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Al Wadi Al Akhdar: 42 Years of Authentic Lebanese Food and Specialties

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As a Lebanese-American who called Southern California home for two decades, access to anything from the motherland half a globe away was absolutely sacred. My brothers and I would squeal with delight whenever we’d visit the Middle Eastern stores in Anaheim and Orange County. Scanning the aisles, I remember ogling products that had been crafted in Lebanon and exported to communities across the world dense in the Lebanese diaspora. One of my first and fondest recollections is the pistachio halawa by Al Wadi Al Akhdar . That circular tub with the forest green lid is forever seared in my memory. My parents always had two or three stocked in the pantry, alongside bottles of Al Wadi’s fragrant orange blossom and rose waters that Mom reached for regularly throughout the year, whether for baking maamoul (stuffed Lebanese semolina cookies) or concocting lemonade from scratch. Al Wadi Al Akhdar’s pistachio halawa is crafted from 100% pure sesame seeds tahini, sugar, and halawa extract. In 20

What's Life in Lebanon Really Like At The Moment? Here's The Non-Media Version.

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I'm certainly no famed columnist, but I'm framing this blog post as such. Lately, a number of my readers in the diaspora have been probing me in their attempt to make sense of the situation in Lebanon. It's no enigma that the media (and social media to boot) highlight a narrow view of present-day life in Lebanon, while the reality is often starkly different. Here I endeavor to illuminate how things are on the ground, and how our lives have genuinely been impacted by the various crises gripping the country. Dear Beirutista, I just want to understand how you -- and the folks living in Lebanon -- are coping during these austere times. Having lived there for years with my husband, we tried to hold out hope for months into the revolution, but after the August 4 [2020] explosions, we deemed the situation too dangerous and resettled in the United States. I know it’s so stifling with the banks stealing everyone’s savings. I find it weird that no one seems to be mentioning the real

Who Remembers the Lebanon of the Not-So-Distant Past? Let Me Jog Your Memory.

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Lebanon has arguably never seen worse days than those we’re weathering now. Constant electricity outages; a seemingly unresolvable fuel shortage translating to long lines at the pump; rampant hyperinflation; poverty engulfing three-quarters of the population; rising unemployment; the depletion of medicine; oversaturated hospitals and healthcare facilities…all impetuses propelling the mass exodus of emigrants who will go literally anywhere to escape the trials and tribulations of home. Where were we just two years ago, and where are we now? Ever see those memes split into two columns, juxtaposing “How it started” and “How it’s going”? Yeah, well, in Lebanon’s case, it just isn’t going. End of story. No doubt many of us find ourselves reflecting on the not-so-distant past, nostalgic for the golden age we didn’t even know we were reveling in until the rug was violently pulled out from under our feet. Here's what I've been missing most. 1. Who remembers when Anthony Salamé an

Abysmal and Inconsolable: A Day in the Life of A Lebanese Resident

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Reader, brace yourself. I’m about to push you beyond your comfort zone. You’re being warned: the following sequence of events is not for the faint-hearted. Prepare for a freefalling nightmare of evils and darkness, a bottomless pit of misadventures. This story is about agony, grief, humiliation, inhumanity, and curse after curse after curse. After all, every day -- and not just today -- is now Friday the 13th in Lebanon. Imagine waking at half past 02:00, in the dead of night, choking on the insufferable Mediterranean heat and humidity of a treacherous summer. The air conditioner is off, the room is pitch black. You get up and fumble your way to the light switch, only to find there’s no electricity. You slide the window open, praying for a sea breeze, but the air is flat, dead, unforgiving. You’d been hearing all along about the state’s impending fuel shortages as a result of its inability to pay suppliers with its dwindling foreign reserves. But as with everything in wretched Leba

August 4, 2020: A Day That Will Forever Live in Lebanese Infamy

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Every morning, my Google Photos app depicts a memory from the archive. Today, it was this capture from August 4, 2017: on the left, St. Georges Maronite Cathedral neighboring Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, nestled in the heart of downtown Beirut. We often say that the beauty of Lebanon is in the peaceful coexistence of so many faiths, creeds, and sects, and this is one symbol-laden image. St. Georges Maronite Cathedral (left) and Mohammad Al-Amin Mosque, downtown Beirut. Three years to the day after this photo was snapped, one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions in the history of the world detonated in the port of Beirut. Annihilation doesn't begin to describe the aftermath: hundreds of lives were obliterated; thousands more, injured; hundreds of thousands, displaced; and large sections of the city and neighboring regions, completely leveled. Beirut was gutted, and its soul cast into an abyss of tribulation and mourning that continues to scale deeper and deeper fathoms as the days tran

Why Lebanon Will Always Be Home to Me

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As a child who earnestly anticipated her summers in Lebanon, I remember distinctly praying each night for weeks leading up to trip departure that our two-leg journey from Los Angeles would go smoothly and safely. Should a crash befall us, may it be on the return from Beirut, I pleaded with my Creator. I wanted so desperately to spend a fun-filled vacation in the Land of the Cedars. Reflecting on that memory now as an adult, I’m baffled at how willing I was to embrace the worst, so long as it presented itself aptly in the sequence of events. Yes, folks. That’s a gauge of how enamored I was with my ancestral homeland. Chilling? Or just plain foolish? As many of my readers already know, I made Lebanon home in 2011, a full decade ago. I was a fresh MBA graduate and in between jobs and world regions. I found myself in the Levant on an ambassadorial mission for my alma mater MIT. When it ended, I decided to linger and look for work. I was fed up with hearing that as a summer tourist in L

In Beirut, Shopping Around Is Key To Beating The Huge Play on Prices

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It’s no secret: prices across Lebanon for the vast majority of goods and services have witnessed an unprecedented spike as the lira continues to plunge against the dollar. Though the official rate is around LBP 1,500 for USD 1, the lira is trading on the black market for LBP 16,000 (current as of June 24, 2021), which translates to a whopping 967% surge in the exchange rate. Over the past four months alone, I’ve seen prices of local goods double. For example, Master Kettle Chips (144g) were selling for LBP 8,000 in February , whereas now a bag goes for LBP 15,000. Candia Lait 1-L TetraPak of milk are priced at 15,500 LBP, nearly double the LBP 8,000 tag they fetched at the start of the year. The other day I tweeted that “walking into a grocery store in Lebanon is like getting back a graded exam. Your heart stops as you scan the numbers on the price labels. It’s a harrowing experience.” But even more harrowing is the huge spread in prices you’ll occasionally witness across retaile

When Inspiration Runs Dry

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The other day, I bumped into an old acquaintance I’d met in Paris a dozen years ago. After some quick catch-up and gushing over each other’s kids, she asked me about the blog and whether I was still penning as Beirutista. I told her I’d become far less prolific the past year on account of “being uninspired.” The moment those words left my mouth, I felt insufficient and foolish. A deluge of thoughts swept through my mind as I braced for a personal awakening. Does one really need inspiration to get a word out on paper? Even if one commits to writing about what one might perceive as mundane nonsense, the very thought process that engages the gears in the noggin would qualify for a fruitful writing exercise. Right? We can’t possibly attribute a perpetual flow of inspiration to the celebrated early 20 th -century author William Faulkner, for example, can we? Have you read – nay, attempted to read – The Sound and The Fury ? It is a lesson in "stream of consciousness," or unfilte

Four Things My Gastronomic Self Just Can’t Do Without

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These days my anxiety is through the roof. I mean, whose isn’t? We’ve got a global pandemic raging, and though we’re starting to witness a drop in the number of cases in areas where vaccination has been launched full-scale, most of the world has yet to be graced with needles of elixir by Pfizer, Moderna, and the likes. In fact, a third wave is upending whole populations in dense countries like India. Couple that with a trifecta of crises in Lebanon – political, economic, and fiscal – and it takes an inordinate amount of self-delusion to stay sane. We’ve literally been living on our own proverbial island, inside the four walls of our flat in the northern suburbs of Beirut. On weekends we escape to family’s chalet for a glimpse of that moderating Mediterranean and some fresh air. And if we really want to go wild, I’ll take the kids to a mall five minutes away where there are more shops than shoppers by a stretch . (Did you know that The Gap ducked out of Le Mall in Dbayeh? Subway, too.