Burj Hammoud: treasure trove of culinary delights

BURJ HAMMOUD, Lebanon: Inside the bustling, densely populated narrow streets of Beirut’s Armenian quarters, true culinary gems, each one more enticing than the next, have existed since the Caucasus population fled Ottoman tyranny to safer, less oppressive realms.

The industrial district of Burj Hammoud, northeast of the capital, is not merely home to Lebanon’s Armenian community or migrant workers from Asia and Africa; it is a treasure trove of cultures and culinary traditions.

Scratching beneath the surface, scents of sumac, cumin and garlic mix with those of caramel and vanilla in almost every corner of Burj Hammoud.

Lebanon’s Armenians develop their skills to the point of perfection; they’ll prepare their legendary sujok sausages and basterma meat with the same passion and dexterity as when they create the fine jewelry they are known for.

Crimson-red sausages and cured meat coated with pungent spices hanging next to window displays of flashy jewelry are not completely unfamiliar sights, since in Burj Hammoud, meat retailers, jewelers and other craftsmen perfectly cohabit.

The district’s sujok and basterma can be tasted fresh because in the past decade or two several butchers started sandwich sections.

Mano's fusion shawarma sujok is a mix between the traditional shawarma and the sujok sausages. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
The Basterma Mano deli on Municipality Street has been the most creative in the field. In addition to traditional specialties such as sujok and basterma sandwiches, Mano borrowed the concept of shawarma and came up with the succulent fusion shawarma sujok, which is served in Lebanese bread on a bed of finely sliced tomatoes and topped with sour wild cucumber pickles.

To extend the Mano experience, think of buying sliced to order basterma from their retail section as well as some old-fashioned golden sandwich bread, “khibz franji” from the Veronna Bakery in close-by Dora for a garlicky dinner the next day.

Mossis is another venue offering a wide range of sandwiches with an Armenian twist. Located on the inner road linking Burj Hammoud to Dora, Mossis is famous for its spicy, paper-thin meat on dough known as lahm baajin, which is rendered even tastier by a squeeze of lemon on top, as well as for its comforting chicken and celery amuse bouche.

Mossis’ roast beef, beef tongue and basterma sandwiches are also widely popular for their taste, which is reminiscent of old times when sandwiches did not drown in an overgenerous slosh of mayonnaise.

If you’re not offered vanilla-scented sweet dumplings with your sandwich at Mossis, make sure to remind the staff about the crunchy deep-fried tubular desert – a real enchantment to the taste buds.

But what about real Armenian home food? Fulfilling dishes such as eetch, the hot version of Lebanese tabbouleh, or manti, the spicy ground lamb mixture in a dough wrapper soaked in garlic yogurt with a generous sprinkle of sumac on top, and sou boreg, the buttered phyllo pastry with a melted cheese filling.

Typical Armenian cuisine, the kind of food you’d have at the home of an Armenian friend, is not served in the capital’s well-known Armenian restaurants but rather in the minuscule low-key chophouses hidden in the maze-like backstreets of Burj Hammoud.

Karnigue Nigolian and his devoted commis/waiter Raffy have been feeding their customers authentic Armenian specialties at the charming 30-seat Restaurant Onno on Aghabios Street facing Sabtieh Church since 1990.
Chillies and other dried vegetables are hung in the Marash Market to make delicious Armenian dishes. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

Nigolian, who goes by the nickname Onno, is particularly strict when it comes to reservations, due to the dimensions of his two-story restaurant, decorated with snapshots of pre-Civil War Downtown Beirut.

Onno’s fairly priced menu includes items hailing from Armenian and Lebanese mezze and a lot of arak, of course – the anise spirit is dearly cherished in both cultures.

The fiery chef is especially proud of his sweet and savory kebab bi karaz (cherry kebab), which he serves up with toasted nuts and fried bread.

Onno, in fact, nails the recipe: The gooey dark red cherry chutney is satisfyingly sweet and the lamb kebab tender and juicy.

Onno confides that he shops for his meat, vegetables and most of the remaining ingredients inside Burj Hammoud. One street in particular will definitely delight every foodie.

Souk Marash is the home of spices and other materials required to concoct flavorsome Armenian and other cuisine.

Bulk spices and seasonings, and also dried fruits, nuts and candy are displayed on stands throughout the packed market, which is located parallel to Arax Street, Burj Hammoud’s shopping hub.

The Marash Market will delight every foodie. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
At the spacious Bann Garo store right in the middle of Marash, dried black cherries, an essential ingredient for kebab bi karaz, are sold, but also a wide variety of cayenne pepper, chilli paste, and walnuts to make the piquant muhamara dip.

Sweet sujok, the Armenian version of the Lebanese malban sweet, is a bestseller at Bann Garo too.

Sold on wooden skewers, the sweet sujoks can be the perfect ending to a culinary journey in Burj Hammoud. The caramel-scented sweets are made with grape molasses, flavored with rose water and mastic and stuffed with a variety of nuts, including walnuts and pistachios.

And just like Burj Hammoud was once a comforting refuge for newcomers, in Marash, one is likely to find comforting infusions and herbal teas to calm the indigestion incurred after a heavy meal in the lively district that never fails to enchant inhabitants and visitors alike.

Source: DailyStar

Bourj Hammoud - A Busy Town Longing to Breathe

Bourj Hammoud

A Busy Town Longing to Breathe

2010 has been declared the International Year of Biodiversity. The Armenians have also chosen this year to be the Year of the Woman.

The two vital elements, the female and biodiversity, are important pillars of the existence and development of all kinds of life on our planet: the female creates and shapes lives; biodiversity ensures the sustainability of life. It is these two important facts that are behind the grand decision of the Bourj Hammoud artisans to celebrate and participate in the Garden Show & Spring Festival 2010.
Nature, much like a fertile woman, carries the secret and the power to generate life. The interactions between factors that transfuse life into nature play an important role in regenerating life and ultimately in the preservation of the biodiversity. This requires the protection of animal and plant species as well as the sustainable development of cities, while also respecting the cultural heritage of such life.

With the rapid expansion and development of Bourj Hammoud and its neighboring areas, almost all the cultivated green areas – the wild plants and large trees, such as mulberry – have all but disappeared. The blue of the sea and the flowing river have been shunned from the urban landscape. The area itself has become densely populated and human activity in all of its guises, from coastal industries to urban decay and traffic, has imposed negatively upon the environment. Yet, the area itself and its people have managed to retain an atmosphere of hospitality.
To this very backdrop and keeping in mind the very people for whom it is responsible, the Municipality of Bourj Hammoud has adopted the following action plan:
• Reintroduction of nature into the city by creating playgrounds for children, planting the sidewalks and the beautification of central squares.
• Establishing a sustainable development strategy that addresses socio-economic and environmental issues.
• Development of a comprehensive master plan for the seafront and the coastal area to avoid the development of polluting industries and to provide quality public spaces for leisure, cultural and touristic activities to the inhabitants of the region.
In this spirit, our exhibition area at The Garden Show & Spring Festival 2010 emphasizes the importance of factors which contribute to the preservation of biodiversity. It includes spaces for animal and vegetal world as well as the cultural heritage of Bourj Hammoud district which carries aesthetic and moral values and is where the Armenian woman acquires an essential place.

Arpi Mangassarian
Chief of Technical & Urban Planning Office
Bourj Hammoud Municipality

Why I Live in Beirut; or Random Acts of Kindness

This story has a point. (Although it may take a while before I get to it).

Every morning, I walk my daughter to school. I enjoy the early Beirut, and my daughter entertains me with interesting stories and millions of questions about life and other things during the half-hour walk to school.

I live in a neighborhood with lots of schools. There are two universities, two international schools and a large number of local Lebanese schools, all within walking distance. And so, every morning, when I walk with my daughter, I cross the path of many other children, and parents with children, also on their way to school.

This morning, my daughter had no school, and so I walked alone.

First I was stopped at the girls’ school around the block by a group of teenagers whom I did not know.
“Wain el princessa, tante?” they asked (Where’s the princess, aunty?) , and I explained that she was at home because she had no school today. I continued my way.

Then, a few blocks later, I was stopped again by the husband of a colleague, out on his daily training run.
“I see you’re missing some of the troops,” he said jokingly, and so I explained that my daughter had no school today. I continued my way.

And finally, a little further, I was stopped by a father (quite a handsome one because I secretly ogle him every morning) with a young boy and a girl, who I meet every morning walking in the opposite direction. We’ve never talked or even said hello.
“Bintik mareed?” he asked (Is your daughter sick?). No, I replied, she just has no school today.

And I continued my way.

And I thought about a conversation a Dutch friend and I had some days ago about the changes in Dutch society. You may not have read it, but the senseless violence is on the rise in the otherwise so peaceful nation of Holland. People are getting beaten up for no reason on a daily basis, it seems. This conversation came up because we tried to understand the motifs of a man, who out of the blue sky, ran through a crowd of spectators in order to try and kill/harm the Dutch queen on Queens Day. Eight people died, the royal family in shock (and more popular than ever, it seems), celebrations cancelled, and a nation wondering why on earth a man would do something like that? What for? What was the point?

My friend contributed it to the growing harshness of Dutch society. I think it is our individualism. We hold our individualism very high. But in order to ensure that, we need to have lots of privacy. And to make sure you get your privacy, you need people not to mind your business. We in Holland are – in fact -trained so well not to mind anybody’s business that it has turned into carelessness, because we only care about our own business.

For instance, this gentleman (who attempted to harm the queen and killed 8 people, including himself while doing it) lived in a dormitory where he always ate on his own. He cooked in the communal kitchen, but then took his dish to his room and ate on his own. Can you imagine that in Lebanon? If you really want a quiet meal, do not show your face 3 hours before and 3 hours after dinner time. If you do however show up on someone’s doorsteps within that time period, chances are you are forced to sit down and made to eat. Together. With other people. There is no ‘alone time’ in this place.

Here in Lebanon people do not belief too much in privacy. I have had acquaintances, not family or friends, no, distant acquaintances ask me when I am planning on getting pregnant again, because “a woman of your age…”, tell me that they know an excellent Botox doctor for me because “it would really improve your looks,”, and whether I have contemplated lifting my neck line, because really, “you could be so pretty…”
A Dutch friend of mine once walked with her elderly (and rather wrinkled) mother past a pharmacy here in Beirut, when the owner came out of the story with a jar of anti-wrinkle cream. “Just what YOU need!” he said. You wouldn’t dare say that in Holland.

But because of the lack of privacy, there is not much room for individualism. And although I am sure this has its draw backs, it does have its advantages. We (in Lebanon) do not experience these random acts of violence. Like school shootings (US, Germany, Finland), men barging into day care centers slaughtering toddlers (Belgium), and sending people bomb letters. It never gets to that point because we stick our noses into everybody’s business, no matter how annoying this may be at times. And thus people are never left feeling alone. Abandoned. Because everybody cares, or at least give the impression that they care.

You’ll probably laugh by now. What? No violence in Lebanon? Yes, we do have our car bombs, and shootings. But they are organized by ‘powers high up’. By governments, or organizations, or movements. These are not random acts cooked up by a loner with the simple goal to make himself known before he steps out of this world. Our acts of violence have a political gain, are part of a political game. That doesn’t make it any less painful for the innocent people that succumb to the bombings. But at least we understand why.

These random acts of violence within the Dutch society are often without an explanation. And if there is an explanation, it is so trivial, so useless, so stupid.

Now what was my point, you wonder?

Lebanon is a society with an immense amount of troubles. Dutch problems probably pale in comparison. But what we do have in this place are the thousands Random Acts of Kindness you experience.
Like the strangers in the street, stopping me and asking me about my daughter. People here care.

And so this morning I was reminded again of why I live in Beirut.

Source: http://sietske-in-beiroet.blogspot.com