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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Islamic Extremists Threaten Ahwak Ben Tafesh Coffee Shop In Tripoli Because Their Mosque’s Electricity Went Out

Tripoli’s Ahwak Cafe is a lot of things. Nestled right across a Mosque in the Dam w Farz area, in the newer parts of the city, a stone’s throw away from the gorgeous Rachid Karami forum, it’s a place that’s become synonymous with the city’s most liberal youth frequenting it. In that coffee house’s bathroom is collection of graffiti, one of which reads: “Your ignorance of scientific knowledge is not proof that God exists.”

That’s probably the only place in Tripoli where you’d find such a statement, but it exists.

Ahwak Ben Tafesh did not have as easy an existence in Tripoli as you’d normally think a coffee place would be. I made it a habit to support it every time I went to the city, precisely because it represented the kind of Tripoli that I can relate to, that makes you hopeful of a better future for the city.

It was threatened by Islamists more than once. It was in fact attacked by Islamists back in July of 2013 when one of their newly-released extremists rode up with his goons in an SUV, stormed the place, trashed it, threatened people with weapons, and left.

Lebanon’s government did nothing about the incidence.

Fast forward nearly 4 years later. It’s May 31st, 2017, almost a week into the Muslim month of Ramadan and that mosque across the street – known as the Abdul Rahman Mosque – loses the electricity to its outdoor space and speakers.

In one moment, all hell broke loose. And what turned out to be a damaged electrical wire was turned into an attack on Tripoli being the citadel of Muslims in Lebanon, an attempt to silence the sound of Mosques.

So naturally, the day after, on June 1st, this statement was made, not by the Mosque but by Islamists who have not yet been identified:

Its overall essence translates to:

“Ahwak Ben Tafesh coffee shop in the Dam w Farz area has had a problem with the nearby mosque for a long time, and is known to have atheist clientele. They’re the prime suspect in  what happened at the Rahman Mosque. To its owner and clients we say: close the premises and stay home or move somewhere outside of Tripoli the city of Muslims, within 48 hours as a maximum. You’ve been worked.

Signed the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.”

Said “Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice” or الأمر بالمعروف والنهي عن المنكر is considered to be a Muslim duty and has been distorted by Islamic extremists, notably in Saudi Arabia, to issue fatwas and decrees.

The mosque in question has denied to have issued the statement through a Facebook post. The area affected by the electrical cut was the outer courtyard as well as nearby locations which offered their rooftops for extra speakers to broadcast the tarawih.

By threatening Ahwak Ben Tafesh that way without any ounce of proof, with a government that has yet to act in any way to protect the coffee shop, its owner and its clients, these extremists are giving a carte blanche to the brainwashed masses that listen to them to go and destroy the coffee house in the name of religion. This is uncharted territory in Lebanon, and simply terrorism.

Some of the mosque goers were not particularly happy:

That particular mosque has a history of banning speakers they don’t agree with from being given the chance to hold conferences in Tripoli, to accusing everyone who doesn’t follow everything they say of heresy. Anyone could have cut that wire or damaged it. Ramadan is one of that mosque’s busiest times with the tarawih. One of the worshippers could have inadvertently damaged it.

And yet here we are.

Why Tafesh?

Because of its resistance to bans on breakfasts during Ramadan when the city’s administration was over-run by spineless politicians who succumbed to every threat by Islamists that thrived in the forgotten capital of the North,

Because of it serving alcohol and all kinds of haram things on the down low,

Because of the unabashed atheism of some its customers, their resistance to the hateful messages of those Islamists, their disdain of their city being turned into a safe place for every bearded man with poison to spew,

Because the place is a beacon of Tripoli’s liberal youth, who don’t conform to the status quo that’s forcibly enforced on their city by those who want it to be seen as the “castle of Muslims in Lebanon” and nothing more.

And this is disgraceful.

It is on the hands of the Lebanese government to find whoever cut that wire, if it’s a deliberate act, and to make sure that those who frequent the Ahwak Ben Tafesh coffee shop are safe and that the shop is protected from vandalism as well as terrorist attacks from extremists who refuse to have anyone who disagrees with them live in the same city.

Tripoli is not a city where such people should be allowed to thrive unchecked anymore. And it sure as hell is not a city where some creature can decide to ban establishments outside of its city limits with a 48 hour window and be met with complacency or even agreement. They may be a fringe minority but their political protection is becoming cancerous and detrimental to all attempts at improving Tripoli’s reputation and future.

The mosque’s speakers going out is unfortunate. If those extremists actually truly cared about the message of those tarawih and the true spirit of Ramadan, they’d have continued praying and forgave however and whatever caused that wire to break, not threaten and terrorize. I may not be Muslim or knowledgeable of Islam, but I daresay that means their fasting is not valid anymore.

Ramadan in Tripoli

A friend of mine was sitting in a restaurant in Tripoli, waiting for the Iftar. At the first day of Ramadan, Iftar is a big deal. It had been a very tough day of fasting in the scorching July heat. The restaurant he was sitting in was abuzz with talks about a little girl named Jana. Everyone wanted to make sure she was doing well, that she was eating, that she was well-seated, that she was well-taken care of.

My friend, who wasn’t from Tripoli and was visiting the city oh so cautiously, was intrigued. He started asking who Jana was. She was the homeless girl selling flowers to the people having Iftar on the first day of Ramadan. As he told me the story, not knowing whether it was true or not, I decided that I must try and live – to the best of my capacities – parts of Ramadan in Tripoli.

My best friend being from the city made this quite easy. Soon enough, his mother was asking when I’d come visit. I very gladly obliged. So on a Saturday of Ramadan, I was standing at the doorstep of one of the kindest and most hospitable people I know, breathless as I was racing against a sinking sun, worried I wouldn’t be there on time. We sat on a breezy balcony that overlook a desolate street.

Tripoli might as well have been a ghost town at that point. Everyone was busy eating. I was served some soup, followed by fattouch then some mloukhiye the likes of which I had never had before. I daresay the food passed by quite fast for what I had in mind but I didn’t mind. The mloukhiye was coupled with some rice and chicken and other Lebanese mezze items. Soon enough, we found ourselves drinking jallab and other kinds of juices while the smokers puffed on that cigarette that had been sitting in their pockets waiting for such a long time. The chit chats grew louder. The conversations veered toward the medical as my med student status was revealed. The women started asking me questions about C-sections and normal deliveries. Cake was served. I didn’t feel like an outsider at all. In fact, I might as well have been part of the family, all to the backdrop of the tarawih chants emanating from the many minarets surrounding us.

A few minutes later, I found myself at the footsteps of a shabby bakery that did what I was told was incredible nammoura. “How much is the kilo for?” I asked. “6000LL,” the old man replied. He then took a sealed box, weighed it, looked at me and smiled: “It’s 1.5 kilos, but it’s okay – 6000LL it is. Have you tried the coconut-based pastry?” I shook my head. So the next thing he did was take one that was freshly baked, handing it to me to taste. I tried to decline. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. I smiled as my teeth sank into it, taking pictures of the place in the process while one of the employees pointed out to things I should include in my frames.

After buying enough sweets to last our household a month, we walked around the busier streets of the city towards my favorite cafe, Ahwak. The place was unusually empty. We ordered some oreo cheesecake and carrot cake while we forcibly listened in to the conversations taking place around us. Two guys were discussing politics fervently, which is quite normal for a city whose entire current strife is based in those politics. Two girls were discussing keeping their figure with Ramadan fasting. We spoke about how things could have been in the city, in the country. Nothing like demotivating conversations to take you through the night, which was ironic given that the cafe we were in was pillaged a few days earlier by Islamists who accused its owners of serving alcohol. Then we saw her, a little blond girl in a blue dress, holding flowers in her hand.

A couple of friends then decided they were craving some Hallab sweets. So we walked to where Hallab originated, the only place where I find you can get the authentic experience of those Arabian sweets. We don’t take any of those Jounieh wannabe franchise places and their ad wars. The place was busy as well, though nowhere near as busy as in years past. Those friends had some ice cream and mafrouke.

The clock was ticking the night away as we made our way to Azmi street. I was told about its shops opening way past midnight to allow the city’s residents to buy all their Eid’s new clothes and gifts. As we got closer, the music grew louder. I jokingly said this was obviously emanating from a convertible 1980s BMW. I wasn’t mistaken. After all, who else would blast some horrible Arabic music at near 2AM?
The shops were open but mostly empty. The streets were stuck between wanting to be lively and succumbing to the reality of a city that is coming to terms with how economically dead it’s being forced to become.
“I expected more,” I told my friend as we walked past the coffee sellers, clinking their cups to attract those passing, and impromptu stands selling cheese kaaks hoping the smell of their sandwiches would bring in some hungry people in for an early Sohoor.
“I expected the same,” he replied. “But I guess this is what happens when a city has had the year Tripoli had.”

We made our way up the street, wondering what to do next. It was around 2:30AM and nearing the Sohoor time for the city’s residents. “Do you wanna go to Bab el Ramel for a typical Sohoor setting?”
I shook my head. My circadian clock was nowhere near equipped for the rhythm Ramadan required. I was getting tired. So we returned to my friend’s house where we saw his mother sitting on the veranda, quietly looking over the city as she was waiting for dawn to break.

As she offered us tea to get time to pass, we told her about how Azmi street was much different than the year before, how Ahwak had much less people than when we went last, how it didn’t really feel like Eid was approaching, only eleven or twelve days away. So she told us about the city she once lived in, where she had a Christian friend who used to be closer than a sister to her. We spoke about how things changed from my mother being able to go to Bab el Tebbane alone a couple of years ago to how the city feels today. We spoke about the politicians of the city who couldn’t care less. We spoke about the Syrian civil war/revolution whose hold on the city seems won’t know an end. She told us about how she fears the Islamists ruining her city more than everyone else. She told us how she is considered a kuffar because she’s one of the many who don’t agree with what they do. She told us how she is ashamed of the reputation they have forced on her and her family and the people she holds dear. She told us how she is worried about the future of her children in the city she can barely recognize. We spoke about life in general, our families, our aspirations, our hopes for the future.

It was then that we heard a faint explosion sound. I looked around, intrigued. “Don’t worry, they said. It’s the madfa3 announcing dawn getting nearer.” A few minutes later, an ominous voice rang across the city to tell the people to stop drinking water. Soon after that, the minarets started chanting again.
“Here we go again,” she said before going up to her feet to go to bed. “Do visit again, okay?”

I nodded. It was the first time I attended all Ramadan-related proceedings. We talk about how we are a country of coexistence and whatnot, but how many of us have truly attended another person’s religion-related practices? Almost no one. “I would love to,” I replied as the first streaks of sunlight slithered over the concrete walls.

MTC Touch Ramadan Offer (Unlimited Calls after Iftar): Big Fail!

It started with that ridiculous marketing campaign they called “In My New World.”

I thought it would be about them introducing new services. It turned out about them rebranding. MTC Touch decided to drop the part of their name people use to call the company. They lost the MTC and kept the “Touch” and that made perfect sense to them. I guess we should have taken that as a sign.

MTC decided to offer its subscribers something cool for Ramadan. They get to choose one number which they would be able to call for free after Iftar, throughout the month of Ramadan.

The concept of anything unlimited when it comes to phones in Lebanon is so appealing that many MTC customers jumped on the offer the day Ramadan started.

And behold, a few days later some of them get the following SMS notifying them that they cannot be offered the service because maximum capacity has been reached.

Thank you Twitter user @JessyBechara for the picture

Technically, they aren’t lying. Some of my friends who tried the offer reported horrible service: either the network was busy all the time or they got disconnected more than once during the phone call they were attempting to make and ended up giving up on. So for all matters and purposes, maximum capacity was reached.

However, is that even an acceptable excuse to offer a service so heavily advertised to some users and not for others? Why didn’t they mention it’s a first-come first-served basis which it turned out to be? Even that wouldn’t be acceptable.

Either offer a service to all your users or don’t offer it at all. If you know for a fact that your infrastructure is beyond horrible,  which I believe MTC Touch knows, then simply don’t flaunt anything unlimited to your customers until you can own up to it and offer it to all customers. Mesh neis bsamne w neis bzeit. 

 

Didn’t MTC Touch even consider in its plans that people would jump on the offer? If not, then they seriously need new people in charge of all their departments. If they knew their network would be overloaded and they still went with the offer, then that shows exactly how little they care about their customers. Again, not surprising.

“In My New World,” dear MTC Touch Lebanon, when I’m offered a service, I get it. Maybe you should have used that approach in your campaign?

 

 

Ramadan Iftar Offers from Some Lebanese Restaurants

For those who are fasting and in need of food and those who are in need of good deals for dinner from July 20th to August 19th, I’ve gathered some of the Ramadan offers by select Lebanese restaurants.

1 – Crepaway

2 – Zaatar W Zeit:

3 – Deek Duke

4 – Amarres

5 – Chili’s

 

6 – Momo’s ($40 per person)

I should be trying the Amarres formule this coming week. If I stumble on other offers, I will update this post. Until then, Ramadan Kareem.

Ramadan Kareem. Now Help the Syrian Refugees

Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim leaders. I hope it will be a blessed month for you and your families and may your fasting be accepted and hopefully accompanied by good deeds.

A devout Muslim friend of mine told me yesterday that the month of Ramadan is all about being as good a person as you can: to do well upon others. It’s not only about not eating from sunrise to sundown. And it that’s the only thing you do during Ramadan, then you’re not doing it right.

And if there’s one good deed that Muslims and Christians alike should do these days, regardless of whether they’re Ramadan or July for you, is to help out the 20,000 or so Syrian refugees that have come into our land, escaping the fights in Damascus and Syria. The numbers are not exact and there’s no way to truly make sure of them.

But regardless of the number, those are the same people that helped out some of our people back in the July 2006 war when they escaped the Lebanese South and the Bekaa into Syria. It’s probably high-time to repay them, regardless of their political stance from the revolution (pro or against the regime.) Our government has forbade hospitals from providing emergency healthcare for all Syrian refugees.

So for the Muslims of the Bekaa, let your fasting be accompanied by this good deed and help out those refugees who are homeless and fasting underneath the insufferable sun. For the Christians in the Bekaa, open up your homes because that is what a good Christian is all about: helping others.

For once, I hope so-called religious people don’t stop at the crust of their corresponding religion and actually delve a little deeper.

For my Muslim readers and friends, I hope your fasting goes smoothly in this heat.

Ramadan Kareem again.