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Posts from the ‘Lebanon’ Category

A guide to Organic Health Food stores in Beirut

While some may feel “home” in bookstores, at the hairdresser or whilst playing a video game, my comfort place is rather niche: any health food store. I grew up in Marin, a suburb of bohemian San Francisco, where I was never far from kamut bagels, almond milk (soy milk was the trend in the 90s but now it’s almond), quinoa salads and superfoods (ex. Chia, collard greens, wheatgrass) etc. And so now, when travelling, I try to find health food stores wherever I may be.

Below is a reviewed list of stores in Beirut which pride themselves on their organic and biodynamic certifications.

Note: I would recommend using Google maps for exact locations.

 

Al Marej Organic Food Store 

Fresh goat cheese from Al Marej

Fresh goat cheese from Al Marej

Abdul Wahab El Inglizi Street, Achrafiyeh, Beirut

01 210 211

https://www.facebook.com/AlMarejOrganicFood/

 

Al Marej offers everything from organic halal meat, dairy products, fresh veggies, jams, vinegars, healthy snacks, olive oil to essential oils and organic body

Al Marej Farm in Laklouk, Lebanon

Al Marej Farm in Laklouk, Lebanon

products (of which 85% are from their own certified organic farm). Although the store may not appear as full as others, their products are the most authentic, tasty and fresh. Everything I have bought there has been “the best of the best” (i.e. I have tried at least 10 olive oils in Lebanon, the one they sell is the richest most delicious). When I asked the elderly owner how he first got introduced to organics, he smiled and said: “I have always been a farmer!” Yes, there was a time when the term “organic” wasn’t necessary, one was just a farmer. Sigh.

Al Marej offers daily and weekly delivery of their produce.

 

 

A New Earth

Zahrat Ihsan, Achrafieh, Beirut

01 219 920

 

A fairly big store with a wide selection of imported goods. Fresh produce selection is not impressive, nor is the staff, but they may have what you need if you are looking for something particular. Note: This health food store is quite tricky to find so I would recommend saving their phone number and bringing a Smartphone (Google maps!)

 

BiolandScreen Shot 2014-08-28 at 12.08.30 PM

Sioufi, Achrafieh

+961 1 398111

http://bioland-lb.com/contact.php

 

Bioland is a very clean store that offers fresh produce from their farms in the north of Lebanon, including dairy, meat and jams. The store also sells packaged imported goods like Chia seeds. I was most excited to see fresh bags of kale! I have been looking everywhere for kale and Bioland has a bountiful supply. However, while their banana jam was quite tasty, the dairy products from their farms were inedible and had to be thrown out (the cheese had gone bad) and the yoghurt was not good at all. They offer a daily specialty dish, which is very clean and tasty, and a good option if one is tired of fat-filled too-many-ingredient dishes present at most restaurants.

 

CarrafourIMG_5701

Beirut City Center

Hazmieh

This mega-market has a fairly decent selection of organic Biomass produce. Cucumbers and tomatoes can be quite tasty if you are lucky enough to go to the store on the days they get their deliveries.

 

Beirut Bio CenterScreen Shot 2014-08-28 at 12.10.15 PM

Hazmieh, next to Yuppie Park and City Centre

03788613

http://www.beirutbiocenter.com/

 

A place for *macrobiotic lovers, Bio Center is hosted in a run down monastery-like house. They have a VERY small selection of imported products and no fresh produce for sale. So what exactly is the Bio Center? It’s a macrobiotic restaurant that serves a selection of daily dishes (all very heavy in grains and rice!).

On a personal note, the “Center”, located on the side of the highway, felt like a creepy commune. The brick entry path was breaking off and as soon as I walked through the metal doors I wanted to turn to leave. Once inside, I was met with no friendly welcome; the owner was nowhere in sight and the grounds were deserted except for a scruffy man sitting in the corner of the room eating silently.

 

*Macrobiotic:  a dietary regimen which involves eating grains as a staple food, supplemented with other foods such as local vegetable, and avoiding the use of highly processed or refined foods and most animal products (Wikipedia).

 

Souk Al Tayeb

Every Saturday from 9-2 at Beirut Souks

 

Don’t have high expectations when you go to Beirut’s only farmers market. While at first glance it may seem impressive, variety is limited and some of the produce appears artificial (see: rose water, jams etc.) Maybe it’s the markets’ setting (an extremely ritzy mall in downtown Beirut), but the whole affair appears to be a circus for tourists and expats living in the city. Saying that, you can find some gems; local eggs, fresh stevia, organic body soaps and what my mother can’t seem to find anywhere else: barley tea from Egypt. Check it out for yourselves and see what you think, just don’t buy their kishik! (powder made from goat and cows milk mixed with bulgur wheat).

 

 

Beirut’s Best Restaurants

In spending eight months in Beirut, going out to eat almost every night, I got to taste much of the booming food scene. I want to help others find the best source and so have compiled a list of my favorites (more to come soon).  Voilá my top picks for Lebanese, American/Grill and Japanese restaurants.

*Note: All the restaurants on this list I have been to at least twice to double-check my taste buds.

Lebanese Al Aajami

This restaurant is very old school Lebanese but the food is innovative and oh-so-fresh. The appetizers change daily: from artichoke salad to a cheese dish with pomegranates and the best hindbe (greens) I have ever tasted. Al Aajami is known for its shwarma and kabab and after trying their meats I can say there is nothing like it! I have always thought of shwarma as street food, but I had no idea what I was missing! Their shwarma is so tender, succulent and just melts in your mouth. The restaurant is a hot spot for those in the know, such as a parliament member who only gets his food from this hidden gem. Unlike most Lebanese restaurants, the menu is in Arabic only so bring someone that speaks the language.

I have been to the other famous Lebanese restaurants (Mounir, Tawlet, Babel, Karamna etc.) and this restaurant is two steps above these delicious Lebanese staples.

Delivery available

Rafic El Hariri Ave. Ramlet El-Baida

+9611802260

American/Grill Aarayes Restaurant

Even after going to eat at The Corner Bistro in NYC (rated best burger in the city) Aarayes burger rates higher on my list. The meat is lightly spiced and of the highest quality. I have tried their cheeseburger (which is not too cheesy but still melts in the mouth) as well as their Mexican burger (peppers etc.) and both hit the spot. Their meat is not greasy but feels luxurious. I also love their grilled chicken; even when I asked for well-cooked meat, it was still juicy and so tasty—not dry at all. The quality and chicken beats Hawa and all the other brands hands down and, if I may say so, tastes even better than home grilled.

This restaurant/diner is immaculately clean and their food is always on point. I have never been there on an “off” day. If you walk into the small casual restaurant and it isn’t crowded don’t fret: most of their customers order delivery!

Boulevard Camille Chamoun

+961 76 166 156

https://www.facebook.com/3arayes.net

Sushi Kampai

I had no idea what to expect when I arrived at this famed downtown spot, but I would soon taste freshness and innovation not seen in other Beiruti sushi restaurants. Contrary to the sushi, Kampai is unassuming. Unpretentious, the service is very good even when it’s crowded. The sushi salads are especially tasty and abundant. The spicy crispy salmon salad is my favorite and comes in a cocktail-like glass; perfect if you want to avoid rice. All the fish tastes extremely fresh unlike at other sushi restaurants (for example at Soto). They also have a wide variety of cooked dishes and their chicken teriyaki was authentic and tasteful. Reservation recommended for dinner.

Ground Floor, Palladium Building, Rafic Salloum Street

70 315215

Living Beirut? No, I prefer to be a summer tourist

IMG_5907I’ve survived a good four months in Beirut, but have gotten to the point (well, I arrived at this stage a few weeks ago to be honest) where my nerves are on edge and my love for some of the luxuries of the U.S. (a sense of security that a civil war won’t break out tomorrow, no construction on Sunday, good Mexican food etc.) are at an all time high.

I love the idea of this multi faceted country, rather than its present state, and I am starting to understand why 12 million Lebanese live outside the country and only 3.6 million inside its borders.

Before coming to Lebanon, I had a conversation about the general instability of the world based on a mostly financial US-based perspective. I profoundly recall how my friend replied that financial instability is nothing compared to lack of safety and security found in the Middle East and other volatile regions, “economic and security crisis are incomparable: one is paid in stocks and bonds while the other is paid in blood.”  Now I understand his point.

Security

Lack of security, where advised to stay indoors, is quite disconcerting (referring to the clashes in the south of Lebanon due to Sheikh Assir ). While Lebanese are used to upheaval, a humvee barreling down the street just makes this girl cringe and hide her head under the covers. I cannot tell you how many times I have asked myself why go through this when I don’t have to? But then the sun rises upon a new day and Lebanese begin their shopping, club-hopping ways. Delusional? Or just a coping mechanism? I would say, delusional because they, or better said ‘we’,  need a coping mechanism to remain sane and survive with the least damage.

Empty Beirut

Borded up shops in eerie downtown

Borded up shops in eerie downtown

Due to the lack of political stability (and the general boycott of Lebanon by gulf countries), Beirut’s posh downtown area is empty. Storefronts remain, but house no merchandise. The only way a few restaurants have survived is thanks to Saudi ownership. I cannot tell you how many times I have been the only guest in restaurants which were buzzing just a year ago.

Insane pricing

Prices are skyrocket high; everyone is trying to milk whatever money is left in the country while people continue to ‘live big’ all on debt. That is, if you can still find banks or people to lend you money.

Food

Besides the greater problems affecting the country, homesickness has trickled in. It has come in many forms and as a result of many happenings (as mentioned above). Surprisingly,  Lebanese food, which I have always adored, has even become dull and even gag worthy to my taste buds. I can’t tell you how much I miss Californian cuisine. I even found myself describing one of my favorite dishes to my friends (avocado slices on bread drizzled with thick Italian balsamic vinegar and sea salt).

Good News!

The view from my apartment

The view from my apartment

Some exciting news is that I have moved apartments to a great place over-looking the sea. Most importantly, it is QUIET! I have been able to sleep more than I ever did in the past four months spent in my extremely noisy apartment where my Sunday wake-up was a forced 7.30am due to sawing. So, I am much happier and at peace.

More later…and NYU in the fall.

Neophyte in Beirut Ep. 2

It has been a long time since I have written and I don’t have much of an excuse other than starting my internship, getting used to every day living and barking down serveeces (group taxis) on the side of the street.

Saturday night stroll. I guess, the shoes show my Leba-morphosis

Saturday night stroll. I guess, the shoes show my Leba-morphosis

Although I have already been here two months, I still make small snafus and have not assimilated as I had hoped (except for the amount of times I order take-out delivery per week). Even though I understand a lot of Arabic, my Lebanese is still sketchy; I get by in rolling my r’s and extending my s’s in a Leban-ized accent while speaking English.Even though it is extremely frustrating not being able to speak a language fluently (not to brag, but I usually pick up languages in a synch) I have come to terms with the fact that I may just not get this one.  In Lebanon, I’m not forced to speak Arabic and so have gotten, one could say, lazy with the language. Here, if one doesn’t speak English, usually they speak French, which is no problem to me as I switch into French Lebanese: ‘merci’ with a strong rolling r sound. So, I live with little barrier of language.

Well, that is most of the time. While ordering food on the phone there are still a few mishaps. First, the tricky part is describing where I live! Here, there are no strict house addresses, so when I order delivery I have to explain my location perfectly in reference to land marks: across from the government building, up the street from the Thai restaurant and next to that one gas station. I cannot tell you how many times the delivery boys have gotten lost. When I am too tired of describing, I call one of the places that saves your telephone number so my address is already in their delivery system.

Then there was the time I ordered chicken. I wanted grilled chicken skewers (‘taouk’ as they call it here) and the call center woman asked me if I wanted it ‘fresh’. Of course, I want my chicken fresh! What type of a question is that. The end result was a pack of chicken pieces that were raw. I should have known she meant uncooked by using the word fresh. I definitely learned a lesson there. Next time, I’m told, I must specify that I want the chicken ‘ready.’

Other than a few mini delivery disasters, I have settled in without much of a fuss. For any of you worried about my sleep patterns, I am happy to announce that I have now moved apartments and so am not woken up by the bulldozers on Saturdays.

We have had odd weather here, including rain in May, and so I still haven’t gotten to the beach. Soon, hopefully, because someone is craving summer.

On assignment for my job at a Lebanese cooking class

On assignment for my job at a Lebanese cooking class (I’m back center)

Neophyte of Beirut Ep. 1

Living on ones own for the first time is an experience in itself, wherever that place may be! And, Beirut has in store some interesting twists for this newbie.

Let’s start with my first shower. I turned on the tap and to my joy the water ran warm! I breathed a sigh of relief. I remember too well having to heat water on the stove to wash when I lived in Italy. But, when done, I opened the curtain to find my bathroom flooded! I had put the shower curtain inside the rim of the shower boundaries, like I was instructed, but I guess that was not enough! Now, every time I shower I expect the puddle and the fact it won’t dry for a few hours even with the floor drains.

IMG_0623

The construction outside my window, under my deck!

Then, the morning of my first day I was surprised to find myself awake at seven am.  “Why?” I asked myself drowsily after I had glanced at my cell phone watch.  The answer would lie in front of me when I opened my curtains. My studio was right on top of a major construction site. And, unlike in the States where time regulations are generally obeyed (noise production can’t commence until after nine am), this certainly was not the case here! And to my shock, construction continued on Saturday morning too! Sunday seems to be the only day of rest, at least in this part of town.

Another snafu occurred, this time under the category “my bad,” when after showering I found the bathroom undulating with at least two inches of water. But, not just any water, dirty water!  I thought it was due to my hair stuck in the drain but, upon returning later in the evening, I was greeted with reprimands: NO TOILET PAPER down the toilet! There is a wastebasket right on the side for all paper materials!” (This is, of course, all in a mix of French and Arabic).  I must have turned bright red from embarrassment, “I really didn’t know! In America we flush paper down the toilet no problem. Nobody told me you didn’t here!” Today, I was again scolded; this time by the once-weekly maid who explicitly told me what, and I mean EVERYTHING, that came up through the drains due to my flushing of paper.  Even though I spent the past summer here in Beirut, I never came to learn of this rule, which must be second nature for Lebanese.

Up next: Decoding the MANY different types of marriages in Islam

Living Beirut Off-Season

So, after a stint in San Francisco, where I worked as the Social Media Intern for the co-working space HUB, I am back in Beirut, Lebanon.
LIVING.

As I compare my first impressions from June and my new insights, I see how these two experiences may have nothing in common except for country.
This past summer, spent studying Modern Standard Arabic at the American University of Beirut (AUB), I passed all my time studying (and clubbing once in a while!). Here again, I foresee a more laid back Mediterranean approach to Beirut including journalistic internships, many political and social discussions and evenings spent by the sea.
On my first trip to Beirut, I lived in the AUB dorms and hence, similar to American colleges, I lived in ‘the campus bubble.’ However, this time around, I am living in my own studio! And to make it even more of a pivotal experience, this is the first time I live alone! No roommate or family!

Contrasting my then and now, I must take note of the ease I feel in just being. The anxiety I felt during the first weeks of the summer here are nowhere in sight. Even though I didn’t really know the lay of neighborhood I am living in, my first day here I explored and climbed comfortably in contrast to my first weeks in Hamra when I was at AUB. Before, I felt like a passer by, now, I feel this is my home. I have explored more in a few days than I did in all my two months of intensive Arabic study!
One may ask, why the shift? It is possibly because I now understand much more Lebanese language than I did when I came during the summer time? or maybe because I know more of the etiquette, the do’s and don’ts? I would like to think that it is both of those, plus the amount of personal growth experienced during the past six months out of conventional college.

Beirut feels different even to Lebanese. While my comfort is a positive, many Lebanese feel true stagnancy in the city’s core. Beirut itself is empty, and not just in comparison to the summer months! Due to khaliji (Gulf states) boycott of a certain Lebanese organization, many restaurants and hotels are worrisomely empty. Even Petit Café, a famously packed buzzing spot over looking Raoche, the notable Lebanese rock formation, had more open seats than not and while having desert at Moevanpick, a luxery hotel over looking the coast, I found myself “owning” the terrace. I was the only one out there!

It is so odd to experience the city of such pumping energy beating at a calmer rate.

But, in the slower tempo, I feel I am truly living the city.

At Petit Cafe

At Petit Cafe

#WorldTravelerProblems: The Transition Back

Well, who doesn’t say that sometimes the most difficult transitions are those back to your “normal” place, or life before leaving your status quo. My return and readjustment back to the Bay Area, back to living with my family and electricity 24/7 (Ok, maybe that aspect wasn’t too bad), was not smooth.

I had forgotten how Americans, without even being aware of it, seem to get easily caught up in their isolated island, their own individual realities and lose a sense of curiosity for what is out there. The Bay Area, being the technology capital of the world, lives under the guise that “we are SO connected to the world and thus experts on EVERYTHING”—which leads to a sense of fake global awareness and knowledge.   Again, as mentioned in my prior post (“Lebanon: A Harmonic Clash?”), since most American’s truly believe that they are living in the best country that presently exists, do not need to allow their minds to wonder to far off places and different actualities. This is in contrast to all other nationalities that are always so curious about the culture of the Sates, how their particular country is viewed in the US etc.

Now, I remember how isolated I felt when moving back to the Bay Area from Italy and just how off-put I was that the only question I was ever asked was: “How was Italy?” How can you describe YEARS in one sentence? Let’s sit down, get a cup of coffee, a gelato and talk.

Talk. Here, people don’t seem to have the time to talk. And if there is time, often the conversations have seemed so petty. I do understand I am coming off a high of amazing intellectual conversations had during my stay in Lebanon. While I am not saying that this is the norm EVERYWHERE in the beautiful country, I was fortunate to find the most interesting, smart, quirky people and have the best conversations of my life!

Alas, slowly, I’ve noticed, I am getting used to this rhythm of this bay—although I am going to attend a concert given by a famous Syrian singer so I don’t forget THAT rhythm. I never want to forget how I felt in Lebanon.  I hope to bring the vibrancy, urgency, finesse and awareness of the other city by the bahr (sea) to all whom I encounter.

What if Humanistic Education = Scientific Education ?

If you ask someone what they would do if they could change any one thing in the world the responses usually range from world peace to ending hunger and stopping wars. So, imagine my surprise when, amongst a room-full of recent Lebanese engineer graduates, I hear repeatedly: If I were a dictator…. I would give more money to art education and make it so the humanities were as respected as the sciences and creative jobs would be just as well paid as those in the scientific arena.

If only this group of friends knew that education reform is one of my greatest passions!

I than had a conversation with one friend who could have been my mirror: she remarked on how she feels that university made her into a robot. For four years, her brain served as a hard drive and was forced full with theory, which she would have to regurgitate onto exams. Basically, she toiled for four years of intense study of formulae to achieve a piece of paper. And now what? She needs to get a job as soon as possible to pay off her loans.

Does this story sound familiar anyone? For some reason, stories like this keep following me wherever I go and they continue to push me to reevaluate my educational path.

Lebanon: A Harmonic Clash?

Even though everyone told me that Beirut was the most unique and progressive city in the region and the “Paris of the Middle East” (and here I have even heard the “Prostitute of the Middle East”) I still could never have imagined that this would be one of the most oddly liberal cities I have ever visited.

While many people here distort what they think is “progressive” into an obsession with consumerism, in hopes of becoming something they are not (trying to become American/European), and thus disregarding all tradition and heritage, I am quite lucky (thanks to a dear friend of mine) to have seamlessly slid myself into a group of friends who have somehow  managed to maintain a sense of respect for themselves and their culture while embracing the 21st century world we live in and everything that comes with our generation.

This unique group of friends, although all University graduates (mostly AUB), come from an array of backgrounds, sexual orientations and religions. Druze, Christian, Sunni, Shia. Although  I realize it is not that common for a group of people with such different lifestyles to be such good friends (thus the group as an entity is not the norm) I have found it fascinating to see each individual’s opinion on social and spiritual issues molded by their family and their university environment.

First of all, while playing Truth-Or-Dare, I would never have guessed how open my Lebanese friends were in divulging details about their intimate lives. I learned things about these new friends that even my best friends in the U.S. would never speak of. What does this say about Lebanon and what does this say about the U.S.? Before, I had an American media-skewed mind that gave me a blanketed picture of Arab countries as being sanctuaries of modesty and sexual repression but, after playing Truth-or-Dare for hours I began to wonder if people in the U.S. are actually the ones being subconsciously brainwashed into some sort of Protestant ideal. Maybe the oxygen of our thoughts is being removed without us knowing it because we live under the (false?) pretext of residing in the freest country. Thus, since we really do believe in our socially superior position in the world we have become idle in questioning the status quo.

While the majority of my friends in the States and I have similar views on social topics, such as abortion, immigration policy and the death penalty, I have found it so wonderful that this group of friends in Lebanon have a wide range of ideas and opinions in regards to these often unspoken topics and are not afraid to share their thoughts. Last night, at an Iftar (breaking of the Ramadan fast) in the Bekaa Valley, we went around the room and voiced how we would change the world if we were a dictator. Gay rights, chocolate mountains and Shakira came up, as did the death penalty. And so the debate began. There were two main separations at the table: those that believe that there should be capital punishment and those that are against it. What was most fascinating was to see the reasoning behind each person’s stance. It was beautiful to see how even though people’s voices would rise, hands would fly and stark differences would be revealed, at the end of the day we were all the best of friends and it did not matter that we had just been at each other’s throats in talking about issues we really care about. I am embarrassed to say that I have never had a close friendship with someone that thought so differently than I on social issues. That this group of friends is so comfortable with each other to be themselves  further increases my extremely high regard for them all.

When the topic of abortion came up the fire was lit again, but this time I would say there was more agreement in the group and I was the odd one out. The general opinion was that abortion should be legal and allowed in cases of rape and incest but that it was an over-used form of contraception. While abortion here is formally illegal it is widely practiced. I continued to staunchly support the right of choice and it was interesting how, as per usual, the men had a stronger opinion on abortion than the women (I am still confused about why, no matter which country, men seem to care SO much). One of the arguments against abortion was “Why kill babies when so many people who want children cannot have babies, i.e. gay couples.” My response: “Orphanages are spilling over with kids and the world is over-populated for God’s sake!” While others, who do not support the death penalty, stated that aborting a fetus is killing a life. Opinions on abortion also depended on religious upbringing and, according to their certain book and belief, the time at which the soul enters the body. For example, the Druze believe the soul enters the body upon birth.

Honestly, I have had the most interesting conversations in this country and it never ceases to amaze me how similar we all are.

Born Again in Lebanon?

As many of you know, I am a lover of books and bookstores and so, when my classmate took me into Al Manara bookstore I was quite excited! This is until I realized I had actually walked into a Evangelical Christian ministry.  My visit started out peachy, with welcome coconut balls and hot cocoa and hugs exchanged between my classmate and the woman that I owned the supposed bookshop, but the happy feeling quickly shifted.  Upon sitting down (my lovely classmate wanted to play the cross-embedded guitar) the revelation occurred that I have not yet been “blessed” by Jesus nor have I submitted to his “love”  and thus I needed to be made aware of his power. And thus, the stories of “miracles” commenced. The accounts told by the head of the ministry seemed so far fetched that I really was in, albeit skeptical, awe.

The ministry was such a bizarre space that initially I was intrigued. The woman who first greeted us began speaking about adult baptism and then I realized I had really stumbled upon “born-again” Lebanese Christians. I would have never dreamed that they might inhabit Lebanon as well but, once again I was wrong. At one point I asked the head of the ministry to switch into Arabic—at least I could make a teaching moment out of this and zone out if need be, but alas, after a few minutes she switched back into English.

The woman then began telling me how she “found” Jesus and how she had been really depressed (and could only see “pornographic images” *confused face*) prior to her enlightment. As the hour trudged by, she began to tell me that Jesus was waiting for me and that I am special and I just need to open my heart and feel his love. GET ME OUT OF HERE was my feeling at this point. I finally reminded my sweet classmate that we needed to do our homework. I clutched my purse in hopes of making  my point. When we were about to leave (Halleluja) I said goodbye and the woman hugged me and began praying over me. She wanted to save my soul.

Once we had finally left the “bookshop” my first words  to my classmate went something like this: “Now this is something to write home about.” And so voilá.

It took me about an three hours to calm down completely from the visit and settle my nerves. I hate when people try to force things down my throat and I am not a fan of extremism in any form. If the woman really wanted to make me feel something spiritual she should have been much more sensitive so at least I could come away from the experience with a good feeling or at least an understanding and respect of a view that differs from my own. She was the opposite of successful. But, at least she provided a good story, I guess 😉

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