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An Unlikely Encounter with Sir Richard Branson

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Do you remember as a child being prompted with the question, “Who do you most admire?” Apart from my parents, naturally, my role model was Sir Richard Branson, British billionaire, entrepreneur and business mogul who in the 1970s founded the Virgin Group. Today Virgin controls more than 400 companies in various fields. In some way or another, we’ve all been touched by Virgin. I’ll start. Every day I tune in to Virgin Radio here in Beirut, which launched a good decade ago and has easily led its peers in music and content programming. I have flown on Virgin Atlantic (and Virgin America) numerously. We often shop for our electronics needs at Virgin Megastore, which boasts a network of branches throughout Lebanon. Arguably, most people know of Sir Richard, perhaps through one of his many books. My friend once mailed me “Screw It, Let’s Do It” (2006), which he picked up at an airport, leafed through ravenously on his flight, and was convinced I’d appreciate. I did. And I have hung on to it

You’re No Lebanese Gourmet Unless…

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This article has been adapted from the original version, which is published on the  Al Wadi Al Akhdar website  under the  "Visit Lebanon" tab . The delectable Lebanese (and Levantine!) dessert konafa ( photo source ) Lebanese people naturally gravitate toward good food. This is no mere generalization or exaggeration. The reality is that we lay claim to an aesthetically- and tummy-pleasing cuisine that demands only the finest, freshest produce and meat. That kind of pickiness at the table forges a very discriminating palate, which is why wherever we wander in the world, you can immediately single us out. We happily lap up at the table of good and plenty, and we make it known. So how do you spot a fellow Lebanese gourmet? Here are five food-related behaviors that quickly betray our identities!   As sure as the sun rises, your day invariably begins with labneh and zaatar. Admittedly, a vast number of Lebanese are lactose-intolerant, but that’s never prevented us from enj

Lebanese Delicacies That Are Off-the-Grid: Yay or Nay?

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This article has been adapted from the original version, which is published on the  Al Wadi Al Akhdar website  under the  "Visit Lebanon" tab . Lebanese fwerigh , or stuffed intestines ( photo source ) Lebanese cuisine might strike the unsuspecting as dainty, delicate and delicious with its vegan tabbouleh, manakish za’atar and hummus. But beware: it’s got a gut-wrenching side to it. We’re talking liver; raw meat flanked by white cubes of pure fat; snails; frog legs; sheep brains; beef tongue; and the list goes on, and on, and on, for about the length of a sheep’s intestines (also a dish in the exotic roundup!). If you’re a diehard Lebanese, you undoubtedly dote on these delicacies and gloat about their dense nutrient and vitamin content to anyone who questions their merits. There’s not an ailment out there that can’t be cured with these antidotes. If you’re less adventurous with what you eat, you probably want to stop reading right about here. Go ahead, sign off. We’re wa

A Vegan’s Guide to Lebanese Street Food

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This article has been adapted from the original version, which is published on the  Al Wadi Al Akhdar website  under the  "Visit Lebanon" tab . Some of the most memorable and adventurous meals are often come by in the street. In Beirut, that certainly rings true. No matter which narrow city alley, village souk , or seaside boardwalk you find yourself exploring, there’s bound to be a delicious bite within arm’s reach. While meaty shawarma wraps and lahm bi ajeen pies readily come to mind in Lebanon, there is in fact a myriad of vegan foods to appeal to every palate. These savory meatless munchies form an integral part of Lebanese cuisine. To be quite frank, going vegan in Lebanon may prove to be an effortless endeavor! Lebanese falafel inside pita bread ( photo source ) Manakish Za’atar Pizza is to the Italians as “manakish” is to the Lebanese. It’s all about fresh-baked, soft, round flatbread crafted before your very eyes. If you’re visiting a Lebanese furn , or bakery,

The Diabolical Debit Card Situation in Lebanon

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If you’re a (miserable) account-holder at a Lebanese bank and you reside in Lebanon, you’re probably in possession of a debit card. After all, that’s the only God-forsaken method of siphoning some of your locked-up assets from the bank. And by siphoning, I mean extracting via trickle method. One miniscule drop at a time. The current predicament that cardholders face however is the rejection of their plastic wallet accessory by a vast number of retailers. Months ago, gas stations across Lebanon unanimously stopped accepting card payment. Then supermarkets and grocery stores, in a show of solidarity, enforced a 50/50 approach: they'd only accept 50% payment by card and 50% by cash. We’re talking about retailers like Spinney’s, Carrefour, Le Charcutier, Stop and Shop, O&C, and the likes. A range of epiceries, or upscale grocers like Aziz, haven’t accepted card payment for at least a year – understandably, they don’t want to deal with local banks, heinous capital controls and h

Lebanon's Premier Lahm Baajin Specialist Furn Beaino Lands in Dubai!

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Eight years ago, I stumbled across Furn Beaino while researching Lebanon’s acclaimed "lahm baajin" bakeries. At the time, I was freelancing as Food & Drink editor at Beirut.com, and “best of” roundups were my bread and butter. Furn Beaino kept surfacing again and again in the literature, so I had to go and see what the fuss was about. I still remember that first visit in late September 2014. Wissam Beaino, son of the furn’s founder and visionary Toni Beaino, greeted me and briefly recounted the history of his family’s enterprise. Established in 1975, the furn, Arabic for "bakery," had quickly risen to fame for its matchless lahm baajin, a fragrant blend of mince lamb, onions, and tomatoes spread richly on a thin round flatbread, baked swiftly at high temperatures, and finished with a drizzle of lemon and a dash of pepper. These meat pies were Furn Beaino’s signature item, but customers clustered at the small Jounieh stronghold for everything from manakish zaa

A Sublime Wine & Dine Experience at Kempinski Beirut's Rojo Restaurant

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I bear good news. The hospitality industry in Lebanon is still alive and well. Very well, in fact, namely at Beirut's premier five-star property Kempinski Summerland Hotel & Resort . Boasting its own private beach and marina on the Mediterranean, the estate is a little piece of paradise promising seclusion, seduction, and absolute sumptuousness. It definitely delivers on those promises, as our visit last week to its cozy Mediterranean eatery Rojo attested. Rojo restaurant at the Kempinski Beirut ( photo source: online gallery ) It was a tempestuous Friday evening and the winds were howling, but we were nestled safely inside at a table for two, eager to embrace the night’s “Wine and Dine by the Sea with Latourba” menu proposition. I knew very little about Latourba , a private Lebanese vineyard located in the West Bekaa in a town called Saghbine. Assuming that we were in for a typical wine and dinner pairing, I was pleasantly surprised to find the owners and founders – Christi

Ça Suffit! (Enough!) With All The Criticism Surrounding "Emily in Paris"

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I'm largely annoyed by the so-called criticism surrounding "Emily in Paris." If you've watched the series on Netflix, whose first season aired in the thick of the pandemic in 2020, you discovered how the show immerses its viewers in the magic and charm of Paris where the entire show is filmed. Emily, played by actress Lily Collins, is a marketing executive who has been sent by her Chicago-based company for a year of international experience at its subsidiary in the French capital. There she strives to fit in with her colleagues and newfound friends, all while grappling with a new language and culture she knows relatively nothing about. In the media, there is an onslaught of negative feedback by Parisian viewers who claim the culture captured on the show is not rooted in reality. The over-the-top fashion Emily sports, the unrealistic spaciousness of Emily's apartment, the minimal hours employees keep at work, the great divide in what is uttered and what is meant.