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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The Problem With Banning Pork and Alcohol At Some Lebanese Restaurants

Gino Raidy’s encounter at ZWZ’s Hamra Branch went viral across Lebanon’s internet community very fast. His shock that a restaurant like ZWZ, infamous for his Halloumi bacon sandwiches, would actually have a branch that wouldn’t serve anything non-conformant with Islamic sharia sparked some huge debate as is evident by the extensive response to his post which you can read here.

It is beyond perfectly understandable that such an issue would be considered by many as infringing on their basic freedom of eating whatever they want to eat. It is also beyond ironic that ZWZ Hamra might as well be the go-to restaurant for Lebanese pub-goers who drink themselves away a few meters away in Hamra’s infamous alleyway and other pubs.

So why would Islamic sharia be up and running in one place and completely shattered in another place? ZWZ’s diplomatic reply to the matter alluded to their leasing conditions: the person from whom they got their lease doesn’t allow pork and alcohol on the premises of his building and ZWZ had to conform.

The question, therefore, asks itself: couldn’t have ZWZ opened elsewhere?

The answer is: most probably not.

It’s easy to preach regarding the matter but the fact of the matter remains that landlords have the upper hand in cosmopolitan places like Hamra (despite what Homeland’s producers want you to believe) because of the extremely high demand for property and the low supply. Whatever a landlord wants, a landlord gets. And most companies have to deal with is as such despite their better judgement.

The fix for this is, obviously, stricter governmental regulations. But in a country where such an issue comes at possibly the lowest of importance in woes, such regulations will not be enforced anytime soon.

The issue, though, is not in disassociation with the general mood of the country.

This vigilante sharia applying is unacceptable. I’m not entirely sure if it’s legal as well. Is it allowed for someone to enforce something on their own property that is not legal across Lebanon? My gut tells me no. But Lebanese law has these sporadic eccentricities that make it baffling. And regardless of whether it’s legal or not, what is actually legal in Lebanon and is actually applied?

The only urban planning law that I know of pertaining to this matter is banning alcohol sales within a certain radius of any prayer house, including Churches. Christian areas do not conform with it while places like Tripoli apply it to the letter. You would be lucky to find a place in Tripoli with a carton of booze under the counter which they dispense to their most loyal customers only.

What is sure, however, is that this vigilante sharia is creating an even bigger divide in a country that doesn’t need more divisions to begin with, even among Muslims themselves because it’s not really about religion but about ideology. Banning alcohol and pork, which slowly turns places in a country that falls more on the liberal side in this deeply conservative region, slowly disassociates regions from each other: turning some more extreme while others become more liberal, the cultural and sectarian divide growing even bigger. The conservatives, subsequently, become more conservative. The less conservative folk become less so and the merry goes round. The clash between these ideologies would grow stronger.

Perhaps it is ZWZ’s right not to serve alcohol and pork on some of its premises. But when there’s no regulation to dictate this, the question asks itself: what’s the limit for this sort of “freedom” for restaurants? When does imposing restrictions on others, even those who share your religious views, crosses the line of freedom? And is it truly permissible to say that, due to the presence of alternatives, discussing the presence of Sharia-abiding restaurants should not be allowed?