Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wrap Your Heads Around Beirut's Latest Food Concept, Wrapstation

A couple of weeks ago, I received an SMS about a new food delivery service by the name of Wrapstation. I became immediately curious, thinking it somehow linked to a short-lived wrap concept dating back to 2011 (anybody remember Wrapsody by the creators of Crave in Monot?).

So I jumped online and plunged into their website, smitten with the stunning visuals, the crisp clean layout, and of course the edibles on offer. The menu is rather straightforward: 8 salads, 13 savory wraps, 4 fried potato formats, 3 side dishes, and 2 dessert wraps. 

But there are some interesting combos never before tasted around these parts, like a trout wrap boasting grilled and smoked rillettes (9,500 LL), and cheddar with grilled chorizo and crushed potato chips (7,000 LL). Quirky, right?

Wraps feature fresh new combos like grilled and smoked trout with capers (on the right)

I needed to try the real McCoy, so a swift delivery to my office in Beirut found a salad, two wraps, and a box full of waffle fries wafting irresistibly on my desk.

The first impression is favorable: snug, glossy packaging for the wraps, à la Kababji, that protect contents using three layers of paper. Salads come in transparent plastic bowls with perforated lids that can be ripped off. Nifty.

Snug packaging hug the wrap sandwiches tautly

What's unique about Wrapstation are unequivocally the wraps. A hybrid between tortilla bread and Lebanese saj, they are formed from all-purpose and whole-wheat flours combined with fresh yeast, olive and sunflower oils. There's no weird aftertaste, and sandwiches are neatly bound together with a lick of cream cheese so that contents don't fall out.

"My lips are sealed," says the wrap, bound on all sides with a lick of cream cheese

I sampled the Light Grilled Chicken (8,000 LL), stuffed with tender white chicken breast prepared in the sous vide method, which means it’s marinated and vacuum-packed overnight using technology reserved for culinary elites. A lick of homemade pesto blending basil and sun-dried tomato gives the chicken wrap a bold finish.

Light Grilled Chicken with homemade basil and sun-dried tomato pesto

The Quinoa Energy salad (10,500 LL) merges sweet and salty notes, what with raw nuts, dried coconut morsels, sultanas, cucumbers, and carrots. Honey mustard dressing seals the deal.

Quinoa Energy salad

My coworkers got a kick out of the waffle fries (5,000 LL), which are imported from Belgium. Rather uncommon in Lebanon, these waffle fries are soft and beefy with a crisp golden exterior. Wrapstation throws in a handful of Heinz packets in BBQ and ketchup flavors. 

Waffle potato fries

The nutella, banana and hazelnut wrap (5,000 LL) features the tried and true trio oozing with chocolate spread. I'm hoping that over time, Wrapstation develops a second, more flimsy wrap for desserts. I expect they'll also flesh out the sweet offering as the concept catches on.

Totally intrigued at this point, I decided to pass by the kitchen of Wrapstation across from Hotel Dieu in Achrafieh to meet the 20-something co-founder Elie Haddad. Haddad and Basel Abou Rjeily, sous chef at Beirut's gastronomic jewel Centrale in Saifi, teamed up to create Wrapstation. 

The kitchen hums with close to half a dozen staff members, all of whom have been trained and certified by Boecker. A Q-Platinum Award resting against a shelf inside the tiny control room confirms that Wrapstation has met internationally recognized food safety and hygiene standards.

On my visit, I sampled a hearty tuna salad (8,500 LL) tossed with quail’s eggs and more than a cup of kidney beans. The baby arugula salad (9,500 LL) incorporates a tangy raspberry sauce to cohesively bind the dried berries, walnuts and Parmesan to the leaves.

Tuna with kidney beans and quail's eggs

The real showstopper, however, is the simplest sandwich on the menu, featured right at the bottom, as though in afterthought. The Zaatar wrap was inspired by Haddad’s grandmother from the Bekaa and bundles dry thyme mix, spinach leaves, tomatoes, olives, onions, sumac, and olive oil. It is inconceivably delicious and goes for a mere 2,500 LL.

Zaatar wrap with fresh spinach, onions, tomatoes, and sumac

Wrapstation is a concept I can envision taking off and mushrooming across greater Beirut in little time. It’s definitely going on my food delivery go-to for its healthy, lean and creative repertoire. 

01 61 60 62
01 61 60 63

Friday, August 19, 2016

Khalid Jabara And What It's Like Being An Arab-American

A few days ago, Lebanon was rocked by the saddening news of a Lebanese-American’s murder in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Khalid Jabara was 37 years old when he was shot to his death by neighbor Stanley Majors.

Majors had a documented history of racist hate crimes against the Jabara family, who in the 1980s had transplanted from Lebanon and made their home in the southern state. Foul language – expressions like “dirty Arabs,” “filthy Lebanese,” and “Mooslims” – as well as running over Khalid’s mother in September 2015 point to a neurotic psychopath who should have been thrown behind bars. The truth is he served six months in jail for last year’s mow-down and was released without parole or house arrest in March.

I won’t delve deeper into the details of the crime, because those can be found in any news publication, from CNN to The Guardian. This piece is about the empathy I feel with the Jabara family, whose loss can never be forgotten nor redeemed.

Having grown up in the US, particularly in Southern California, I can somewhat testify to how tricky it is to pass unnoticed as an Arab-American. I spent my childhood fending off pointed questions like “Where are you from?” and “No, where are you really from?” whenever I answered I was a California native.

Anyone remember the movie "Mean Girls"? Yes, bullying based on differences does exist!

Assuring curious onlookers that I was born and raised in the Golden State never sufficed. They immediately sensed I was different. Wavy brown locks, brown eyes and my distinctively Mediterranean look betrayed me as a foreigner, even though by definition I am not. If my spoken and written English are indication alone of my “Americanness,” I put all these people to shame, I’d think.

Me as a child

Growing up, I detested being singled out. Children have a way of being unjustly critical, of banding up and ostracizing those who don’t blend in with their identity. I didn't fit nearly inside the perimeter of those narrow boxes.

My pita bread sandwiches at lunchtime were a dead giveaway, as was my inability to attend sleepover parties – my parents weren’t as accommodating as those of my American friends. I was fluent in Arabic, but I avoided speaking it in public for fear of becoming the object of disdain.

Photo credit:

Did I experience any alarming racism in the US? I still recall how my brother’s freshman chemistry professor brashly attacked him after the events of 9/11. “Look at what your people have done to my people,” she uttered. He was speechless. Though his grades easily landed him an “A,” she marked “B+” on his transcript, and he had to escalate the issue with the dean to have the inaccuracy revoked.

Whenever I was cornered into admitting my “Lebaneseness,” I was frustrated that no one could pin the country on a map. I’d mention the Middle East, after which they wanted to clarify whether we rode camels and traversed sand dunes.

Moving to Lebanon five years ago was for the most part natural. Here, I can identify with the culture and value system. Sure, my English accent reveals I wasn’t born in these parts, but that’s never proved to be a drawback. In fact, it draws favor and admiration from my peers. They’re tickled I chose Lebanon over any Western bastion, as though they need me to appraise the value of the Lebanese experience.

It’s true that some Lebanese have trouble stomaching why anyone with a second nationality would ever waste a minute living in our backward dystopia. They don’t know what it’s like to be scoped from head to toe; to be set apart for not blending in with a nonexistent archetype; to be frisked every time they step foot inside an airport and are searched overtly before questioning eyes.

They’ve never been in my shoes, or in the shoes of Khalid Jabara and his family members, for that matter.

Rest in peace, Khalid. May the memory of your plight live on, and may this world find peace in our time.

Khalid Jabara, the victim of racism

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Stuck in the Office? Options For Food Delivery in Beirut

This article was written for the Zomato Community Blog and appears here. If you have an account on Zomato, be sure to follow my dineline!

Here in the heart of Beirut, we’re flanked on all sides by food delivery options. Beirut may as well be dubbed the world capital in transportable edibles, because any and every eatery in town knows how to package their food, liquid or solid, and latch it onto a moped. Call us lazy, call us resourceful, but no one goes hungry in this country.

With the myriad of choices, there’s naturally major confusion. Who’s good? Who’s consistent? Who’s punctual? And quite necessarily, who’s affordable? Tame those stomach pangs, for I’ve gone and done the grunt work for you from the luxury of my desk. It’s hard work, I know, but someone’s gotta do it.

Here’s where you should be trading your greenbacks for some delicious grub in and around Beirut.

From: Sin el Fil
When: 10 am – midnight

You really can't undersell US$ 10-12 for a 3-course lunch whose generous size renders it a meal for two! During a week-long stint, my order was always punctual and occasionally 5-10 minutes early. Contents arrived totally intact, thanks to the firm packaging and compartmentalized lunchbox. 

Try the stuffed zucchini with grape leaves, sided by a trio of lamb chops, plain yogurt, fattouch, and a fruit salad (all for $12 -- right?!). Through and through, tastes are evocative of home, and the meal is hearty, healthy, and fresh. Other memorable dishes include the rice and lentil pilaf (mjadra), beef and chicken grills, the spinach and goat labneh salad, and the creative smoked hummus with crushed caramelized almonds sprinkled on top.

Spinach salad with goat labneh, dried fruit and walnuts

From: +961 3 388 930
When: 12 – 3 pm (M-F)

This option is so new, it hasn’t even been listed in Zomato’s directory! Dania’s Delicacies is a nascent home enterprise serving 3-4 daily dishes crafted with love by recipe developer and menu consultant Dania Dayekh. Delicious, original home cooking includes the likes of a supreme chicken black bean enchilada; savory fettuccini alfredo with fresh mushrooms and spinach; and an inimitable chicken-pesto-walnut mash inside focaccia with a side of kettle chips. Prices hover at about US$ 10, and portions are hefty! Brownie points for the eco-friendly packaging.

Chicken and black bean enchilada

From: Verdun and Karantina central kitchens
When: 8 am – 11 pm

For years, I couldn't get past the deliciously fresh salads at Casper & Gambini's, an upper-end casual eatery that's long defined the Lebanese dining scene. Then they introduced a salad bar spanning everything you'd demand from a self-service cart: marinated grilled chicken breast; shreds of Swiss and turkey; roasted bell peppers; and much, much more.

More recently, I discovered their delivery service, which certainly doesn't cut corners, as you'll find with the heartwarming lentil soup, copious salads, delectable burgers, and gourmet pizzas. For pescetarians, the grilled salmon filet with a side of basmati and soy-kissed vegetables is alluring. Now that's a feast for the office. 

Salmon teriyaki with jasmine rice

From: Tallet el Khayat, Verdun
When: 10 am – midnight
Enough with rehashed salads and sandwiches, have the namesake burger! 180g of Black Angus beef form a densely packed meat patty that is tender and moist. A layer of melted cheddar, lettuce, tomato and a slather of light signature sauce serve as garnish inside a simple, seed-free bun. The burger could use a hint of sweetness, which ketchup will wonderfully lend. Ask for twice the coleslaw, as it strikes the perfect balance between savory and sweet.

The J's Burger

From: Achrafieh (Adlieh)
When: 8 am – 9 pm (closed Sundays)

Bento (not to be confused with Sushi Bento) is a cafe serving a selection of salads, sandwiches, burgers, wraps, and mains. They offer a very efficient delivery service, with food presented piping hot and intact in plastic containers, with thick paper bags for packaging.

Try the Passion salad, which features a bouquet of mixed lettuce cradling sliced chicken breast (served cold), in addition to slices of mango, avocado and red bell pepper in a tangy mustard-citrus sauce. It makes for a very diet-friendly option.

The chicken teriyaki main is another healthy number, boasting three skewers of sesame-kissed cubes of chicken breast, a skewer of grilled pineapple chunks, sautéed veggies, and a generous portion of steamed jasmine rice. 

Passion Salad

From: Hamra
When: 24/7

Sometimes, all you need are some good old-fashioned Lebanese grills, animated by garlic paste, pickles, hummus and spuds. I mean, who doesn’t crave the tender, juicy marinated chicken cubes lovingly known as “taouk,” or succulent veal dressed up with a lick of chickpea-tahini puree? O’Grill, a new establishment along Rue Makdessi in Hamra, serves up a slew of grills, whether in sandwich or platter form. If you want to upgrade to banquet level, order your skewers with the mezza essentials, baba ghannouj, fattouch, and tabbouleh.

Mixed grills

From: Salim Salam
When: 7 am – 1 am

A word about the jazzy packaging, which has boxes for the paper-jacketed sandwiches and burgers, as well as plastic bowls for the salads. Unwrap the magic: the signature chia bread, engineered by a dietitian and catering to the health-conscious, is delicious, supple and firm all at once, and rich with seeds, even in the dough!

The Chicken Mushroom (8,000 LL) comes generously packed with strips of chicken breast and shreds of lettuce, free of the overwhelming sauces and spreads you’d find elsewhere. The smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers (11,000 LL) is exactly that -- no surprises; only fresh, tasty ingredients. I might tack on lemon wedges, rocket leaves, and mashed avocado for a bit of flair.

Salads are a hit. Pomegranate & Rocca (8,000 LL) merges walnuts, pomegranate seeds, grated Parmesan with tangy balsamic vinegar dressing. Mango Chicken (10,000 LL) fuses the savory and sweet, with a tender marinated chicken breast sliced into strips resting on a bed of French lettuce, cubed mango, grated carrot, and a load of sultanas. Honey mustard dressing marries all the flavors together.

The sweet finish in equally strong. A sesame bun slathered liberally with chunky peanut butter and Nutella chocolate spread (4,500 LL) is worth your while, as is the vanilla-chocolate chip muffin (2,000 LL) with a chocolate pudding core. 

Mango Chicken Salad

From: Ashrafieh
When: 10 am – 7 pm (closed Sundays)

I wouldn’t be true to my sweet tooth self if I overlooked a dessert option in this collection.   

Ever find yourself clambering for cupcakes that are not ready-mix and actually have a unique touch to them? Cup N’ Cake’s your winner, and there are a number of flavors to pick among: carrot cake, red velvet, Oreo, lemon, Nutella, and chocolate. I recommend refrigerating them before consumption, as it gives the cake texture a pleasurable density. The cream cheese frosting is cloyingly sweet but decidedly delicious, and the crumb of the cupcakes is soft, fluffy and fresh.

A half dozen cupcakes with different flavors

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Product Leak: The Super-Leaf That Will Knock Your Socks Off

It seems like South America’s got a lot of earthy treasures in its lush backyard. Sadly for us, we’ve only just started unearthing them.

Take, for example, quinoa, native to Bolivia and heralded as one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein. The Incas have known about it for thousands of years, growing this “mother grain” high up in the Andes. So why did it only recently become a household name worldwide?

The latest showstopper is guayusa, a “super-leaf” emanating from Ecuador and the upper Amazon. Similar to tea, guayusa is in fact unrelated to either green or black tea, but it has about as much caffeine as coffee. It’s rich in polyphenols, the most common compounds that comprise antioxidants. And it’s got tons of cholorgenic acids, purported to promote weight loss and heart health.


Because guayusa lacks the tannins associated with green and black teas, it tastes smooth and naturally sweet, free from any astringent aftertaste. You could think of it as “clean energy” that doesn’t leave you feeling burned out later.

I first discovered guayusa through Runa, a company founded in 2009 by a duo of fresh graduates who had spent time living with the Kichwa people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Having been introduced to the energizing super-leaf and its vital position in the Kichwan culture, the two young men created a business that could share guayusa with the world, while simultaneously respecting cultural traditions, supporting local farmers, and maintaining the integrity of the Amazon rainforest.

Guayusa is a shade-grown plant that develops and flourishes in the shade of other trees
 (Photo credit:

Runa buys guayusa leaves from over 2,300 farming families. Those leaves are processed in a plant in Ecuador and then shipped to the US where they are shared with a growing number of people.

Thanks to Wesley’s Wholesale here in Lebanon, we Lebanese can now enjoy and appreciate the wealth of goodness guayusa affords. The product range is varied:

Clean energy drinks, lightly carbonated with a tinge of sweetness (4,500 LL);
Bottles, which blend brewed organic guayusa with herbs, fruit flavors, and natural sweeteners (organic cane sugar or maple syrup) (3,750 LL); 
Pyramid infusers, in traditional, sage lavender, and hibiscus berry infusions; 
Loose leaf tins, in traditional, mint, hibiscus berry, ginger-citrus, sage lavender, and cinnamon lemongrass flavors (12,000 LL); 
Boxes of teabags, in traditional, mint, ginger-citrus and cinnamon-lemongrass flavors (7,500 LL).

Mint guayusa steeped in hot water -- my new morning ritual!

I’ve been sipping mint guayusa every morning at the office for a few weeks now. One tea bag goes a long way, as I steep it in 8 oz. of hot water for 5 minutes and reuse it on another cup once I’ve finished the first. 

The complex flavor of guayusa is herbaceous and has a relaxing effect, even if you feel alert because of its high caffeine content. And it’s not so much that the drink is sweet but that it’s devoid of bitterness, which your brain perceives as saccharine.

In the thick of this sweltering heat, I’ve also been quenching my thirst with Runa’s clean energy drinks. Lightly carbonated with an extra punch of sweetness from organic cane sugar, this stuff makes for a refreshing afternoon pick-me-up, leaving me feeling focused, fired up, and fully alive (which in the Kichwa language translates to "runa"!).

Clean energy lightly carbonated guayusa beverage (12 oz.)
Note the ingredients and caffeine content per can!

You can find a selection of Runa guayusa products from Wesley’s Wholesale at either the Jnah or Jal el Dib outlets (and soon in Hazmieh!). Try them, and let me know what you think!


Beirutista has joined forces with Wesley’s Wholesale as Brand Ambassador. What exactly does that mean? Well, if you liked this Product Leak, you can look forward to more every month or so. In addition, I’ll be blogging about a variety of exciting new projects Wesley’s has underway, most imminently the Hazmieh branch opening at the end of this month! Expect cool new product giveaways from time to time, and if you’re a real Wesley’s obsessive like I am, I’ll gladly hook you up with 10% off your next visit. Just shoot me a message at any of my contact coordinates listed here

Friday, August 5, 2016

My First Run-In With A Michelin-Starred Chef

It’s not every day you have the privilege of meeting a Michelin-starred chef. Now add to that a Michelin-starred chef on your home turf, here in Beirut, cooking up a storm and treating you to his culinary majesty. Pretty extraordinary, huh?

Well, last week I had the honor of one such encounter at Lebanese fine dining restaurant Liza in Achrafieh, a beautifully restored 19th-century palace with Lebanese quintessential motifs in each room. 

Orchestrated by ChefXChange, an online platform that allows you to invite a private chef into your home, the dinner drew out nearly 130 guests who gathered to share in the original mezza dishes of Greg Malouf, an Australian-Lebanese chef renowned for his innovative take on classic Middle Eastern fare.

The main dining room at Liza Beirut

On the menu, things as imaginative as organic salmon raw kibbeh; chicken and date fatayer; pickled, smoked ox tongue on a bed of carrot labneh with fresh spinach; and lentil tabbouleh. Mains included wild sea bass smothered with tarator, coriander, walnuts and chili, as well as lamb shoulder on porcini freekeh. A duo of desserts was offered, featuring muhallabieh drowned in Arabic coffee with cardamom. Chateau Marsyas wines helped wash down the feast.

The menu of Chef Malouf's dinner at Liza

Pastries stuffed with minced chicken and dates, topped with a dollop of labneh

Zahra cauliflower, sesame sauce and Parmesan-cumin wafers

Malouf, who was born in Melbourne to Lebanese parents, knew early on that he was suited for the apron and toque. Against the wishes of his parents, he served out his apprenticeship in several of Melbourne’s distinguished restaurants, before setting sail to the culinary mecca that is Paris.

There, however, Malouf fell prey to the cholesterol-rich world of unpasteurized cheese and foie gras. Suffering from familial hypercholesterolemia, Malouf was admitted to the hospital for triple bypass surgery. He returned to Melbourne to recover before moving on to Austria and Hong Kong. At the age of 30, he fell ill yet again and required a heart transplant, an operation he’d repeat 14 years later.

Michelin-starred chef Greg Malouf
(photo source:

Between 2001 and 2012, Malouf was Executive Chef at MoMo restaurant in Melbourne, where he racked up “two hats,” roughly the equivalent of two Michelin stars. He thereafter relocated to London to take the reins as Head Chef of Michelin-starred Petersham Nurseries Café, where he regained the Michelin star in the span of six months.

More recently, he has been associated with Clé Dubai and the Six Senses Resort in Oman’s Musandam Peninsula.

Last week at Liza, the chef spoke to us about his preference for tabbouleh over fattouch, his immense dislike of the color black – he refuses to integrate it in his cooking – and how differently Lebanese are than any breed he’s worked with. Friendly and good-naturedly meddlesome, they contrast starkly with their European counterparts, who tend to be more distant and isolationist.

Dinner was dubbed "The Art of Mezza by Chef Greg Malouf"

ChefXChange (CXC) is to be commended for attracting such talent to Lebanese shores, and it doesn’t stop at Greg Malouf. In fact, on the very same evening, Mario e Mario was animated by the presence of Michelin-starred Maxime Le Van, who hails from Provence, France, where he was inspired by the fresh Mediterranean products and flavors of Italian cuisine. Chef Maxime also graced La Paillotte du Chef in Halat with an exquisite seafood dinner just days after his Mario e Mario stint. You can intercept him at the Mzaar Festival in Faraya beginning today and through August 15 in collaboration with Junkyard Beirut, LiveLoveBeirut and CXC.

Let’s hope Lebanon continues to be an essential destination for culinary geniuses like Malouf and Le Van. Given that we’ve made it on the map for our gastronomy and love thereof, I should think we have little to worry about.  

A gourmand anticipates Chef Malouf's cuisine

+961 1 324 360

Liza Beirut
+961 1 208 108

Chef Greg Malouf

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Giving the World A Taste of Our Finest Wines

We Lebanese are a proud people. 

We exalt our relatively tiny country -- how many of you haven’t memorized our land area of 10,452 km2

We laud the glistening Mediterranean flanking us from the West, the Anti-Lebanon mountain range bordering us on the East, and the expansive greenery in between. 

And we’re damn proud of our wines issuing forth from our verdant landscape.

Rightfully so. They’re terribly good. So good, in fact, that they’re gaining real notice abroad.

A glass of Chateau Marsyas sipped near the vineyards in the Bekaa Valley

One such domain attracted a journalist from France’s esteemed Le Monde. Rémi Barroux trekked from Paris to Beirut to meet the sibling duo -- Karim and Sandro Saadé -- behind Chateau Marsyas and Domaine de Bargylus. In particular, Barroux was astounded by how the Saadés managed to push forward brazenly with grape harvesting and wine production in light of the numerous challenges facing this part of the world.

lebanonwine_8 IMG_6357
Karim (left) and Sandro Saadé, the brothers behind Chateau Marsyas and Domaine de Bargylus

Bargylus is the only winery in Syria, nestled in the historic Lattakia area and reviving an ancient vineyard dating back to the time of the Canaanites. Marsyas, named after the Bekaa’s archaic christening, is situated near the villages of Kefraya and Tell-Denoub.

Both properties were carefully selected by the Saadés, whose father is Syrian and mother Lebanese. They turned to winemaking to complement the family businesses in land and maritime transport, tourism (Wild Discovery), and real estate.

Barroux was particularly impressed with how the operation has plowed on in spite of war conditions. Indeed, since 2011, grape samples have arrived from Syria to Lebanon via taxi, to assess when best to harvest. Sure, the logistics are not so straightforward and rather costly, but the Saadés push on. Thankfully, Bargylus has been mostly shielded from the war, though stray mortars have grazed plants, and occasional combat forces field workers to recoil from the action.

Unlike its Syrian counterpart, Marsyas is in an idyllic state of calm. We had the opportunity to visit the vineyards last week, and we were awestruck by the perfectly combed rows of wine-to-be at 1,000 meters' altitude. 

Marsyas' vineyards

Neighbored by other wineries like Kefraya, Musar, and St. Thomas as well as Daher Foods' Poppins plant, Marsyas sits on red, iron-laden terrain which together with white stones form a clay-limestone growing medium well-suited to the grape vines.

The cellar houses close to two dozen stainless steel tanks where the grape derivative is fermented. But the Saadé family isn’t looking for high volumes. Annual production of Chateau Marsyas—comprising red, white, and a medium range cuvée called B-Qa released in 2015—weighs in at 100,000 bottles. Bargylus is a hair less than half that.

Stainless steel vessels where fermentation takes place

And yet the world is getting a taste of this liquid gold. Japan, Hong Kong, Dubai, France, Germany, Belgium and the UK import and retail them at wine shops and restaurants, including the likes of Michelin-starred venues by Gordon Ramsay and Joël Robuchon.

And we Lebanese couldn’t be prouder. I mean, who wouldn’t be? We’re showing the world, like the hospitable hosts we are, how to throw a proper bacchanal. Cheers to that!

Kefraya Village
Jeb Jannine Road

Friday, July 29, 2016

Food Delivery Confusion No More: Call Up Bou Melhem!

Every evening on the drive home, we pass by a tavern-like restaurant named Bou Melhem. The place is hard to miss, notably for its endearing logo – a red tarboosh – and its elevated perch about the Sin el Fil street level. You can often spot a bustling dining room inside, especially on evenings featuring live music and entertainment.

Maybe it’s because, ironically, Bou Melhem coincides with our daily trajectory that we’ve never pulled over to try it out. Or maybe it’s because we’re wiped out by day’s end that we continue the climb onward to our house in Mansourieh. 

Either way, it was high time to try out the casual Lebanese eatery, and since full-time employment saps the better part of my day, I decided to bring Bou Melhem into the workplace.

Not literally, of course. His proxy would have to do, so I committed to a full week of food deliveries, something I usually shun, on the basis that these plats du jour are healthy, hearty, wholesome, good old-fashioned Lebanese home-cooking (with the essential grills, of course!).

The grill selection. Don't pass up the pepper paste-slick pita 

Le menu, s'il vous plaît:

Plat du Jour
Stuffed grape leaves and zucchini with lamb chops
Plain yogurt;
Fruit salad
Burghul and meat pie (Kibbeh bil sayniyeh)
Plain yogurt with garlic, mint and cucumber
Milk pudding (mhallabieh) with caramel sauce and crushed pistachios
Grilled beef and chicken taouk
Grilled potato slices, tomatoes & onions

Oriental rice with chicken and sautéed cashews
Caesar salad
Spiced rice pudding (meghleh)
Rice and lentil pilaf (mjadra)
Cabbage salad;
fried zucchini and eggplant slices
Fruit salad

Packaging & Delivery

On all five days, my order arrived exactly on schedule, occasionally 5-10 minutes before the requested delivery time. How’s that for operational excellence? Bou Melhem runs a tight ship.

Food contents did not shift in transportation, and that’s conspicuously due to the packaging and containers Bou Melhem uses. The lunchbox comes in a thick cardboard box the length of a standard computer keyboard. 

The lunchbox is as long as a keyboard and twice as wide

Fold back the flap-top to reveal neat cut-out compartments for every meal component. The main dish is nestled in a plastic container with a sturdy black base and transparent clasp-on lid. The salad fits into a see-through hinged plastic container, and any sauces are stored in small tapered plastic cups with hermetic seals. Dessert and fruit salads owe their home to plastic bowls with matching lids.

Each item has its own nest in the lunchbox!

Every meal is accompanied by several packets of sliced triangles of fresh pita. The utensil kit comprises a paper napkin, moist towelette, ketchup, salt, and pepper. No corners cut, no amenities overlooked.

Taste & Quality

What I enjoyed most about the meals is their unmistakably homemade taste and feel:

Grape leaves and zucchini stuffed with oriental rice and minced meat, complemented by a trio of fragrant lamb chops and plain yogurt.

Counterclockwise from bottom left:
stuffed zucchini and grape leaves, lamb chops, plain yogurt and fattoush

Two slices of the classic “kibbeh bil sayniyeh” sided by a refreshing raita with mint, garlic and cucumber. The kibbeh could use more onions in its burghul and meat mix to avoid drying out in the oven, but the yogurt resurrects it from desiccation.

Kibbeh pie with cucumber and mint raita

Oriental rice with chicken and a generous helping of sautéed cashews and almond slivers easily render this a meal à deux.

Oriental rice topped with chicken and sauteed cashews and almonds

Friday’s rice and lentil pilaf “mjadra” borrows the sauteed onion garnish from its cousin “mdardra”, contrasting beautifully with the porridge-like consistency beneath it. In a separate trench, thick slices of fried zucchini and eggplant lend a meaty texture to the vegetarian specialty.

Rice and lentil pilaf ("mjadra") topped with caramelized onions.
Sides of veggie fritters and a cabbage mint salad.

Off the regular menu, I sampled an array of salads and cold mezza. Three goat labneh balls each coated with herbs and spices take part in a fresh spinach salad animated by dried figs and apricots, sun-dried tomatoes and whole walnuts with honey mustard dressing on the side (12,500 LL).

Sumac-dusted goat labneh cheese with walnuts, dried figs and apricots, and
sun-dried tomatoes on a bed of fresh spinach

Bou Melhem’s smoked hummus (7,000 LL) finely blends the chickpea-tahini classic with green herbs and tops it with crushed caramelized almonds. Imaginative and oh so good!

Bou Melhem's signature herby smoked hummus with crushed almonds


In an era when a salad from Lebanon’s favorite diner commands a price of 19,750 LL (US$ 13), Bou Melhem’s complete lunchboxes undersell it with varying prices of 16,000 LL to 18,000 LL (US$ 11-12)! Mind you, portions are more than ample (this could be lunch and dinner!), it’s clean home-cooking, and ingredients are undeniably fresh. You really can’t beat that kind of value.

I’m still pining to try their desserts, like the carob molasses cake served warm with pistachio ice cream and chocolate sauce. There’s also a sesame cheesecake drawing on the namesake seed as a base and topped with red fruit coulis.

But for those, a dine-in visit is in order. It’s time to meet the tarboosh man. 

Bou Melhem
Dimitri Hayek St.
Sin el Fil
01-497666 or 01-497667