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My Board moniker is a colloquial transliteration of the Lebanese national dish, and I also have Lebanon in my DNA, so why not start a topic on Lebanon? On the one hand, it's a beautiful country of 6 million people, with mountains and coastline and forests and valleys. On the other hand, it's in a relatively bad neighborhood, surrounded by Syria to the north and east, Israel to the south, and Cyprus across the water to the west. Its capital is Beirut, long known as the Paris of the Middle East. Lebanon's history is painful, not only to Lebanese, but also to Americans. For 400 years, under the Ottoman Empire, it was part of greater Syria along with what is now Syria, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. When the Ottoman Turks joined with Germany in Word War I, the European allies began working behind the scenes to carve up the Middle East after the war. These colonial shenanigans, planned mostly in Paris and London, have given us today's map of the Middle East, with lines drawn in all the wrong places. Lebanon was one of those countries that was created by the European powers, and France was the nation that carved it out of Syria, drawing the borders such that 6 out of every 11 people within the borders were Christians. I could go into detail on the next century of pain and strife, including the bombings of our Marine barracks and two of our embassy complexes, but this is a food-related board. And Lebanon truly has a culinary history that may be second to none in the Middle East. The French influence was particularly responsible for the quality of today's Lebanese cuisine and wine. Chateau Musar is one of the world's great wines, and the national drink, arak (عرق), is an anise-flavored liqueur that compares with Turkish raki and Greek ouzo. It has found its perfect refinement in Lebanon's Al Massaya arak. For me, heaven is defined as kibbeh nayeh (كبة نيئة) accompanied by arak. Throw in some fresh-out-of-oven pita bread and a platter of fresh crunchy veggies and Lebanese pickles, and you have my final meal. If you're an American who loves good food, a few pieces of Lebanon's troubled history have conspired to bring us some delicious local meals. The French influence on the food, plus its Christian-mostly heritage, took the hardy fare of the Levant to a more delicate European finesse, along with delicious pairings of wines and cocktails. And the horrific civil war between Christians and Muslims in the mid-1970s brought us the like of Dory Abi-Najm, who, soon after his arrival, opened the little Lebanese Taverna in Arlington's Westover neighborhood in 1979. He has since doubled that little space by expanding into the next-door property, and there are now 6 sit-down restaurants, 4 cafes, and a market in the Lebanese Taverna empire. The arak tasting at Tysons Galleria is not to be missed. My signature picture on this site is the platter of kibbeh nayyeh that Gladys Abi-Najm prepared for Roberto Donna for his birthday. We are blessed in the Washington DC area to have some very good places to enjoy Lebanese cuisine. Lebanese Taverna is obviously one of them, and Me Jana in Arlington is at least its equal. Zaytinya also qualifies, although its menu blends most of the eastern Mediterranean, not just Lebanon. Mama Ayesha's downtown has faded a bit, but it has the best tradition of all. Bacchus in Bethesda is an honorable mention. Let us also not forget the impressive collection of Lebanese Americans who almost go unnoticed because they are truly Americans first and foremost. Helen Thomas, long the dean of the White House press corps, was a regular at Mama Ayesha's. Paul Anka, Danny Thomas, Casey Kasem, Ralph Nader, Joseph Abboud, Sammy Hagar, General John Abizaid, John Sununu, and hundreds of others who you know as Americans, and they derive their heritage from Lebanon.
"RIP Serge Hochar" by Jancis Robinson on jancisrobinson.com I doubt anyone in the history of the world has done more to promote the Carignan grape (which played a significant role in Chateau Musar's blend) than Serge Hochar.