Lebanon

meat pastries

The Middle East is a pretty fascinating place, and on this visit – as well as others – I am constantly surprised by what I experience there. Although we often see snippets of it, our images of the region are usually negative; people are fighting or yelling or demonstrating. Glimpses of people going about everyday life aren’t especially easy to come by outside of these countries. Because situations change seemingly daily, it’s not always possible to go to certain places when you want to travel to them. But fortunately, the time was just right for me to go to Lebanon.

Lebanese woman with fruitlamb
green almondsLebanon beach

The first thing you notice in Lebanon is that the people are quite friendly and as I started writing this post about my trip, two young boys are playing around me at the airport while my flight home is delayed (for nine hours!), gingerly saddling up beside me, touching my computer screen with curiosity. In western countries, we are afraid of people and we’re told not to talk to strangers. And if someone came over to you in the airport and touched your computer screen, you might have a coronary. Or deck them.

lamb at butcher shop

Here, the closeness seems natural. Lebanon is a country of just about four million people, with half living in the capital of Beirut. And like most other countries, there is a mix of religions, social classes, and so forth that all live together, with varying degrees of success. But there is an undercurrent of what they call “Lebanese hospitality” – I was warned that if someone invites you into their home, whether you are a friend or stranger, it’s rude to say “No.” Instead, you always say, “Next time.”

wine maker

And on my way out of the country, at airport security desk leaving Lebanon, I didn’t fill out whatever form needed to be filled out. So the officer took one off the top of the stack and filled it out for me. Then we had a nice chat about how good Lebanese food is. Honestly, when was the last time where you had that kind of exchange with an airport official?

St thomas winery

People in Lebanon, of course, speak Arabic. But many are fluent in English and/or French, and folks will pull words from the three languages to say what they want. Oddly, the two currencies used in Lebanon are Lebanese pounds and US dollars, which you can get at one of the many ATMs located just about everywhere. Restaurants and shops all take US dollars. (A friend of mine is Lebanese and he gets paid in dollars and his bank account in Lebanon is also in dollars.) I’m not sure how that works, but it was one of the few places I’ve been to where the dollar still rules.

knife Beirut road signs

Of course, it’s not paradise. And many Lebanese and Middle Eastern people from other countries travel to Beirut because it’s such as cosmopolitan and modern city, and provides a respite from any conflicts back in their own countries. Lebanon stretches against the Mediterranean Sea and driving up and down the country, it’s not hard to catch glimpses of the soothing water from the cities and the mountains.

Lebanese chocolates Chocolates in Lebanon

During the first part of my trip I was a guest of the Four Seasons hotel, and the staff could not have been more gracious. When I arrived, there was an adorable little tarbouche filled with chocolates, which was the most delightful thing I picked up, which I carefully carried around all week so I could make sure it would arrive home safely. When the fellow who brought me to my room right after I checked in and he heard I liked Salep, a warm drink thickened with orchid roots, he offered to bring me a cup right away. I declined, because I wanted to put on the fluffy white bathrobe and slippers, and sit on the bed and eat my chocolates undisturbed. And check out the view of Beirut.

beirut

So what was I doing in Lebanon? I had read somewhere online that Taste Lebanon and was giving away spaces in one of their culinary trips to Lebanon and shared it on my Facebook page, for readers over there. (As much as I wanted to enter, I didn’t, in deference to others.)

orange, pomelo and lemons

But I did add a note to the post, that I’d always wanted to go to Lebanon, and wished people luck. Then Bethany Kehdy, who does the tours, contacted me, asking if I wanted to come on a special trip through the country with her and a few other journalists. So I packed my bags, and left.

arab coffee

In terms of traveling through Lebanon, Bethany grew up in Lebanon as well as in the United States, and is fluent in several languages. So when you go to a bakery or restaurant with her, she easily assimilates you into the culture. And it was funny to go into small shops where the elderly owners came over to greet her, reminiscing about when she came in as a child and the owners gave her sweets.

All grown up now, she spends her time taking people around Lebanon. Parts of the country can be challenging for visitors, especially smaller villages, and while I didn’t feel unsafe in the remote souks and bakeries (although one guy tried to sell me a Hezbollah t-shirt…), I felt absolutely fine walking around with her.

ruins in Lebanon

Fortunately I had a suitcase full of shirts so didn’t opt to buy one, but we did see the astounding ruins of Baalbeck, where the guide was just as happy to recount knowing Anthony Bourdain as he was to show off these remarkably well-preserved Roman ruins.

Lebanon ruins

And crawling up and down them helped us work off the Sfiha ba’albackiyeh, words I was happy to let a native speaker pronounce, which were meat and pine nut-filled pastries that we saw being made in the roaring fires at the souk. (Shown at the very top of the post.) With a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, it was hard not to eat the entire box of them while they were still warm from the oven.

chez zakhiabarracudas
hookaslebanese table

Having Lebanese friends, I’ve learned about “Lebanese time”, which means that when invited for dinner, they may show up an hour (or two late). Or that a thirty minute visit to an orange flower water distillery in the morning will end with you and the distiller – and his two brothers – heading to a restaurant like Chez Zakhia for lunch, picking out fresh fish from the bins by the door, then settling in for an afternoon of eating generous meze and salads, fried fish, washed down with good Lebanese rosé and arak (distilled anise liquor), finishing it up with strong coffee and perhaps a hookah or a cigar. (I tried my first hookah earlier in the week, but after inhaling a cigar by accident when I first tried one of those years ago, I stay away from the stogies nowadays.)

lebanese cedars

Then spending the afternoon drinking and eating. Then heading to at winery to watch the sunset from the top of a mountain, overlooking the towering Lebanese cedars.

winery shot

Honey producers will take you to see their colorful beehives, which reminded me of Mondrian paintings, set up in tiers on the hillside.

lebanese beehives

I took a jar of wild thyme honey home, although when I got back and drizzled a little on my morning toast, I wished I had brought back all the jars the thick honey the beekeeper had in the back of his truck.

beehives

I watched kilos of highly fragrant orange flowers being unloaded into a distilling tank, where I learned it takes a kilo (2.2 pounds) of blossoms to make ½ liter (2 cups) of orange flower water.

orange flowers for water

Each bottle also got topped with orange oil, which helps preserve and perfume the water as it sits. When no one was looking, I dabbed a little under my nose so that I could carry the scent around with me for the rest of the day. However that eventually passed, as a glass of brandy from a trip to their cellar, where they are making “Zognac”, a brandy similar to Cognac (whose name is protected), burned away most of the scent of the oil.

filling orange flowersLebanese nut mix
Mosque in Beirutorange flower water with oil

In Beirut, there was ice cream at Hanna’s made with salep and mastic, which gives the ice cream a toothy, sticky quality.

ma'amoulfilling ma'amoul
ma'amoul fillingapricot salep ice cream

The crunchy almond flavor was my favorite. But there were ice creams made of everything, from German chocolate (excellent) to those with more of a local flavor, including rose water and mango.

ground iranian pistachios

Having a Syrian grandfather, I grew up gorging myself on red-shelled pistachios, which he kept on hand in big 5-pound bags. I still remember the brand’s tagline, which was “You just can’t stop eating them!” which was certainly true. And back then, I always had the red-stained fingers to prove it! So if you love pistachios as much as I do, you’re in the right part of the world.

pistachio ice cream

That’s for sure!

ma'amoul cookies

And I watched the owner knead his own almond paste, in the tiny shop, which he used to form Ma’amoul with his mother; golden-brown cookies that he was making for Easter, filled with bright-green Iranian and Turkish pistachios. Thankfully, the red-dyed specimens seem to be a thing of the past.

crunchy almond croquant ice cream

And did I mention the terrific almond ice cream topped with big bits of crackly caramelized almonds, that had me scraping my cup clean – even though I had just polished off two lunches?

fried fish platterLebanese waiter
goatfried cashews

A few days later, we headed to the seaside town of Betroun, where we began lunch with traditional dishes of bzoorat, a mixture of roasted nuts and seeds, along with icy glasses of rosé, before moving to a table where fresh salads and platters of seafood right off the grill were shared by all.

Lebanese scallops

There were raw scallops that looked like no scallops I had ever seen, served grilled as well as raw, and fried fish served with tarator (tahini-garlic sauce)…and perhaps a hookah of something was smoked in the background. And no, it was nothing illicit. I was already high from the food.

grilled shrimp with cocktail sauce

Smoking has been banned in restaurants in Lebanon, but you still see ashtrays on tables next to no-smoking signs.

fried fish

Still, living in a country of heavy smokers, people in Lebanon are pretty considerate of non-smokers. And hookah smoke is a lot less-offensive when you’re eating than cigarette smoke. In fact, hookahs are often smoked at the same time as eating.

hilmi cookies

Another day, driving home from a culinary expedition in the south of Lebanon, on the side of the highway, we saw someone selling fresh black truffles. But we didn’t stop for them, although Lebanese traffic is legendary, and pretty helter-skelter. There is an “anything goes” policy on the roads and taxis swarm the city of Beirut, and it’s common as soon as you leave a restaurant or a shop for a few taxis to descend upon you. (Another difference from back home, where taxis seem like they doing you a favor by stopping for you.)

When stuck on a highway in slow-moving traffic, I saw a man on a scooter driving in the opposite direction, between all the cars, without a care in the world. No one said anything or looked at him differently. And crossing the street in Beirut was the most dangerous thing I did in the country.

Lebanese black truffles

Speaking of problems, just before I left for Lebanon, I heard that the US State Department issued a warning about Lebanon. I was just a bit hesitant, but I have also heard Europeans express concerns about going to Chicago because of the gangsters riding down the streets with machine guns, or going to New York City because they had seen police chasing criminals down the busy streets and sidewalks on television crime dramas.

coffee maker in souk
street scene near souk

In my experience, I didn’t feel at all as if I was in any danger during my trip. There are security checkpoints on certain roads, especially out in the countryside, and you’ll see armed guards in downtown Beirut. And there are cities that are not advisable to go to, which locals were sad about as well.

Syrian strawberry cart

On my last night in Beirut, where we were happily enjoying farewell drinks and dinner on the waterfront, there was a terrible bombing in Boston, a place I have visited many, many times, which is somewhere I’ve always felt safe to visit.

Lebanese feast

You can’t compare tragedies, which sometimes happen where you don’t expect them to. I spent a week in Lebanon and didn’t see any strife – although you do pass bombed-out buildings, scars from the past. The only bad taste in my mouth was arriving at the airport to head home and learning that my flight was delayed those nine hours. (And being given a voucher for a soda and a snack as compensation, by the non-Lebanese airline.)

bananas in Lebanon

Fortunately, thanks to Lebanese hospitality, I was trying to figure out how to plug my computer in as I settled in for the long, long day, spent on the worn carpet of the airport and one of the maintenance women saw me struggling came over to helped me with my European plug, adjusting the outlet so I could use my computer. She even offered to find me a converter in the back office. Maybe I just lead a sheltered life, but I can’t imagine that happening in many other countries.

pistachio nuts in shells

Of course, there are all sorts of places that I could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve gone to if I had a few weeks. (My next visit will include the Souk el Tayeb.) But like the rolled up grape leaves that were part of several meze that I enjoyed, by the time I was ready to leave, I was stuffed to capacity.

winery

But I feel content to have packed so much into one week of tasting and touring, all tempting me to someday go back.

Live Love Beirut



Related Posts

Lebanese Breakfast

Another Lebanese Breakfast, and Two Lunches

How to Eat a Falafel in Lebanon

Saj, Flatbreads and Lebanese Pastries

Lebanese Meze

The 12 Year Old Lahham

Al Bohsali: Middle Eastern Pastries


Note/Disclosure: This trip was organized by Bethany Kehdy, who leads culinary tours, for her company, Taste Lebanon. She loves to share her country, and its cuisine, and I recommend her highly as a guide if you visit Lebanon. (We had been in touch prior to the trip as she had invited me to speak at Food Blogger Connect for the past few years, which I couldn’t participate in, until this year.)

The Four Seasons hotel in Beirut was kind enough to host me for the first few days of my trip. And the last few nights were at the Riviera Hotel, which provide a more modest experience…and is just asking to be turned into a hip, retro hotel. But was located right on the ocean. (Although if you go, me and my new friends nearly cleaned out the bar the last night, you might want to wait a while for them to restock.)

Street in Beirut

75 comments

  • Wow! Looks like you had an incredible time! I love the smell of orange blossom, and the little fez hat with the biscuits in is so cute.

    Think I’ll be booking a trip there very soon…

  • Thank you for all of your beautiful posts about Lebanon. My grandmother is Lebanese but grew up in the U.S. and therefore embraced all things American. She fed us hotdogs and Kool-aid. I wish I’d been able to learn all about the foods her mother made. I see hints of my relatives in the faces of the people you’ve photographed and it makes me want to travel to Lebanon. Maybe one day…..
    Thank you for bringing me a piece of my heritage.

  • What a lovely snapshot. Perhaps we all need to spend more time sitting around a table sharing food and culture rather than staring across battle lines.

  • David,
    What an amazing writer and person you are..First it was Jerusalem and now Lebanon. Places that never crossed my mind apart from the conflict that exists there. But you have opened a whole new world for me to want to explore. I loved your little butcher post too..In India images like that are common. As I was growing up we would always buy fresh goat hanging like that. My mom even knows which part is which by just looking at the cut pieces. I can only do that with chicken and fish ;) She also enjoys eating all the other bits..Offal….I.Need.To.Learn.From.Her.
    Cheese,Truffles,Fish,Coffee,Pistachios..You nailed it David ! Your last pic says it all, really!

  • Really thrilled you enjoyed your trip here, David. Thanks for the series of posts on Lebanon, its hospitable people, and its generous cuisine. We hope the world will see us in this light, and not the rather bleak one that’s set in over the past few decades.
    On a side note, why on earth was your flight delayed 9 hours?!

  • I’m so glad you had such a great time. My husband visited Beirut for work, years ago, and loved it – I think he was taken to Baalbek, too; he certainly visited some of the more famous historical sites.

    Sadly, the Lebanon is one of those places where things could kick off again any minute; one so hopes not, because when it is peaceful it is, I am told, a wonderful place to live and work – and the pictures of the wonderful food you have been posting all week have set me to drooling! I have discovered that I simply love middle Eastern food…. (and have just scored the best hummus I’ve ever tasted in the TFC supermarket in London!).

  • Every morning, I hope that you have written a new blog post as it is the first pleasure I look forward to as I sit down at my computer with my coffee. You’ve now opened my mind to a part of the world I never would have thought about visiting! Thank you for the vivid stories and photos of Lebanon!

  • This wonderful writing accompanied by these beautiful photos really transport me away from my computer and ignite a wanderlust. Thank you so much for sharing this experience, looks amazing.

  • Re – physical closeness boundaries

    I once read an article that when Westerners get on a bus and there is only one other person on, we would choose a seat as far away from the other person. But in the same situation when people from some other cultures like the Middle East get on a bus, they sit as close to the other person. Maybe even sit next to them.

    Your post about the little kids being close to you at the airport reminded me of that. To be fair, many kids, regardless of culture, are naturally curious.

  • OK, it all looks/sounds pretty amazing, but I can’t get over how adorable the little Fez filled with chocolates is! :) I also grew up surrounded by those 5 lb bags of pistachios, but not the red ones. I don’t think I even came across those until I was in high school. They were either Zaloom or Zenobia.

  • What a fabulous journey….I have wanted very much to do this, but sadly the winning streak is not something I seem to possess (re the giveaway) and sadly the cost of the trip too much, so I will make do with your lovely photos! Merci!

  • What a gorgeous, heartfelt posting. In the days of my father’s business travels (days of yore), Lebanon was his favorite place – and this cemented the tales he told me of grand food and lovely people.,

  • I always wanted to go to Syria on holiday and also for a food tour. Obviously that isn’t a great idea now, so now Lebanon is tempting me. Splendid posts!

  • Hi, Another great post David. Thanks for sharing your Lebanese experiences. Milt Gersh

  • Ah. You had me at honey. (Beautiful photos–thanks so much.)

  • David, thank you! I read all of your posts about Lebanon and enjoyed them, but this one in particular touched me. Thank you again.

    Speaking of orange blossom water, I’m yet to find anything better than that by Mymoune. It’s a small, artisanal venture, founded by a Lebanese women’s cooperative, and I’m amazed by the quality of their products. In Paris, I buy it at La Grande Épicerie, but I’m sure it’s available elsewhere.

    And not sure if you know Barbara Abdeni Massaad’s book, Mouneh: Preserving Foods for the Lebanese Pantry, but it’s full of great, traditional recipes (and excellent photographs).

  • Danielle: It was a technical problem, which I guess also prevented their website from working because if it had, I might have known about the delay when I tried to check-in online. Unfortunately there isn’t much to do at the Beirut airport and I should have gone back into town. But once I was through security, it’s not so easy to get out. (And the restaurants in the Beirut airport, considering how good the food is in Lebanon, is disappointing – I had a wet tuna sandwich and a bottle of water. But after some begging, the airline threw in a free coffee as well.)

    And it is really unfortunate the conflict in the region. But as a Lebanese friend told me, “David, this has been going on for centuries. If everyone wasn’t mad at one country, they’d find another one to be mad at.”

    Chris: They were Zenobia, but I think during the 80s, when there was an embargo on Iran, they made have curbed imports into the US? (Although not sure.) However around that time, they planted a lot of pistachios in California so those kind of took over. Still, it’s funny to remember all those bright-red dyed pistachios – and my red fingers : )

    Angela: They were giving away three trips (including airfare!) during their give-away. Don’t know if they’ll do another one, but worth keeping an eye out for it.

    Cathy: I wanted to go to Syria as well, and was looking into getting a visa before the conflicts. People spoke really fondly of Syria and said it was such a beautiful place, with amazing food. Lebanon has welcomed quite a number of refugees.

  • Very nice article!
    I enjoyed reading it…
    I love the way you presented Lebanon, the country where i was born and raised!
    I really hope you will also get the chance to visit Armenia one day!

  • This is a lovely post. Thank you so much for sharing such detail of your trip. I want to make rosewater ice cream now…

  • These are beautiful pictures. I spent 2 months in Lebanon, and gosh, I miss it. So much to do, and what a beautiful country to discover. THE FOOD….
    Quite nostalgic. Thank you for sharing!

  • Yours was easily the most evocative, compelling food-focused travel post I have ever read . . . and I have read a few. Coupled with the photos, your narrative was a delight. Truly. Can’t wait to go.

  • I left for a prolonged stay in the USA a few days after the explosions at the Boston Marathon. Now, usually Boston IS where I go, this time I was heading to California. Even if my end destination had been Boston, I would still have gone. Terror is only as strong as the fear it creates. I’ve travelled exstensively. To this day there are only a few spots where I’ve feared for my safety. Bad stuff happen to good people everywhere, regardless of how you categorise it. Travel, enjoy life, don’t worry too much and don’t take any unnecessary risks that defy common sense. Lebanon is just gorgeous! One day I hope to visit Iran.

    David: is one allowed to bring fresh fruits/veggies etc., into France after foreign travel? They’ve been fervent here for some things, mostly involving the protection against plant disease.

  • Thank you, thank you for these wonderful posts on Lebanon! You have given this arm-chair traveler one of her best trips ever.

  • Thank you so much for the wonderful posts and beautiful photos of Lebanon. My grandparents came from Lebanon (then Syria) a hundred years ago and travel there is on my short list. Lebanese culture must be genetic, because even one hundred years later, I feel connected to your accounting: the food, the hospitality, and even the “Lebanese time” (the relatives arriving an hour late is madness!) Many thanks!

  • Your words are charming, but your photographs are spectacular and very, very well composed. Do you get the photo credits? Bravo!

  • Beautiful pictures! Middle eastern food like sfihas and kibbeh are so popular in Brazil I wish they were easier to find in the US!

  • Thanks for another wonderfully written and photographed piece! Where I grew up in Tripoli, Libya, Lebanese food was considered the epitome of refined cuisine, and I couldn’t agree more- I’ve always loved it. Great post David; great way to start the day and get my creative (and gastric) juices going!

  • What a beautiful article – I felt like you took me along on the trip!

  • Thank you for such a refreshing post – I enjoyed your words and images so very much! We in America need balance about places in the world because we have heard so much negative press about them. You are like an ambassador for us and my heart is very happy this morning. : )

  • Thanks for all of your posts on Lebanon–it is now on my bucket list!

  • David,
    My sister (in Basel) brought your blog to my attention recently (I am in Seattle)- so I have been following for only a couple of months now-
    and while I enjoyed all your commentary and photographs
    >>>this one is particularly well done.
    So I just had to let you know.
    Thank you -this was absolutely lovely!

  • I am just discovering your blog and posts and absolutely love them – having grown up in Beirut and lived in Paris and the US and being hugely interested in food, your blog is perfect for me! Thank you for making it so interesting and lively – And many thanks for the wonderful recipes and cooking tips! Will you hunt down your favorite Lebanese place in Paris now?
    By the way, I suppose the answer is no, but did you make it to Tripoli since you were in Batroun? Best food in the Tripoli market!

  • A wonderful recap David – so refereshing and reflected accompaniec by beautiful pictures! thank you for bringing Lebanon so close!

  • how could i add more to these effusive comments? warm fuzzies all the way around. i’ve have lebanese friends over the years and they all fit this description. anyway, lucky you and thanks for this wonderful mini tour. and for the hints on what i should be digging up at my local super king which is a fab armenian-lebanese supermkt here in l.a.

    on a separate note, could i borrow one of your pictures of the beehives? i’ve got a beehive in my eaves at the moment, and have discovered my neighborhood beekeepers and would love to do a post – i would of course credit you for the photo and include a link here. thanks so much!

    milles mercis!

  • What wonderful pictures. Everything about the post was eyeopening. I never thought of visiting Lebanon. Now, though, it makes me rethink my prejudices about Lebanon being filled with fighting, arguing people. Also, I too, really wanted to go to Syria after meeting a lovely Syrian family in Canada. Someday someday…but until then, thank you. For the post and for opening my eyes.

  • Thanks a tonne for all the posts David. It was really kind of you for sharing all your experiences with us. Your writing is just wonderful. Last few days Im visiting your blog every morning and evening, curious to know about your trip. Thanks once again for letting us know how beautiful these places (Jerusalem and Beruit ) are. :)

  • Thank you — that was just beautiful.

  • The golden cookies are called Maamool and not Maamoon. May be it was just a typo. They are semolina dough filled with dates, or walnut or pistachios, and all Lebanese and Syrians make them for any festive occasion regardless of the religion. Here is my Date Maamool recipe
    http://reinventingnadine.blogspot.com/2012/10/date-maamool-or-semolina-date-cookies.html

    PS. The pic of the honey hives is iconic! well done.

    Yes, it was a misplaced ‘n’ for an ‘l’ (it was right in the meta-data, attached to the photos. Thanks! -dl

  • Beautiful post on Lebanon. We enjoyed it as much as you did and the photos are absolutely lovely. Brings back great memories.

  • just beautiful. and its one of the places I want to visit :) I really enjoyed your instagram posts too

  • Your trip has been sounding incredible (and delectable) for the past few weeks. Now Lebanon is a must visit place for me. Middle Eastern food and hospitality are two of my favorite things.

  • I’ve always wanted to travel to Beirut, but now that you’ve described croissants with za’atar that desire has gotten only stronger.

  • Thank you for all of your posts on this wonderful trip! I have really enjoyed hearing about all of the delicious food…and looking at those beautiful photographs. Thank you!

  • Beautifully written! Thanks for letting us live and eat vicariously through you, until we can make the trip ourselves.

  • WOW!! love this
    thank you-
    so great to read-

  • I have so enjoyed your Lebanon posts. I am travelling to Beirut in June, to work in the Syrian refugee encampments. Lebanon is such a beautiful country; I look forward to my service and my time off!

  • An excellent article and superbly written, David. Can’t thank you enough for taking me back to my high school days when I would accompany my parents to Beirut for a week of relaxation and cultural immersion. The simple salads were the freshest and tastiest I’d ever had. My first taste of a platter filled with labneh drizzled with fresh olive oil still makes me swoon 40 years later. The Lebanese are the most gracious hosts you’ll find. They’re simply terrific people. But then you know that all too well.

  • Absolutely fantastic post, David. When I read your earlier ones I was wishing Bethany gave culinary tours, so imagine my joy to find out that that’s just what she does! You can tell her from me that your trip was well worthwhile as I will definitely be a future client.

  • Love this! Only, the ashtrays on the tables aren’t for smoking–they’re for collecting garbage. Rather than clutter the tables with your trash, you can throw tissues and wrappers in the ashtray, and waiters will come by to change them intermittently. It’s a great system, because the table’s always clean, and they don’t have to touch your garbage!

  • Thank you very much for your generous, thoughtful and warm post.

  • You mention the amount of taxis in Beirut……I heard that’s because there is no public transportation within the city. True?

    • We have public buses and taxis, but no, there’s no actual form of public transportation. The Ministry of Transportation is currently looking into that, apparently.

  • Thanks Kanzi. I assume taxis are quite affordable then. That would be nice!

    • Very much so. It ranges between 2,000 Lebanese Lira ($1.33) to 4,000 Lebanese Lira ($2.66) to get anywhere in the city.

  • Awesome post, David. I am glad you enjoyed your visit to my country. You took me back to the special places I had been, as I read your post. Like you, I love Salep and pistachios in red skins. Ma’moul is so tasty too and the meat pies are mouth watering. Thanks again for featuring another post about Lebanon, its culture and foods.

  • Thank you, David, for everything in this post — the incredible photos, especially of peoples’ faces; the descriptions of the food, the people, the countryside; your words about our impressions of other countries, and about Chicago, New York, and Boston. All of it eye-opening, mind-opening, and beautiful.

  • Dear David,
    I imagined I was there…there in Lebanon.Your post made everything come alive. The food, the people, the culture…the food! When I was a little girl I tasted something very delicious, but didn’t know what it was, til now. A family friend, (he was the kindest, sweetest man I’ve ever known), would always bring us wine, fresh bread, olives and a dip made of herbs, seeds and the best olive oil! I didn’t realize til now, that it was za’a tar! I’ve been looking for it all these years. He would take my fat little fingers and place a very generous piece of bread in them. Then he’d take my hand and plunge it into the bowl of herbs and golden olive oil. Out would come this delicious morsel of bread soaked in all that goodness…and into my mouth it would go! He would always manage to stuff a olive in my mouth, in-between bites…feeding me as if I was his own child. I loved it … and I loved Mr. Saffa.

    Thanks David for bringing back such a sweet memory.

  • I loved your book Sweet Life in Paris, and was pleased when I heard that you were coming to Lebanon. If you were at Hanna’s, then you were even close to where I live. My family and I moved to Lebanon a year ago, and it’s tough convincing folks that there is more to the country than the strife reported in global news. Thanks for sharing about the food and culture – great post with great pictures! I will link to it on my own blog, http://www.gardeniasinbeirut.wordpress.com.

  • This sounds amazing – I love the Middle Eastern food – and try to recreate it at home, with help from Ottolenghis books and Claudia Roden – but one day will go – the whole trip sounded fabulous!

  • My parents lived in Beirut for 5 years and I had many happy holidays there – when we first arrived there was just one working traffic light in the city – amazing to see it now. This article was a lovely reminder and made me totally homesick for a place and time in my life I can never repeat. Thank you.

  • Wow, this is incredible. I’ve only ever been to Istanbul and it was one of my favorite trips yet. So different and such a rich experience.

  • Beautiful post. You really have a knack for keeping one’s attention.

  • This is an incredible post. Not anyone can get away with long posts, but your photos and writing style are just divine.

    Now I want to go to Beirut!!!

  • Bravo, Daveed. This was simply beautiful in every way. There is a marvelous documentary called “Beirut – The Last Home Movie” by filmmaker, Jennifer Fox. It was made in the mid-80’s but still haunts me. I can imagine it holds up even now, all these years later. Will see if I can find it for you. xox, A

  • What a fantastic journey. Thank you! I’m heading there.

  • Love your writing and pictures. I am very fortunate to have a Lebanese neighbor who is also a fabulous cook, so I have tasted a number of the foods you are writing about and am now addicted to Lebanese cooking. I have shared your articles with her which she has also enjoyed, and it has made her homesick. She is now planning a trip to Beirut this summer.

    Your posts are wonderful. Thank you.

  • David, this post is just so beautiful, as are all your Lebanese posts, and really all your travelling posts. Tourism agencies know what they’re doing when they give you free trips–now I want to go everywhere you’ve been lately.

    Instead, I just make your rosemary cornmeal bundt, serve it with your candied cherries, and thank you. Your hard work makes my day happier.

  • David,
    Thank you for a most beautiful view of Lebanon. The world is truly glorious when looked at through the right eyes.
    Bobbi

  • Hi David – thanks for sharing how wonderful Lebanon is – I’ve wanted to go since I was in college and learned about the amazingly intact ruins. Today I want to go for the food and the sea. It’s fun to travel through your eyes.

  • Of all the trips you’ve written about, I am certain that this is the one I have enjoyed reading about the most. The food, the culture, the people–everything about it seems so incredibly inviting. It helps that Lebanese food is perhaps my most favorite food on the planet, but, nevertheless, thank you so much for sharing so many details about your trip. It has been a true pleasure to experience it through your eyes.

  • What are the names of some of the meat and savory pastries. I’d like to try making some on my own. Thanks!

  • How beautiful! I was in Egypt last Summer and this brings back memories, however there are so many differences between the two! Next time we plan on going to Egypt I definitely want to detour to Lebanon! Lebanese food is something else – living in Sydney, Australia, I am fortunate that there is such a large Lebanese culinary footprint, Lebanese restaurants, ma’nash bakeries, pastry shop, all so delish!

  • Oh and I can definitely agree on “Arab timing” and crossing the road in the Middle-East!

  • Your photos are so beautiful, David. Thank you for showing us this part of the world.

  • your blog is a delightful melee of foods, sights, places and people that I know I’ll never see in this life time. thanks for sharing it with us all.