Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions

Lebanese Food / Wine and Culinary Traditions
Spring time always inspires me...

Friday, July 27, 2018

Orange Blossom Harvest in Maghdoushe

© B Massaad - Mouneh 
Orange Blossom Harvest in Maghdouche

In spring time, it is an enriching experience to walk through a grove of orange trees blossoming with white flowers and bursting with fragrance. I’ve had many occasions to experience this romantic stroll throughout my journey. When you see, touch and smell these flowers you have the impression that they are declaring the coming of spring.

Magdousheh, a small town about 50 km (31 mi) south of Beirut, is reputed for its orange groves and its annual orange blossom water production. It is situated at an altitude of about 300 m (984 ft) above sea level. The town overlooks the Mediterranean Sea with its prominent pilgrimage site—home of the church of Our Lady of Mantara. On one of my visits I was accompanied by Oussama Amoun, a local resident and producer. We walked through the whole town meeting with people and discussing the year’s orange blossom yield.  During the season, villagers scatter through the groves and private gardens working simultaneously to harvest their prized orange blossom flowers. A faint perfume accompanies you as you walk through the streets. There is a certain ambiance unseen elsewhere in Lebanon at that particular moment. The tiny white flowers are laid out, scattered on empty large white bags. Distillers of different sizes and shapes are washed and set up carefully to ensure a proper yearly production. Farmers and producers of Magdousheh pride themselves on a superior quality of distilled orange blossom water. They insist that the trees should not be irrigated during the hot summer months. In fact, it is this hearty resistance which makes the flowers superior, thereby resulting in a higher quality product.

Oussama Amoun my guide to the wonders of Maghdouche

Traditionally, most households in Lebanon made their annual production of orange blossom water at home using a family alembic. Today, it is not unusual to find families gathered at a town center where the communal karakeh is set up with large bags of orange blossom flowers. Production is mainly reserved to villagers who keep the traditional distillation process alive. 

Lebanon Travel has recently worked on a short film to show you the best of Maghdoushe, thus the reason I wanted to share more information about this beautiful town and its people.

"The southern town of Maghdoushe has a beautiful story to tell. From its religious sites to its agricultural traditions, we share its many wonders"


Slow Food Community - A New Strategy

Today I received this important mail from Slow Food International. This initiative opens up new challenges for Slow Food Beirut, which I am heading presently. I spoke to founder and president Carlo Petrini about this new strategy, "Slow Food is not an elitist association, it should be open to all". I agree and will do everything to spread the word.

This is a period of radical change within the Slow Food movement all around the world.

The 2017 Congress in Chengdu (China) announced our aim to revolutionize the basis of our organization, making it less formal and more inclusive. We want to involve all of the people, groups, organizations, and communities that help to spread the Slow philosophy and carry forward our global projects, including Slow Food Gardens, Presidia, the Ark of Taste, Farmer’s Markets, and global campaigns.

The recently approved proposal is to move beyond the convivium model and create another form of grassroots organization: the Slow Food Community!

The International Council in Nairobi in June 2018 launched a transitional phase that will last until the autumn of 2020, when the global Slow Food network will meet for its next Congress.

It doesn’t mean that convivia doesn’t exist anymore, but that we have 2 years to think about how concretize this transition towards a new model.


A Slow Food Community is a group of people that shares the values of the international movement and commits itself, in accordance with the Founding Declaration, to pursuing Slow Food's objectives, vision, and actions.

Please start by advising other members in your area (by email, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc.) adapt and share this message with all the relevant contacts!

At Terra Madre Salone del Gusto, time will be dedicated to further explanation, brainstorming, and sharing ideas and experiences from the global network.

I’m also honored to introduce you to Barbara Massaad (en cc), Beirut convivium leader, international counselor for Slow Food in Middle East. Do not hesitate to contact her and exchange about a global strategy for the area!

We look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Apple Does Not Fall Far From the Tree

You often wonder why you act a certain way, or take a path that leads you to something that you are familiar with... I understood this much later in life. I arrived to Lebanon as a young woman of 18 years of age. It was a very difficult period of my life - a cultural shock from sunny Florida. I was devastated. My father suggested I work with him, as he had the intention of setting up a photography studio in Ballouneh. I didn't want to hear anything about it. I wanted to go to university and learn a trade of my own... Years later, many years later... I have followed the steps of my father indirectly, in my own way focusing on food and photography with a strong curiosity and generosity towards other people (as he has all his life). So the expression, "the apple does not fall far from the tree" is quite relevant ... My childhood was different and I think that's what made me think "out of the box".

Now that my children are turning into young adults, it is fascinating to see the evolution of their characters and aspirations ... Each generation builds on the other, taking dreams into another level.

Carla Henoud, a renowned Lebanese journalist, wrote a beautiful piece about my father which I would like to share. It sums up his work and life in a way that she only knows how to write. If you are interested to read the article in English please copy and paste on google translate.

Perdu de vue ... Georgie Abdeni, un Dorian Gray à l'envers !

Abdeni. Une signature, au haut d’un immense portrait en noir et blanc. Une griffe, celle du grand photographe Georgie Abdeni qui a immortalisé des visages célèbres et moins célèbres, les figeant dans une beauté intemporelle et indélébile. 

C’était le temps du noir et blanc. L’heureux temps où la photographie se sentait, se pensait et se faisait par des maîtres-artisans, avec, pour outils de travail, un appareil, un studio et un regard. C’était le temps de la frivolité, de l’émergence d’une créativité qui trouvait enfin son expression, son identité et sa place au Liban. Heureux temps… 

Georgie Abdeni se souvient de ces jours en noir et blanc. Tout dans son studio des années 70 lui rappelle les visages d’avant, leurs sourires et son bonheur de capter ces instants d’intimité. «Je suis un homme qui a arrêté le temps, un Dorian Gray à l’envers !», précise-t-il, avec son grand sourire et son accent américano-libanais. Sur ces grandes photos qui comblent les murs comme des présences éternelles, le temps assassin n’a en effet laissé aucune empreinte . On dirait qu’il s’est arrêté… Aucune trace de rides, d’années rajoutées, de valeurs ôtées. Ces femmes troublantes de beauté fixent le visiteur – ou l’objectif de Abdeni – et murmurent leur satisfaction. Elles ont toutes un regard intense, une attitude «mise en scène» par ce même magicien. 

Pour réussir ce travail, il fallait, bien sûr, beaucoup de psychologie et de savoir-faire. «La photographie n’est pas seulement un art. C’est également de la mode, du maquillage. Le photographe doit être un visagiste, un psychologue, un directeur de production et un metteur en scène». Il doit surtout être libre, son propre chef, «ne recevoir d’instructions ni de limites de personne. J’ai toujours imposé mes idées, mes concepts, et mon propre style. Voilà pourquoi j’ai réussi». 

Une personnalité affichée Georgie Abdeni , longtemps photographe de stars et d’hommes politiques, a fait la couverture du magazine al-Hasnaa’ durant de nombreuses années; il a flirté avec la publicité et a saisi des centaines de regards, de femmes surtout. Il connaît le visage humain comme un chirurgien ou un sculpteur. Son calme et sa gentillesse ont toujours réussi à mettre le modèle en confiance et en tirer le meilleur. «Il n’existe pas de beauté, dans l’absolu. Chaque visage a une expression, un intérêt propre». Sa personnalité a su cadrer et mettre en images des idées – photos publicitaires –, des personnes et des personnalités. Ici, dans ce studio qui vit encore, sitt Sabah côtoie le président Sarkis, Feyrouz, Georgina Rizk, «je l’ai découverte quand elle avait treize ans», Faten Hamama, Hrair, Omar Shérif et Anita Eckberg font bon ménage. «Le caractère du modèle est important. Je suis toujours à la recherche de la pureté d’un visage, de l’angle idéal, du bon moment et de la meilleure lumière». 

Il est arrivé à la photographie par goût, se donnant la précieuse liberté de s’éloigner des «affaires étrangères», apprises à Georgetown, USA, de la banque dans laquelle il a travaillé durant six ans, bref, de ce qu’il était supposé faire. «À l’époque, peu de gens “de bonne famille”» faisaient ce métier. J’ai commencé par les portraits, pour passer ensuite aux campagnes publicitaires. J’avais le bonheur de concevoir l’idée, le slogan et de réaliser la photo». Il se compare volontiers à un chef cuisinier qui réussit un plat avec des ingrédients utilisés par d’autres. «La personne devient pour moi un boulot, un peu comme si je devais fabriquer quelque chose de bien». Durant ces «années photos», Abdeni va collaborer dans différents projets, sillonner le Liban avec Roméo Lahoud pour le Firman, et parcourir le monde pour assouvir son besoin de libertés et d’images; souvent envoyé spécial de al-Hasnaa, il ramènera des centaines d’images, des archives qui ont aujourd’hui une valeur incalculable. «Depuis une trentaine d’années, lors d’un voyage pour al-Hasnaa’ où je devais photographier des hommes et des lieux en Jordanie, je me suis retrouvé dans une école, avec deux enfants en train de se battre amicalement. J’ai calmé les deux frères, avec des mots tendres, et puis j’ai pris mes photos». Le roi Abdallah de Jordanie et ses images d’enfant consolé figurent à présent dans la galerie de photos de Georgie. Un scoop qui n’a pas de prix. 

Marié en 1968 avec Laurence, père de deux filles, Barbara et Gabrielle, Abdeni ne s’est pas laissé enfermé dans la seule photographie. Durant les années de guerre, il s’est interessé à la construction, à la restauration, «la grenouille», en 1967, avec son ami et complice Jerry Guréghian, puis le «kebabs and things», en 1980, durant son exil «floridien», et «un peu de tout» ; Georgie construit encore sa «caverne d’Ali Baba», une grande maison où il se plaît à inventer des objets, des miroirs en métal, bois, verre soufflé, des cannes, des sculptures en bois, et s’occupe à décorer les pièces comme il l’entend, mettre un vieil évier en guise de mur, construire une baignoire en pierre, créer un espace de vie libre de toute contrainte. 

Nostalgique et franc, il conclut : «Dans mon esprit, j’ai toujours ma vision de la personne, intacte. La revoir trente ans plus tard est souvent un choc !» Des images plein les yeux et la tête, on se surprend enfin à rêver de figurer un jour dans cet album précieux, et demeurer ainsi à l’abri du temps qui passe.

Un scoop de Abdeni, le roi Abdallah II et son frère

Kebabs & Things

I was going through old photos yesterday and stumbled into this article... It is a revue of our family restaurant which we all ran in the 80's. It brought back many memories. You could say my passion for food and everything related to restaurants started at the age of 15, when I worked both in the kitchen and served clients. It was a good school for me (a school of life). Since then, this experience helped me forge a future in this field through research and many other activities..

The revue is very basic and feels almost amateurish, but it is still a glimpse of the past and the restaurant years we lived as a family, working hand in hand, serving customers and sharing the food of our beloved country - Lebanon. We met many people, both incredible and sometimes not so, but the experience was unforgettable and remains to this day one of the most important in my life.

Restaurant Revue Kebabs &Things p. 14 - Entertainment News & Views

Kebabs and Things is not your usual restaurant. Its gleaming white exterior and crisp white, turquoise and blue with touches of red interior belie its Mediterranean dishes. When one thinks in terms of Mideast or Mediterranean foods, it is always with the touch of mystique - hidden corners, shadowy forms 0 but the cleanliness that surrounds Kebabs is a point in their favor - for out of a spanking clean kitchen comes well prepared food - cooked to perfection.

They are only open for dinner during the summer, but during "season" also serve lunches. Their appetizers rand from $1.50 to $3.50 and are sufficient as a meal for the not so hungry. Generous portions always speak well for a restaurant and encourage the hearty appetite to return. Their entrees are also int eh medium price range and feature many authentic chicken, lamb, and beef dishes.

Personally, I opted for the stuffed grape leaves appetizers followed by a charcoal broiled Beef Kebab over rice. This was served with a crisp fresh salad and by the time I had put away the two courses, I could only finish a coffee.

They did have one expensive range dish that had there been company to share it, I might have sampled it - A Mediterranean Delight which as a sampling of seven of their appetizers. I must return one evening and try this - it did sound exotic.

Kebabs is a family atmosphere with good, tasty, homemade food. There is ample parking both front and back and it is conveniently located at 2768 E. Oakland Park Blvd., near the corner of Bayview Drive. They are open from 6 to 10, Monday thru Saturday to serve a highly recommended dinner fare. Try it for a change - you'll enjoy it!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Oum Ali - A Saj Story

Oum Ali, in her native village Majdalzoum, baking saj bread

This is Oum Ali! I have known her for so many years. She is a wonderful woman who has inspired me and so many others. She is a fighter and has a beautiful story to share. Watch her short film, produced by Slow Food Beirut with film maker Nay Aoun (funded by USAID). The best way to tell a story these days is through video animation. This video is very special, as it portrays a small scale food producer, who against all odds, made a name for herself in Lebanon and around the world.

I live in my bubble in Lebanon, meaning I choose to see a facet that really matters to me. I have chosen to dedicate my life's work to promote such good people because finally they represent the real Lebanon. Authentic people from different communities who share the values of good, clean and fair foods. They express themselves through sharing the foods of their ancestors to keep our culinary heritage alive.

Oum Ali, is a mother, then she is a food producer... and that has made us connect in a special way. We understand the value of family and cook to express our love. The love does not have boundaries, as food is shared to all who have a deep respect for its significance. She has a big heart and will stay hours explaining why she chooses to cook or bake in a certain way. Generosity at its best.

Throughout my journey, the meeting of such good people has made all the difference. And it is important for me to share all that I have learned or have experienced with them... for I also believe that it is by giving to others that one can find true happiness in this world.