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. 

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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).

 

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!

 

 

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.

Lebanon’s Arguileh Militia

Soon after I blogged about how the Beiruti restaurant Enab, situated in Gemmayze, was violating the smoking ban despite stickers announcing the place as a non-smoking restaurant (link with pictures), IndyAct Lebanon decided to take matters in their own hands after a growing number of complaints regarding that particular restaurant were met unanswered by our tourism police.

As I said, it’s obvious there’s an under-the-table deal somewhere that benefits off our lungs. Anything for that extra money.

IndyAct decided to use their office space, which is ideally situated next to Enab, in order to set up a huge banner announcing to people who frequent Gemmayze that the restaurant nearby is violating the law and that it is not, in fact, a smoke free place as it advertises. The people of IndyAct were surprised to find their premises violated soon after by employees of Enab who took down the poster. Apparently they wanted to break the law in peace.

And it has all been documented on video:

Soon after the incident, IndyACT procured an official permit from the municipality of Beirut to set up the poster that Enab’s employees forcibly removed. Let’s hope those employees don’t break yet another law by removing the poster.

Enab Gemmayze Smoking Ban

 

It is said apathy is the weakest point in applying the law. It is our duty as Lebanese to make sure our law is enforced, people constantly said. But I have to ask: what’s the point?

When restaurants such as Enab break the law so flagrantly and have no problem breaking it even more to cover up the initial violation fully knowing they won’t face any repercussions whatsoever, what’s the point?

The more I call that magical 1735 number, the less cooperation I find from the tourism police whose job, paid for by my taxes, is to ensure such laws are enforced. The smoking ban is dead, despite some politicians wanting you to believe otherwise.

The amount of restaurants violating the law today is way too big to count. There isn’t a restaurant in Jbeil or Batroun or Tripoli – the places I spend most of my time in, apart from very few select places like Crepaway, which is actually observing the law. And they don’t even care about it. When you ask them about the smoking ban they reply: “that little thing? No, there isn’t such a thing over here. Do you want an arguileh, sir?”

 

The solution that I have found suits me best is to reward those few restaurants that are actually observing the law by frequenting them more often. On the other hand, I have decided that when I visit a restaurant that turns out to be violating the law, I will simply leave making sure they know all the smoke in the air is the reason for my departure. They want to make money off arguileh? Well, it won’t be my money they’ll be taking.

While our minister of tourism panics over the decreasing number of tourists visiting our beautiful country and sets up promotions to boost the sector, I have to wonder: how can you expect those people who come from much more organized countries to visit a place where even arguile has its own mini-militia?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I will personally never visit Enab, Jbeil’s Feniqia (link) or any restaurant that violates the ban for that matter again. I invite you to do the same.

 

Arsenal’s Bacary Sagna’s Favorite Food

In a twitter-chat with supporters, Arsenal’s twitter account answered a question about Bacary Sagna’s favorite food. And you know what it is? Well, yes you guessed it: Lebanese food.

I support this. Lebanese food is just awesome. It’s probably the thing I missed the most about home (apart from family) when I went to France and Spain last summer.