Soup With Soul: The Flavour Thief Raids Lebanon's Gourmet Scene

How often have you walked into a restaurant on a chilly winter’s day, pining for a piping hot soup to warm your heart and soothe your soul? You race through the menu to the section on starters, only to find the trite red lentil or onion offering, and that's if the restaurant's even bothered with soup.

Here’s a bit of history for you: the word “restaurant,” meaning “restoring” in French, was actually invented in the 16th century to refer to a highly concentrated, inexpensive soup sold by street vendors. In 1765, a Parisian entrepreneur opened a shop specializing in such reinvigorating soups, which then prompted the use of the modern word restaurant for the eating establishments (thank you, Wikipedia!).

If we acknowledge history, then restaurants owe their very existence to soup, and thus by default they should stud their menus with it. Instead, the imperative of soup has been altogether downplayed and discarded around these parts.

Which is why Youmna Sargi is taking action. A former senior art director at one of the world’s largest communications and advertising agency networks, Youmna spent considerable time at London's Le Cordon Bleu enrolled in food styling and food photography workshops, and that's apart from the five years of photography she took as part of her advertising studies at ALBA (Académie Libanaise de Beaux-Arts). 

More recently Youmna traveled to Thailand to train at the prestigious Blue Elephant Cooking School. Back in Lebanon, she was itching to import the authentic taste of royal Asia, but not through just any format. Realizing the gaping hole in public consciousness surrounding soup, Youmna decided to cultivate a community where the liquid food takes center stage.

Youmna Sargi is the soup guru behind The Flavour Thief

Enter The Flavour Thief (Instagram and Facebook), a so-called robber of spices, herbs, colors, scents, secrets and freshness held captive in Youmna's kitchen. Launched in late December, The Flavour Thief aims to uphold "Justice for Soups!" with the healthy, homemade, vegetable- and protein-rich variety.

Vats of homemade soup by The Flavour Thief

Each week Youmna crafts a different soup, collecting orders and literally cooking up a storm in her home kitchen. On Thursday mornings, she hand-delivers her potion in recyclable paper containers swaddled in distinctive bandanas.

During the month of February, for example, you can discover the following vegan options:

“Scandal in Mexico”: a tangy, mildly spicy soup chockfull of onions, garlic, bell peppers, sweetcorn, kidney beans, roasted tomatoes and quinoa.

"Scandal in Mexico"

“Stolen at the Night Bazar”: slow-roasted carrot soup with garam masala, caramelized onions, coconut oil and coconut milk.

"Stolen at the Night Bazar"

“Conspiracy in Chiang Mai”: the authentic Thai soup Khao Soi muddling shallots, ginger, garlic, red curry paste, turmeric, coconut milk, red peppers, peas, and egg noodles.

"Conspiracy in Chiang Mai"

“Robbery in Mumbai”: a hearty, mildly spicy soup with torrefied Indian spices, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, honey and red lentils.

"Robbery in Mumbai"

“In the Name of Tomatoes”: juicy tomatoes, celery and carrots paired with rosemary, wild thyme and green oregano, finished with extra virgin olive oil.

"In the Name of Tomatoes"

Each of the soups sells for 25,000 LBP/liter.

Beyond spreading awareness and passion for soup, Youmna and husband Georges host a monthly gathering at their home in Broumana where the specialties of the month take center stage. Descriptions and ingredients are stenciled in black marker on a dedicated wall in the living room—how’s that for hardcore? Guests, counting among them friends, acquaintances, and soup aficionados at large, are brought together under the banner of soups to engage in lively exchange and camaraderie.

Each month, Youmna hosts up to 30 lucky guests in her home for a soup gathering

Youmna’s startup of sorts has already started to build a cult following in Beirut and beyond. Come summer, The Flavour Thief will propose gazpachos (cold soups) alongside salads to keep customers cool and refreshed.

But for now, the possibilities are endless, and Youmna is making waves in the tide of gourmet consumption. Who knows? I can even see a three-day soup cleanse shaking Beirut’s babes to the core in healthy, sustainable fashion!

Orders accepted through Monday; delivery every Thursday.


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