting the “Hallab” experience by visiting some of the franchises in Beirut or Jounieh, you thought terribly wrong.

But Tripoli isn’t only about food. I go there very often. My best friend is from there. I go to class about five minutes away from that city. My father buys some supplies for his shop from Bab el Tebbane. A lot of our paperwork has to go through some offices there. Throughout my visits to that city, even during the now-distant times when I had a one pound golden Cross dangling from my neck, I never felt threatened or not at ease – even last December when Tripoli was, at least to most Lebanese, a war zone.

A couple of days ago, I got invited to an impromptu birthday party for my friend’s nieces. I was the only “outsider” there. The place was filled with family members. It took me five seconds to feel at home due to the overwhelming hospitality I received. It’s not just typical Lebanese hospitality – it’s people who are genuinely happy to have you there and take care of you and even wish you happy Easter.

In fact, most of my friends who are from Tripoli are not the people Lebanese media wants you to think they are. They are kind and friendly and great. Some of them are quite religious. Others are not. You know, exactly like Lebanese people everywhere else.

Is Tripoli in its best days? I don’t think so. Was it more lively, more upbeat, more receptive and less cautious a few years back? Definitely. Is it hurting because of the mass exodus of the Christians from it? Definitely – but they’re not leaving because of the city’s Muslims. They are leaving because of the dismal economic prospects.

For a city that houses some of Lebanon’s wealthiest people, it sure doesn’t show. The explanation is simple. Those wealthy people all have political aspirations but no foresight. They spend their money getting votes by giving food to needy people instead of investing that money in projects that would bring outside business to the city and help the people buy their own food. But that wouldn’t benefit them electorally.

Tripoli barely sees any development. There are no “Sama Tripoli” or “Le Mall Tripoli” projects that go on here. The second largest city of Lebanon has next to no investments coming into it and it’s not all because of the current security situation. This has been going on for years now. After all, as I had said before, Lebanon’s centralization isn’t only bureaucratic, it’s also economical. No other area outside Beirut is supposed to get the money Beirut and its suburbs get and this shows the most in big cities that need such money the most.

Tripoli is changing and not for the better. Anyone who tells you the opposite is bluffing. But that’s the case everywhere in this country. After all, extremism is a separate state of mind – no pun. However, this city isn’t the big bad monster that many have come to believe it is. It’s a place that’s trying its best given the hand it is dealt. It’s probably time we give it some slack.