Traditional Lebanese Hospitality: We're Losing It
Call me old-fashioned, but I love home gatherings. I’m not talking about the hush-hush hangouts where joints are circulated, booze reigns aplenty, and getting sloshed is the name of the game. I’m more interested in the cozy social affairs where hospitality and warmth preside as people come together to exchange merry conversation over a bite or drink.
As a child growing up in Southern California in an admittedly traditional Lebanese household, inviting folks over for a lavish spread of food was normal weekend activity. Our parents would sit with the adults in the “salon,” whereas we kids would play host to their children, entertaining them with either a movie, the gaming console, or whatever new gadgets or board games we’d acquired. Almost as soon as our guests arrived, Mom would put out an array of delicious snacks and drinks to whet their appetites, and a home-cooked meal was certain to follow.
Weeks later, we would return the visit, hoping for a reciprocal welcome. These visits helped strengthen our social fabric, allowing us to interact with other Lebanese-Americans and teaching us the importance of cordiality and friendliness. Today when we hear about iconic Lebanese hospitality, I imagine we are referring to this open-door and open-handed mentality common to pre-war Lebanese households.
In this day and age, however, I hardly see visits occurring between families. In fact, if I were to invite a friend over to our house for coffee or dinner, she’d probably eye me strangely and suggest a café, restaurant or mall as a meeting point. I’m not sure what’s gotten people so house-averse, but many would rather go out than congregate in-house.
Perhaps too much time and resource are required to tidy up the house, prepare refreshments, receive guests, and clean up afterward. Perhaps hosts fear that unpleasant guests may overstay their welcome and thus wear thin their patience. Meeting on neutral turf eliminates these unwanted scenarios, as parties can duck out at their convenience with as little as a word of apology.
So you can understand I’d be unnaturally giddy when my colleague and dear friend Eliane invited the entire office, along with our partners, to dinner at her place. She and her husband Marc received us—a group of 13—in their residence over a wonderful feast. Fresh green almonds, crunchy green plums, roasted mixed nuts, and baked chips greeted us upon our arrival, and once drinks were prepared for each guest, the dinner parade slowly descended upon the dining room table.
After dinner, the men gathered in the TV room to duke it out over rounds of FIFA on the PlayStation. The ladies oohed and aahed over the home furnishings and cute décor, committing ideas to memory for their own abodes. Laughs were shared as the mood loosened and spirits elevated. We had a terrific time, and it reminded me of my childhood visits of yore.
Don't you agree it’s time we Lebanese revisited our roots and revived the practice of hosting guests? Let’s not lose our identity, because people the world over have come to know us by our signature hospitality. I’d hate to tarnish that reputation, wouldn't you?
Scroll down for ideas for your future dinner parties (thank you, Eliane!). You can also follow me on Instagram at @beirutista for more drool-worthy photos.
|Mushroom caps stuffed with Boursin spread, parsley and a smear of olive oil, |
then lightly drizzled with Parmesan
|Traditional Lebanese savory pastries: rkekat jebneh, kibbeh 2rass, and sambousik bi la7me|
|An Italian touch: tomatoes, basil, fresh mozzarella, and a pesto dip|
|Mini Lebanese pizzas: the classic "Regina" and soujouk with cheese|
|Spring rolls wrapped around a slaw of sauteed veggies|
|Ashen goat cheese on mini toast, all on a bed of lettuce, diced apples, cherry tomatoes, and pine nuts|
|Quinoa with diced white onions, cherry tomatoes, parsley, dried cranberries, and |
pomegranate seeds, all tossed in a lemon-olive oil dressing
|Meatloaf with steamed carrots, peas, mushrooms, and baby potatoes|
|A soup of fresh forest berries and pops of pomegranate for dessert|
|Homemade Tiramisu with fresh fruit|
|The buffet spread|