Monthly Archives: February 2012

Wining and Dining in the Bekaa Valley

Standard

This Sunday I took a tour with Alexis to the Bekaa Valley with Club Grappe to go taste the wines of four different Lebanese wineries. The Bekaa Valley is some of the most fertile land in Lebanon, dominated mostly by agriculture and producing the best wines the country has to offer.

So after a long night and less than three hours of sleep, we force ourselves up and over to the tour departure location by 9am, planning on catching a few extra minutes of sleep on the bus. The trip to the Bekaa took around two hours, though I’m sure it could have taken much less if the bus driver decided to go above 35 mph at any point of the journey…It was also during this journey that we realized this entire tour was going to be in Arabic. We decided to learn through wine rather than words. I think that plan worked out alright for us in the end.

P1110905

After a couple hours we arrived to the first winery, Cave Kouroum, a large vineyard and winery in the village of Kefraya on the Barouk Mountain. This winery is pretty new and modern, with their first vintage being only in 1988. They pride themselves in the quality of their wine and have won awards for it since their first year.

P1110959P1110937

Their entire production facility was located underground and the first floor is designated for tastings, with a beautiful, sunny courtyard in the middle of the building and rooms off showcasing their awards and wines. It was in one of these rooms that we had our tasting, though it was so warm outside I wish they would have set up tables out there for us to relax. Since the whole presentation was in Arabic we didn’t understand a single word, but a kind, fellow tourist noticed our lack of understanding and offered to give us a little idea of what was going on. Here we started with their rosé, the Rose d’Amour, then on to the reds, the Petit Noir and their Syrah. The Syrah was my least favorite, it had a peppery spice I did not really like, but the other two were quite good.

P1110924P1110913

I saw another bottle behind the bar that looked open but they weren’t giving out to everyone, the Miss Cat Vin Doux Muscat, and after asking a couple different people I got a taste. It was definitely the sweetest wine I’ve ever had and tasted like candy. Though delicious, I think it would be tough to commit to more than a glass or two of the stuff because it felt like my whole mouth was coated with sugar after only a few sips.

P1110957

Moving on to the next tour, we visited one of the most famous and respected wineries in Lebanon, Château Kefraya. Their facilities were even bigger than Kouroum’s and they’ve been around a bit longer, with their first vintage in 1979. Kefreya is one of the names that everybody in Lebanon recognizes, drinks, and loves. Their winery was beautiful and huge, perfect for skipping out of the tour and laying out in the warm sun.

P1110959P1110961

The woman who was translating some of the presentations for us mentioned how she didn’t like the wines at Kouroum nearly as much as those at Kefreya, but I actually found the opposite to be true for myself. The Kefreya ones were alright, we tried their Blan du Blancs, Vissi d’Arte, Myst rosé, and Vin Rouge, but none of them really stood out to be as something especially tasty and flavorful.

P1110970

At this point, it was only around 1pm and the energy of the crowd was noticeably lower. I guess we were not the only ones who had a long night. We got on the bus for a short trip to the next stop, a new microwinery in Jdita called Château Le Noble. This is one of the only wineries in the Middle East producing controversial “vins de garage,” which just refers to their non-traditional method of distillation. Here we finally got to sit down to a delicious lunch made of fresh French bread with plates of cheese and cold cuts, and of course, wine. All the food made the whole group happy, but also made the whole group even sleepier.

P1110986P1110988

After boarding the bus again, the tour guide only had to take one look at us and realized there was really no point in the last winery on the tour. We made the trip pack to Beirut in a sleepy silence, a start contrast to the jolliness and noise of the drive up to the Bekaa. Even though we never made it to the last destination, I think it was still a fun trip and worth it, though I would have definitely preferred if they gave us the bottle of wine during the tour rather than coupons to bring to their Club Grappe’s new wine bar to exchange for our bottles.

Advertisements

Tasting Lebanon: Fresh, Fresh, Fresh

Standard

One thing I’m definitely loving here is the availability and spread of super fresh ingredients everywhere. And you don’t have to pay a premium for it either! In fact, it’s cheaper to buy fresh food here than something frozen or canned, the opposite standard than in the United States. Last week, I bought easily three weeks worth of completely fresh vegetables and fruits (they were just delivered to the grocer less than an hour before I went there) for only $16. I would have not even been able to get nearly this much worth at a typical supermarket in Boston and the quality and selection is even better.

This past Saturday I went to a free brunch at Plan Bey showcasing the products of Tata Marie. Tata Marie uses all natural and local ingredients she grows mostly herself, with no preservatives or dyes, to create over 40 different food products and soap in her own kitchen. Her products are based on traditional Syrian recipes from the Levant region and she follows the harvests and seasons to create the freshest and tastiest foods. For us to try she had a bunch of different honeys, nectars, juices, spreads, and cheese, just a small taste of what she makes.

P1110625P1110627

To go with Tata Marie’s foods, Plan Bey had a huge buffet spread of a huge assortment of Lebanese snacks, breads, fruit salads, yogurt, and cakes. The space itself was an art gallery and bookstore, so we could browse through limited edition prints from Lebanese photographers and read their hilarious “non-occasional cards.”

P1110623P1110624

It’s going to be quite an adjustment going back to Boston now that I’m getting used to having all the freshest and highest quality fruits and veggies available to me at a fraction of the cost. I’ll definitely miss it, which means I’ll definitely be taking advantage of it while I’m here.

LOLing in Hamra

Standard

When my roommate asked me if I wanted to go see a contemporary dance I was definitely hesitant, contemporary dance has never been my then. Then she mentioned it was free and I figured, why not? I’ve got nothing to lose. And as it turns out I’m happy I made it out there because the experience was definitely worth trekking all the way over to the Babel Theater in Hamra. Hidden underground, this theater is around 5 years old and feels very clean and contemporary inside. According to their website, they are “dedicated to support and develop the concept of civil society free of violence, fanaticism, and discrimination” through the shows and concerts they host. They also have a completely non-political and non-religious stance, giving people a neutral space to express their creativity and engage in non-judgmental expression and discussion.

LOL (Lots of Love) by Protein Dance was a funny, energized, and relevant production about our lives now in the digital age that fit right into the theater and crowd. The show is a collection of stories of individuals trying to find love online with dancing and sounds effects that mesh together really well to show how the extra layers between individuals muddles the communication so much. The stories are mostly told through dialogue, with a single character tells the audience about their attempt to use online dating, Facebook, email, everything, to find new friendships or romance. While they’re telling their stories, they are being tossed about and manipulated onstage by another one of the dancers, who could represent either the technology itself or the person with whom they are communicating, but my guess is toward the tech.

Two stories told stand out to my attention as being specifically memorable and telling a lot about what the rise of online platforms of communication and relationships are doing to people’s heads. One guy tells the story of a guy he met up with online, Darren, who introduced him to new feelings and situations when they met up in real life. During the story, the audience can clearly see how this guy just doesn’t want to see the reality, that Darren is probably gay and thought he was out on a date, while this guy just thinks he’s meeting some new guy friend through Facebook. It’s only after he remembers that his profile says he’s “open to new experiences” do we see an inkling of realization, which he quickly squashes because it would ruin his entire perception of his relationship with this cool new guy he met.

Another woman tells her story through a series of emails she sends to the first and only man who responds to her online dating profile. Though his first email was likely a generic introduction, the same he would send to any other woman he approached on the website, she took his attention desperately like a woman dying of thirst and built up such enormous expectations in the face of what seems to be pretty obvious lies and cop-outs on his part. She goes crazy waiting to hear back from him, since obviously now that all communication can happen instantly there is no reason why he can’t respond ASAP.

At points all the dancers join to throw each other around to a background of clicking keyboard noises and sent IMs, lost in the whirl of the world wide web. On the screens behind the dancers we could see their webcam interactions with mysterious online strangers, having dinner “together” or giving a tour of their apartment. Overall, it presented a very __ perspective of the way our relationships have changed through countless new technologies that have sprung up to help us communicate better in a funny and thoughtful way.

There were definitely points in the dialogues during the performance that would not fly in a typical, conservative Middle Eastern crowd, but looking around the audience it was nice to see a mature, intellectual bunch that could enjoy a good laugh. I suppose this is what people say when they call Beirut the most “cosmopolitan” city in the Middle East. The openness of the people and culture here, their joy for life and living in the moment, really allows this type of outspoken and, at times, risqué art scene to thrive.

Tasting Lebanon: Bread Republic

Standard

Since before I even got here, I’ve been hearing about Bread Republic in so many places online and it sounded cool so I finally made it over there this week. Located in a small alleyway off Hamra Street, Bread Republic has a nice patio area outside and what looked to be a pretty decently sized indoor eating area (I never made it in, it was so nice out we sat on the patio). The place looked to be a hipster heaven, in the nicest way possible of course, and I was just happy to have some non-pita/baguette bread for the first time in over a month.

This place serves all day breakfast, specializing in, you guessed it, bread. It’s also a member of Slow Food Lebanon, which means all their ingredients are sourced locally using environmentally sustainable production methods. Slow Food is a grassroots organization founded back in the 80’s in Italy, when community members decided it was time to fight back against the fast food culture that is taking advantage of farmers and taking a toll on the health of our bodies and our planet.

To begin with, the menu looked awesome. There were a lot of different choices for every meal of the day, including quite a bit of seafood, which I have yet to see here. I settled on some kebbeh stuffed with labneh and thyme (delicious) and a warm beef, cheddar, and beet sandwich. Though the huge chunks of beet were a bit much for me, after I took them out the sandwich was fantastic with the beet flavor backing it up.

I think I’ll definitely be going back to Bread Republic, maybe for breakfast next time, especially considering there’s a location within 20 minutes walking from me. Maybe Sunday brunch…

Makin’ Moves

Standard

Now that I’m back to working full time, sitting in an office all day everyday makes me so tired I need to find some physical activity to wake me up. I’m too restless to not be moving around a lot and since I’m definitely not as active here as I’m used to being in Boston (if only because I was always on the move) I decided yoga would be a good thing to get into. So I went and found a studio that’s right in-between work and home and went to a class there to test it out. And boy was that a good decision. Immediately after the class my whole body, especially my back that has been on a mission to cause me endless discomfort, felt so noticeably better. And the next day the improvement only increased. I’m glad now I have something to keep me occupied, active, and stretching around on a regular basis.

Also, I finally made it out to The Angry Monkey on Wednesday with the fellow Northeastern co-op in Beirut, Alexis. Apparently Wednesday night is the best night to go because of the live cover band, which was playing all our favorite songs from way back in the middle school years, so that was definitely a cool throwback. The band was pretty talented too, especially the lead singer. Overall, it was a pretty fun night, though the entertainment did end a bit on the early side.

The weekend was quite relaxing, spent sleeping in, walking around outside enjoying the warm weather (finally!) and exploring the neighborhood. A couple nights spent out in Hamra really showed me the differences between the two “nightlife hotspots” of the city (Gemmayze and Hamra), in the options, the people, the energy, and how much easier it is to find a cab in Hamra. The influence of having at least two major universities right in the neighborhood, as well as a much larger international student population in Hamra, manifested itself when we watched an obviously trashed girl stumble out the bar to go throw up on the side of the road with her girlfriends all totter out in their sky-high heels right behind to take care of her. I almost felt like I was back in Boston on a Thursday/Friday/Saturday night again. Gemmayze seems a lot more tame and grown-up by comparison, though maybe I just haven’t seen enough of the two yet to judge.

Either way, at least I know now Beirut has some interesting variety.

Tasting Lebanon: Kebob in Bourj Hammoud

Standard

This week I ventured into Bourj Hammoud, one of the major Armenian communities in Beirut where most of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide rebuilt their lives after the death marches in Syria, with a Lebanese-Armenian friend for what I would learn was going to be the hands-down, most delicious kebob I’ve ever had in my life. Along with the most mind-blowing lamb that’s ever been created on this planet. We sat down and enjoyed a very Lebanese meal, starting with a delicious hommos and salad, some stuffed eggplant and peppers, and accompanied with the traditional eastern-Mediterranean spirit Arak. Though my friend loved his Arak with his meal, I found it a little too sweet and liquorice-y for my taste.

I’m glad he warned me not to eat too much at that point though, because the hommos was so delicious I wouldn’t have stopped on my own. Next we had two huge plates of meat and chicken, one that had a nice spice and red sauce on the pita and the other with skewers of meat and pita stuffed with fresh seasonings to scoop it up. By the time we finished these plates we were both nearly comatose from full bellies when the server put down one last plate on the table. On it was the most succulent, flavorful lamb chops I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Just remembering it now is making me drool a little and causing my stomach to growl.

As a perfect finale, I was introduced to the “fruit cocktail” for the first time. There are so many fruit and juice shops around Beirut and I only ever went into one before to get some fresh kiwi juice, but never even thought about this mysterious fruit cocktail I saw on the menu for each one. As it turns out, fruit cocktails are quite an interesting thing, with little collections of fruits, fruit mousses and puddings, nuts and wafer-thin cookies arranged nicely in a clear cup so you can see all the colorful layers. We saved ours for later since neither of us could imagine taking another bite of food, and finally tasting it was a perfect late-night treat. Unfortunately I didn’t even think of getting pictures of anything that night, but I’ll try to think of that in the future.

Needless to say, I think I found a gem. I’m going to have to try to go back sometime soon so I can cement the location right off the major road in Bourj Hammoud in my memory for future excursions.