Category Archives: Tasting the World

The Sounds and Colors of Marrakesh

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The pashmina obsession has not faded since my trip to Turkey in the spring, so I decided a trip to Morocco to refresh my pashmina stock was in order! Unfortunately, my camera was stolen in Barcelona the week after I went to Marrakesh so I lost all my photos but I really learned my lesson about backing up photos ASAP.

This visit was spent exploring the souks, buying wonderful pashminas, handmade gifts, and enjoying cheap and delicious Moroccan food. I also went on a tour to go visit some waterfalls outside of the city. Going back to the Arab world after I left Lebanon was like going back home. There were things that I was so excited to see and do again, and there were things that I knew would bother me so much. Being back in the chaos was exciting  – cars that don’t worry about the lack of roads, bartering with market men to drop the price to a 1/10 of what they quote, a dizzying array of meat and foods in the market, the pure heaven that is a hammam. The creepy/stalky men I didn’t miss at all, along with the rampant pollution and insane litter.

But at the end of the weekend, I had a fantastic time and can’t wait for my next chance to jump back into the Arab world!

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Tasting Turkey

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Ahh of course, food again. I had some crazy good food the week+ I spent in Turkey, and some I was not so crazy about as well. For started, Turkey doesn’t hold a candle up to Lebanon’s delicious yogurt, hummus, and olive oil. I was out of my element to actually have to ask waiters for olive oil instead of just having it on my table. It wasn’t nearly as good either. Nothing beats Lebanon’s labneh yogurt and the hummus…I don’t even want to talk about the hummus. Needless to say, I tried it once and didn’t touch it for the rest of the trip.

Alas, it is not all bad! In fact, most of it was pretty good. The breakfast buffets at the hostels were always delicious, filled with veggies, meats, cheese, thin yogurt and homemade jam to mix it with. Lunches and dinners consisted of a lot of meat and veggies, like the delicious pottery kebop, cooked until perfect tenderness and dripping with juices.

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Everything was amazing, I’m glad I spent more meals at actual restaurants then eating street food because it was totally worth it. The street meals were all pretty much the same thing, shawarma meat in different types of bread, somewhat bland and only handy if you’re on the run. Street snacks were better though, mussels, doughnuts, roasted chestnuts, watermelon, sooo much corn, cucumbers, and a bunch of other good, cheap stuff.

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Walking through the Spice Bazaar I also got to taste a lot of new things (the advantage of being a girl traveling with a girl, shop owners are so much more “welcoming” to you). Yummy string cheese, weird gummy fruit candies, Turkish Delights, strangely seasoned almonds, sticky sweet baklava, plus everything else people beckoned me to try. They really don’t take no for an answer.

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Then there’s the ice cream. Soooo much ice cream. I don’t know how I’ve never tried banana ice cream before, but I’ve been shown the light and it’s definitely one of my favorite flavors now. Turkey also a type of ice cream I’ve never heard of or seen before, called Maras. It’s tough to work with, kind of like taffy, and the guy who sells it to you practically has to wrestle it out of the container. Then it just sits there in the cup, not really melting or anything, and you can fling it all around and it’ll just stay there. I wasn’t in love with it, but it was pretty cool.

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Let’s not forget the Turkish Apple Tea! Now anyone who knows me knows how weird I am about drinks. I can’t stand coffee at all, I can be inside of a Starbucks for all of about 2 minutes before the smell is too strong for me and it grosses me out so I have to leave. Tea tastes like dirty, warm water to me. Ever since I gave up soda 3 years ago I’m totally turned off by it (except Guarana, but that’s a different story). When people find this out they ask me, bewildered, what I drink. Ummm…water? You know, the thing that makes up, what, 70% of your body? Yea you should try it sometime, it’s actually pretty good. And juice, the kind actually made from real fruits, not that processed sugar crap you buy in bottles and boxes from the grocery store that has maybe 5% of fruit juice concentrate, if you’re lucky.

Anyways, I’m getting off topic. Turkish apple tea is a gift from the heavens, deliciously warm and appley and sweet. It’s so completely different than tea, made from these little pellets that dissolve in hot water rather than leaves. It tastes a bit like warm apple cider, but different somehow. I’ve always wanted to like tea, it seems like such a soothing, warming drink, but I haven’t been able to get myself to drink the stuff until now. I wish I had bought more before I left, I’m almost through my entire supply.

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Enjoying tea after a long hard day of relaxation.

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Plus everywhere I went in Turkey I could find fresh orange and pomegranate juice! The guys have stalls or shops on the side of the road and juice fruits up right there, its fantastic. Call me spoiled, but living in Florida for such a long time with access to fresh squeezed orange juice nearly year round has made my taste so that I can’t even look at that gross grocery store stuff without cringing.

Now I’m hungry. I hope lunchtime is soon…

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Enjoying a nargile after tea, the Turkish way.

Tasting Lebanon: Dining with Kings and Queens

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When I heard of a restaurant in a “Disney castle” a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to try it. I missed my first chance when a few friends said they were going out for dinner there the week before but I was busy so I couldn’t make it. As it turns out, they couldn’t figure out where the mysterious castle was so they never made it. Then, on the bus ride back into Beirut from Baalbek a couple weekends ago, we spotted it on the Airport Street behind the Al Aytam Gas Station. Plans were arranged to go there the following week.

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The square and spring.

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The castle restaurant is called Assaha Lebanese Traditional Village (01 451 513), and it is not only a restaurant but a mini community with a classy hotel, shops in the courtyard, the restaurant, a museum and a health club. The food was spectacular as well. That night, we dined like kings and queens, ordering what seemed like one of everything on the menu and chowing down. Everything was delicious and fresh, from the giant platter of vegetables they gave us while we were waiting for our meals, to the fresh bakes bread that came right out of the oven to our table. The meat was tender and tasty and the dessert pudding was a perfect blend of sweet and spicy. I don’t remember the name of it, but apparently it is a dessert typically eaten when babies are born. I’d say that’s a good way to be brought into this world. They also serve narguile to your table, though we opted out this time.

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Our feast, half-demolished.

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Yummy soujuk and meat hummus.

After we finished up our long, leisurely dinner and paid the check (a major plus to eating with a lot of people, everyone’s cost goes way down), we went to explore the castle for a bit. It was pretty late at this point, so the whole place was dim and quiet. Small details that made the place so interesting was the indoor square surrounded by souks, a spring, narrow passageways, and a completely glass elevator. Exploring was fun but we eventually had to leave, though I will definitely remember Assaha for a nice group meal in the future, especially in the summer when the restaurant moves in the square and there are colorful flowers in bloom!

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Assaha also has similar locations around the world, such as London, Qatar, and Sudan. You can check them out at http://www.assahavillage.com.

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Tasting Lebanon: Fresh, Fresh, Fresh

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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.

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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.”

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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.

Tasting Lebanon: Bread Republic

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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…

Tasting Lebanon: Kebob in Bourj Hammoud

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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.