Driving in the city, under the scorching sun, we stop at an assuming little ice cream shop on the ground floor of a rundown building carrying bullets that echo of a past life that reverberates of times where bombs ripped the city’s skies. Echoes that no one hears anymore amongst the city’s cacophony of sounds.
A fading sign, written in Arabic, hangs askew outside the door. The shop has never closed its doors since it opened in 1949, when Hanna Moussa first opened it. It didn’t close its doors during the savage days of the civil war, serving ice cream and sweet treats when war’s bitterness was the only taste left to those who remained. This work ethics is reflected not only in his presence amongst his neighborhood but in the quality and care he puts serving the most delicious of ice cream.
Hanna, the father, called his shop Al Salam Sweets after the football team, Al Salam that used to train nearby. This same team still plays today in Zghorta. He became so famous for his ice cream, that people started calling the shop by his name Hanna Mitri. Although Hanna passed away and his son Mitri now has taken over the shop, if you ask people on the streets of Achrafieh about the location to Hanna’a shop, you will surely be directed to this little sweet shop in the heart of it.
Hanna and now his son Mitri have been making ice cream single-handedly for more than sixty years, in the same tiny space right next door to his equally tiny shop, using antiquated equipment. theirs is a real family operation with Mitri’s mom helping at home pick the pistachios clean of any broken shells or other debris and so on. The ice cream they make is typical Arab ice cream, without any eggs or even cream. Some flavors such as the plain milk and pistachios are thickened with the finest salep (ground from dried orchis tubers) from Turkey whereas the fruit ones are made with real seasonal fruit. And in winter, he supplements the slow ice cream trade with the most delicious ma’mul (walnut or pistachio Easter cookies), a’rass bil-tamr (date Easter cookie), sfouf (turmeric sponge cake) and nammurah (syrupy sponge cake).
There are eight original flavorsof ice cream, four milk-based and four sorbets. Other then the pistachio and milk, there is the deep Chocolate flavor, and croquant, one of my personal favorites, which is milk ice cream with crunchy homemade almond brittle.
The sorbets are the sweet fragrant rosewater; fresh strawberry, the zesty lemon; and the honeyed apricot flavor with pine nuts, another one of my favorites. Also depending on the season, you will find the most wonderfully rich toot, mulberry, flavor.
There is something about the Moussas that sets them apart, and that is their unbaiting passion for their work and their unquestionable commitment to the quality of both their ice cream and their other confections, which they bake, in an oven that is almost as old as its neighborhood. No matter the years that have gone by, this ice cream handed down from one generation to the next is still made in the same way. In a world where life, shops, and almost everything is constantly changing and remodeling, there stands this tiny ice cream shop unbothered, proud of itself, proud of what it serves, beautiful and unique in its humble charm.
For the Moussas because life is always better with ice cream…