Showing posts from October, 2012

Happy Halloween!

One of the iconic American holidays I miss most here in Beirut is Halloween. Growing up, the day meant costume competitions at school, plastic Jack-O-Lantern buckets brimming with candy, and of course, eerie music for the occasion. Our teachers, too, would dress up in classic witch outfits, parade around campus with us as we strutted our festive garb, and throw a classroom party complete with black-and-orange cupcakes and a cauldron of black punch for drinking. Though my costumes were terribly unoriginal and sometimes unrecognizable--my ninja suit one year puzzled a lot of neighbors--the day always found me animated. My father would buy a pumpkin in mid-October, and together we'd sketch an ominous face using a Sharpie pen, incise along the markings, and then hollow out the pumpkin from the mush and seeds it contained. My mother would hang Halloween-inspired masks with streamers on the front porch to greet trick-or-treaters making their rounds. And eagerly we'd beckon the dusk


Last week, I finally had the opportunity to try downtown Beirut's latest hotspot and cafe, Bhar (or spice in Arabic), a few steps past pub row on Uruguay Street. I popped in around mid-morning and noticed a breakfast buffet, evocative of the ones you see at hotels, featuring jams, cheeses, deli meats, veggies, and dried fruit. Not really fancying breakfast, I made my way to the dessert display, three racks of dainty French treats, upon which my eyes beheld an enticing French-Lebanese fusion: circular disks of Turkish delight (or Lebanese lokum) adorned with crumbs of crushed cashew and delicately arranged on a bed of sweetened cheese inside a buttery sablet tart. The pastry was as delicious as it appeared, so rich and delectable that I cut it up like pie and enjoyed each exquisite triangle. The American coffee I ordered came in a ceramic cup molded in the form of a flimsy polystyrene plastic cup, the kind you use at water dispensers, that had warped from the hot liquid it co

Caught in Between (Part II)

This is the second installment in a multi-part series narrating Beirutista's upbringing abroad and her wrestling between different cultures. See also Parts I ,  III , and  IV  of this series. In 1992 and again in 1994, my parents attempted to transplant us to Lebanon for good, enrolling us at the only American school at the time--Sagesse High in Ain Saadeh--and buying a house in nearby Mansourieh. Student life in Lebanon was nothing like that in California: students were more critical, judgmental, and devoutly conformist. A few hissed at me the first few days, when I was still without a school uniform: for my delinquency, I risked severe "danger." Teachers were stern, immune to doling out physical discipline in the form of a slap or a tug at the ear. My brothers and I suffered miserably in French class and had to enroll in remedial Arabic classes. But we were kids, and kids are resilient. We quickly learned to embrace our new world. We'd buy chips at lunch, not

Carrot Twist

We're all familiar with the iconic Carrot Top, but could this be the long lost Carrot Bottom?

Caught in Between (Part I)

This is the first installment in a multi-part memoir narrating Beirutista's upbringing abroad and her wrestling between different cultures. Please also visit Parts II , III , and IV . Sometimes I wish I weren't Lebanese. It's true: I didn't grow up in Lebanon. I was born in California to Lebanese parents who had only briefly met, fallen in love, and married as the civil war in Lebanon raged on. My father had already been living in the US, having established a home and livelihood there, and without any hesitation, my newlywed mother left her native country to embark on a new life with him. No amount of foresight or planning could have prepared her for what awaited in California, and as my brothers and I were growing, we witnessed how arduous Mom's assimilation and adaptation to the American culture were. Mom constantly reminisced about her large family in Lebanon--her mother a widow at 29, her two brothers and four sisters--how closely-knit and loving they were,

Only in Lebanon: Part II

A while back, I published an entry about my pet peeves in Lebanon. I think it's only fair that I present the other side to the coin, the stuff I love about this country. Naturally, as a gourmet, I'll start with la nourriture : The French culinary influence which grants us decadent gateaux, les baguettes, and des bons fromages The ubiquity of an international range of restaurants serving top-notch nosh: Peninsula, Julia's, Braai, Mandaloun, Cocteau, and Mondo are a few of my favorites The popularity of happy hour, and thus, the certain presence of a good cocktail Open-air cafes, restaurants, lounges, and pubs: think Zaituna Bay and Uruguay Street Cheap street grub when times call for it: manakish, falafel, shawerma, taouk, basterma, and kafta wraps Elastic Arabic ice cream Sweetened ketchup Pickled anything: cucumbers, carrots, horseradish, stuffed eggplants Starbuck's double chocolate muffin, grace à Le Meilleur caterers The availability of anything and ev

A Taste of France in Beirut

I have always adored grocery shopping. More like worshiped it. Scouring the aisles for new products, poring over the nutrition facts, curiously examining delicacies from abroad...the epicurean adventures are limitless! Now that I work in the financial district in downtown Beirut, I am just a few steps away from Beirut Souks and the TSC Signature gourmet supermarket. It's my go-to at least 2-3 times a day when I'm looking for a break from the office or a simple alimentary pleasure. Several months ago, I discovered fine French yogurt and dessert products in the refrigerated aisle. Their packaging caught my attention: some came in colored ramequins , others in glass cups and bowls, still others in reusable jars with plastic lids. Their reusability and novelty intrigued me, but the diversity of the yogurt flavors really did me over: prune, chestnut, café, caramel, lemon. And how about the mixed flavors like raspberry-lychee, apple-kiwi, mango-passion fruit, and strawberry-lim

Festival Fun

Last week, Lebanon hosted a variety of festivals, from the well-received Vinifest featuring Lebanese winemakers; Oktoberfest, a sad attempt at the famous Bavarian shindig; and the Beirut International Film Festival, a showcase of new talent on the Lebanese scene. For better or worse, I attended all three. Vinifest, in its fifth year, was a smashing success. I could hardly contain my excitement when I arrived to the Hippodrome, an outdoor equestrian arena that had been transformed into lovely picnic grounds. Arranged in a vast semi-circle were at least 30 tents, each exhibiting a different winery with the full range of its products. And let me tell you, several had more than simply wine! One of my favorites was Chateau Najm, from the Chabtine valley in Batroun, which offered tasters red wine, the anise-flavored potion arak (similar to French Pastis and Greek Ouzo), and olive oil. I was surprised to see a Syrian winery, Bargylus, among the mix, as I had no idea Syria was fruitful in v