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Showing posts from 2013

Flashback

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Remember the picture of the felled tree I posted just 12 days ago? When the tempest by the name of Alexa descended upon Lebanon, unleashing high-speed gusts that struck down trees like this one? Do you recognize the street in which this photo was snapped? How about the landmark behind it on the left?


Shaken Up By Yesterday's Bombing

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It was around 9.40 am. I was sitting at my desk, sifting through the morning news online, replying to a few stray emails, and chatting with my mom back in California on Google Talk. I had been trying to schedule an after-work rendezvous at Uruguay Street downtown with a friend visiting from Paris. Suddenly, the building shook fiercely, as if writhing from an earthquake. It lasted several moments before a big boom was heard. I was certain a plane had plummeted into Beirut Souks, just a few hundred meters north of my office. The explosion felt so close by. And in fact, it was. Minet el Hosn, across from where the new Hyatt Hotel is being erected, next to the fountains of the Starco Plaza, a few meters past the Balthus and Park Avenue restaurants. 650 meters away by foot, Google Maps confirmed. A bomb had taken the life of Mohammad Chattah, former senior adviser to Prime Ministers Fouad Siniora and Saad Hariri, along with several others and tens of casualties. For an hour, my body shiver…

Holiday greetings

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On this sunny day of December four-and-twenty, The occasion for food and feasting aplenty, I want to wish you my fans a wonderful holiday season, Full of fun and laughter, toasting and teasing.
Thank you for your faithful readership and care, You’ve animated Beirutista beyond any compare. Please stay tuned in the coming year for more, New material and topics sure to be explored.
Merry Christmas!

The Latest In and Around Beirut

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Here’s the latest on what’s come under my survey the past week: 1.The Alexa storm, which at first admittedly wasn’t as headline-worthy as the media made it out to be, evolved into a nasty little tempest. Temperatures in Beirut and its immediate suburbs plummeted to the low 40s (for my metric-system readers, that’s 5C), and gusts blew up to 15 mph (25 km/h). Schools were cancelled over three days in an effort to ease traffic—if you’ve ever been to Lebanon, you’ll quickly discover that the infrastructure can hardly withstand a mild drizzle, let alone a real storm. Here’s what winds in Beirut did to one tree in the downtown Minet el Hosn area:

2.Driving courtesy in this country continues to reach new lows. Michael Young, columnist at Lebanon’s English-written newspaper The Daily Star, eloquently captured this along with other misdemeanors from which this country suffers in his December 12 editorial entitled “Lebanon is no country for young men.” In it, he lashes out against “the latent vio…

The Power of Perspective

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Last week, I attended TEDx Beirut’s event at Minus 5, a repurposed industrial warehouse hidden in the basement of the Mkalles 2001/Bou Khalil complex. (How often does my family stop to shop at Bou Khalil, en route to our Mansourieh home, but never before have I noticed Minus 5.) For those of you readers who are unfamiliar with TED, it’s an international forum where speakers are invited to recount “ideas worth spreading.” These talks are filmed before large audiences and uploaded to TED.com for access to international viewers. TEDx Beirut, which is officially licensed by TED, organizes independent events fostering dialogue at the local level. At the TEDx Beirut Salon last Thursday, the theme was “Shifting Perspectives,” and a few TEDTalks videos exemplifying this motif were played. One such speaker we listened to was Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Group, a veritable advertising guru. He spoke at length of the power of perspective and how it supersedes reality. To illustrate, S…

Happy Thanksgiving from Beirut

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Today the United States will celebrate its most beloved and defining holiday—Thanksgiving. The whole world over knows about this festive day, when families in America gather for a home-cooked meal, usually turkey, complete with bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, maybe baked potatoes and yams, and of course, the customary pumpkin pie. Flights will be overbooked and pricey, as everyone rushes to get home in time. At night, many avid shoppers will camp out in front of their favorite stores with hopes of snagging door-busters and the incredible prices that characterize Black Friday. And perhaps most notably, Thanksgiving marks the official advent of the Christmas season. Turning a blind eye to the commercialized aspect of this holiday, I can’t help but be nostalgic for a day I have grown to cherish with each passing year. And that attachment is only magnified by the distance I find myself separated from my childhood home: a nontrivial 7,000 miles. Dad would secure the t…

Lebanese Takes on the English Language that Make Me Cringe!

We're all aware of how non-native English speakers localize the English language to fit their manners of speech and even the alphabet of their mother tongue. The Lebanese have many a toe-curling adaptation of English expressions that always send me wincing:

"Thanks God": folks, it's either "Thanks be to God" or "Thank God.""Welcome" rather than "you're welcome": as if the expression were excessively long to begin with."Kindly" rather than "please": it sounds so archaic and quaint."Thomesing" rather than "something": whenever "s" and "th" appear in the same word, they invariably get reversed."Wiz" rather than "with". Are they trying to imitate the French? Trust me, it ain't chic."Open all the year" rather than "open year round"."We have all what you want" rather than "We have everything you want". "

Fed Up With the Lebanese Restaurant Culture

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I never thought I’d say this, but frankly I've tired of the restaurant scene in Lebanon. It seems that this country has become enamored with food, dining out, and little else. Restaurants are popping up anywhere a vacant space shows its face. In a six-month span of time, BIEL hosted two major food expositions, Horeca and the Beirut Cooking Festival. And in case we haven’t gotten our fill, this week will witness “Le Festival de la Gastronomie Francaise”. Local magazines, too, seem to be in pursuit of one aim--Beirut's best burger--and my blog feed is constantly inundated with new restaurant reviews. The bombardment of new restaurants from every angle is starting to lose its charm. I can’t keep up.

Has anyone else paid attention to the upsurge of French bistros lately? Couqley can probably lay claim to introducing this restaurant niche to Lebanon in 2010, but this year has really seen its fair share of newcomers: Prune in Mar Mikhael, Au Bistrot de Michel in Achrafieh not far f…

Going Portable with Kaak and Labneh

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Have you seen these new products in the yogurt aisle? Krocks, as they're called, feature kaak spears and labneh in a plastic cup for eating on the go. There are four flavors: original, labneh light, labneh with olive, and labneh with mint. Their concept mimics that of the American snacks I grew up on, namely Kraft Handi-Snacks with spreadable cheese paired with either Ritz crackers or mini grissini-like breadsticks.



I had the chance to sample a pack--they are your usual kaak with labneh, no hidden surprises or mystery toy included. But two things escape me: what inspired the name "Krocks," and will they really be swept up at 2,650LL ($1.80)? Sure, it's all about the convenient size and originality of the snack pack (where else can you buy labneh on the go?), as well as the relatively nutritious nature of this light food fix (at around 150 kcal per serving). But you can easily snag a big bag of pretzels or kaak and a bottle of Ayran (plain yogurt drink) for a sweeter d…

Restaurant Price Revolution in Lebanon

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I have a theory about hyper-inflated prices at restaurants in Lebanon. Why are they at least twice as expensive as they should be? Why is it that Lebanese who travel to Europe or the United States come back raving about how cheap and affordable restaurants abroad are compared to their Lebanese counterparts?

Case in point: Stockholm is the latest food addition to Gemmayze. A self-declared Swedish restaurant, Stockholm features a “Bakad Potatis,” which it describes as “a delicious baked potato stuffed with a delightful special sauce packed with shrimps, ham, chicken curry, or tuna.” How much do you suppose one of these glorified potatoes would set you back? $5? $10 if the restaurant’s particularly fancy? Sorry, guess again.



$20 whopping smackeroos. Yes, you read correctly. $20 for a potato and your choice of a soft drink. A potato. A spud. A root. Produced in overabundance locally. The base food of the poor in 18th century Ireland. I can’t stomach $20 as being reasonable for a measly pota…

Batchig: A Truly First-Rate Restaurant That Boasts Excellent Food

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Over the weekend, we had the great fortune to lunch at Batchig, sister restaurant to the famous Mayrig. The Armenian restaurant is tucked away on a side street of Antelias, immediately before Burj Al-Hamam if you’re driving northbound from Beirut. The red building catches your attention because such a color is rare for a façade in Lebanon, but you don’t start to comprehend how spacious and soothing the interior is until you push open the door and walk past the threshold.
We arrived Saturday at 2pm, peak lunch hour. Most of the dining guests seem to be middle-class Armenian families who live nearby. There are three spaces: the ground floor, the upper floor (which isn’t receiving guests just yet), and the terrace. The head waiter Elie received us warmly and seated us inside. We started to take in our surroundings: white-washed walls, white floor, aluminum tables, and wooden chairs. In short, modern and minimalist décor. The ambiance is organic and comforting. Waiters are buzzing in and o…

Caught In Between (Part IV)

This is the fourth installment in a multi-part series narrating Beirutista's upbringing abroad and her wrestling between different cultures.
See earlier posts in this series here: Part I, Part II, Part III

After Paris, I flew on a one-way ticket to Beirut, where my mother met me. I recall assuring her that Lebanon was my motherland, that the time had come for my permanent move to the country, and that I could no longer deal with the tainted breed of Lebanese expat living on foreign soil. I'd had quite enough of their antics--their claims to being smarter, prettier, and more cunning than those in whose countries they were now making residence. In fact, according to Lebanese ideals, somebody cunning and sly is usually hailed for his ability to cut corners and get away with it, all while coming out ahead. In the Western world, we call those folks scumbags.

I thought that in Lebanon, I'd finally discover the unadulterated Lebanese, gushing with warmth and chaleur, eager to hel…

Movie Review: "Monsters University" Surprises With Real-Life Messages (Spoiler Alert)

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At the movie theater on Saturday, I hesitated between "White House Down" and "Monsters University." The ticketing agent behind the counter recommended both but warned that "Monsters University" was more suitable for teenagers. Challenge accepted, I thought to myself. A lot of people still mistake me for a kid.

The prequel to the Pixar hit "Monsters, Inc.," the movie follows little Mike Wazowski (played by Billy Crystal) as he aspires to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a "scarer." During his first semester at Monsters University, he commits himself wholeheartedly to mastering the documented fright-inducing techniques and excelling in his coursework. He slaves away in the library and buries himself in his books, while his more popular and ponderous classmate and anathema James "Sulley" Sullivan (John Goodman), who comes from a family of prominent scarers, uses his innate charm to get ahead.

The Dean of the School of …

A Country of Contrasts

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Lebanon is a country of contrasts. The warm Mediterranean waters provide a juxtaposition to the cool mountain air as you head inland. Street food joints can often be found adjacent to top-notch luxurious dining venues (case in point: Malek el Croissant is just a few steps away from La Table Fine in Souk Jounieh). Beautiful new high-rises soar above century-old facades (notably in Achrafieh).

Here are more contrasts whose explanations will send your mind spiraling:
Long the epitome of chaos and poor organization, Lebanon is bizarrely the only country I know that requires seat assignments at the movie theater. The usher takes your ticket stub, ceremoniously rips it along the perforated mark, and leads you to your seat. In the Western world, it's simply first-come, first-serve.Elsewhere around the globe, Pizza Hut is the symbol of cardboard-box, fast food pizza. In Lebanon though, Pizza Hut has dine-in outlets where the waiter takes your order at the table and serves you by delicately …

Curious Sightings Around Town

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1. Tannourine can't decide on whether they prefer 8-mm or 12-mm caps on their 500-mL water bottles. The difference is palpable: 50% more height gives you more grip and thus makes the twist on/off process so much easier. At first, I thought the high-tops were the newer batches, but a quick check of production dates stamped on the bottles proves they're still producing the midget-tops, too. Is this a gimmick by Tannourine to see whether consumers notice and dial in with their impassioned feedback? I wonder if their executive management knows that even one added centimeter of height can translate into tens of thousands of extra dollars annually in material costs.


2. Yesterday morning on my way to work, I spotted this funny character pushing his kaak trolley across the Tabaris highway. All decked out in a red costume befitting a zaffé troupe, together with a matching red tarboush, the kaak man was perspiring fiercely as he parked his cart on the side of the road. I wonder if the …

Succumbing to Roadster's Low-Cal Burger

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For as long as I can remember, I've dismissed Roadster as uninventive. Clichéd. Predictable. Consistent, sure, but bland. Roadster has a very big, very loyal following in Lebanon, and I just couldn't swallow the hype. Nachos, chicken tenders, burgers, sandwiches, and platters. Yes, they've got a comprehensive menu for a diner. Yes, they're superfluously friendly, borderline obsequious, when it comes to customer service. But based on a few dining experiences I've had at their various outlets--opting mainly for the lighter selection of fare even before there was a health-conscious menu--I formed a rather apathetic attitude toward the chain, whose prices I found a tad mature for a diner. Nothing swayed me, until, in a wild fit for a simple, unadorned all-American burger, I was coaxed into sampling Roadster's.

Roadster offers three diet-friendly burgers: the Ever Slim, Fit n' Burger, and Grain Chicken Burger. The first is your classic, garnished with lettuce, …

(No) Developments with My Liban Post Fiasco

I'm not sure who tipped Liban Post about my rant--who knew how difficult it could be to mail a package of Lebanese sweets to The Hague?--but last week Customer Care left a comment on the blog post, apologizing for my poor experience and requesting my phone number. The very next day, a lovely representative contacted me, asking me to recount the entire ordeal in detail so that she might perhaps provide further assistance or clarification.

But matters only grew more complicated, as she revealed the fine print on sending "parcels." In the event that a parcel is not successfully delivered to the recipient, it will be seized by the Dutch courier and sent back to the original sender. How gracious, I thought, until the customer service agent informed me that I'd be accountable for the return expenses incurred. What? I stammered. Si, si, she responded. Hadn't I carefully read the French-scripted receipt upon which I'd scrawled my John Hancock? I didn't recall su…

Shawarma Show: The Bourgeoisie of Shawarma

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Warning: the following is NOT a hyped review of a glamorized shawarma chain featuring mediocre fast food fare (read: Shawarmanji). The following is an honest account of the no-nonsense, heavy-on-meat-and-not-on-pickled-or-fried-rubbish wraps that can be had at Shawarma Show. The single location restaurant sits on the Jdeideh highway, just before Bank of Beirut and across from Almaza brewery.
Shawarma Show is not your typical, greasy, sidewalk shawarma joint. The restaurant is a two-storey establishment outfitted with wooden bar stools on the ground floor and proper tables and chairs on the upper floor. There are even separate (and sanitary) restrooms for men and women! The first thing you notice when you enter Shawarma Show is a glass enclosure behind which are five spits of charcoal-grilled shawarma and three shawarmiers, as we'll call them. You don't interact directly with them, as they cannot really hear you behind the thick glass panel, which no doubt is meant to shield th…

Liban Post Shows Its True Colors

A few weeks ago, I commended Liban Post for their speedy parcel services, particularly to international destinations. I'd mailed a letter to Geneva, Switzerland, and it arrived within three business days. Last Saturday I went back to Liban Post, this time with a small package in tote destined for the Netherlands.

The main branch of Liban Post on Riad el Solh is grand--the space is huge, almost like a central train station, and there is a long counter staffed by six or seven agents prepared to serve you. You take a ticket as you enter the post office, and you wait for the automated voice to direct you to a cashier.

As there were just a few customers besides me, I was immediately summoned to cashier #3, manned by a no-nonsense woman named Hala. Hala took the package from me--a box of Easter maamoul pastries for a dear friend living abroad--and started grilling me with questions: package contents, sender ID, recipient name and phone number, and so on. We didn't make it past des…