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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

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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

Does a BA really matter?

I have now been home a month and, after battling reverse culture shock (see: #TravelProblems: Transition back”) I, for the first time, had zero plans in regards to what I would do in the coming months. And what a scary feeling that is!

All I knew was that I wanted to write and experience life out of a university setting where my schedule was not set for me and where I had to really “bring it!” So, I applied to internships and jobs and shockingly people started calling! I never imagined I would be wanted by BIG companies or be asked to be on the core staff of a new start-up or work at the HUB, an entrepreneurial space WITHOUT MY BACHELORS DEGREE!!!!

I am so shocked that people in San Francisco really do not even blink an eye when I tell them I have not yet graduated college. This has gotten me excited and intrigued and has led me to believe that no, you do not need a Bachelors Degree in San Francisco if you have entrepreneurial instincts, a strong skill set and are willing to learn from others through experiential means. However, I tend to believe that this new wave of thinking does not have a very big radius; rather, it appears in certain areas around the globe, in pockets of open-ness. As the UnCollege  (http://www.uncollege.org/) and DoItYourselfEducation movement (http://eduventurist.org/) have grown in the past 5 years, I do believe the world is moving toward a different educational model but, while the tide is shifting course, higher education is still an extremely important part of moving up the social ladder or, quite noticeable on the international stage, maintaining that standing.

Upon many months of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that a Bachelors Degree is extremely important for most of the world as it denotes a stamp of intellect and class upon the person (now, if the person actually does have that knowledge is a different topic!) and, if one does not want to work in technology or entrepreneurial fields in the limited liberal innovative spaces scattered around the globe than, a BA is probably a good idea!

These past few weeks have been a whirlwind and I am just now settling my internship/work deals and seeing how to juggle multiple projects. There have been letdowns, miscommunications and miss-following of protocol on my part, as I have never had to “be” anything other than a full-time student. I certainly have learned a tremendous amount. Seeing how complicated and difficult it all is made me comment to my father:  “I want to go back to school! Going to classes everyday, turning in assignments and labs was SO much easier!!!”

In the following months, keep reading to find out what I decide to do in regards to that whole University and BA degree issue 😉

 

 

#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.

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