Being a good host is something of a lost art. Hospitality refers to the relationship between a guest and a host, wherein the host receives the guest with goodwill, including the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.
Eat, drink…enjoy it all…
It has been a long week, we have worked much
And we sang songs to see us through the demands of it all.
Lebanese pastries are a pure delight. Originally, our ethnic pastries used to be very sweetened. Today, and since a decade or so, they are made with lesser sugar. Lebanese sweets are a landmark in our country’s culinary journey, and are among the best in our region and have landed a world renowned fame for some families who have been in the business for generations.
The sweetest aspects of the Middle East would have to be its world-famous desserts, often characterized by their rich syrupy taste, nuts, and lack of cream. Knefeh bil jibin, one of my favorite desserts, is a cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, typical of the regions. It is a specialty of the Levant.
We watched the wild flowers grow on the mountain and plains of Lebanon. The flowers grew, as did we. As years passed we grew apart. The flowers left to wither, we both planted timid seeds. New soil in different weather, somehow we both found our way back home. As winter passes by, I watch them bloom with power, only to be detached from the earth they grew strong from.
Italians and pasta connoisseurs beware this post is definitely not for you. In Lebanon, we tend to lebanify food and sayings that belong to other cultures, yet are very much part of our every day fabric. Words like chérie, become charchoura, to google a word we say gawgela. At dinner parties sushi cake ingeniously feeds a big number of guests. In a very friendly way we reply Bonjourein (two bonjours) when one greets us with a bonjour. We say things like “angaret ma3eh” which is derived from the word anger, meaning I got really angry, to express how we feel. We say “sachwaret sha3reh” (from the word séchoir, meaning I just had a blow dry). There are so many words and things that are part of our cultural, colonial, and historical background and are now so quintessentially Lebanese.
Labneh (strained yogurt) is a daily food in the Lebanese diet and known by everyone and mainly eaten at breakfast. Go deeper in the country, into the Bekaa Valley or the Shouf Mountains, and another delicacy will unfold made in a terra-cotta bowl (labnet al jarra), where baladi and shami goats are respectively the main grazing animals that produce it.
There is something about festivities that render the air around our household full of joy mixing with the aromas of butter, sugar, rose water and nuts, as the smell dissipates from the kitchen into the rest of the house. Religious traditions and love of family become the essence of the month of March. Ma’amoul are the holiday cookie par excellence in this part of the world; every family has the designated maamoul maker and in mine we luckily have my mother who would make them and decorate them by hand. These light golden crumbly sweets are very popular in the Middle East, and although they are particularly associated with festivals, it is not uncommon to find ma’amoul around the house at other times as well.
Za’atar is a blend with deep historical and emotional roots. The smell is strong but not hot, rich but sharp, lemony and a little earthy. Za’atar has an amazing and unique flavor that is aromatic, and tangy at the same time. Eaten in the Middle East for centuries, Za’atar has a fascinating history. The word refers both to the alluring spice mixture that you eat at home, and to the wild oregano. It’s been part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years.
Things we never thought
Thoughts we never think
Things we put behind
Things we never find
Things we never forget
Never wondering why
Times that we forget
And things we burry behind
Things that we miss
Are easily found
Things we never hide are our
Heritage, Roots, and Pride
Youmna Medlej is a photojournalist born in 1956. She studied photography in France and started making reportages on geographic and historical landmarks upon her return to Lebanon, as a way for Lebanese to rediscover their country after the war. But it was during her participation in Solidere’s excavations in the early 1990s that she discovered and developed her passion for heritage and archeology. At the time, the market was virtually devoid of heritage-oriented material. She thus resolved to introduce the young and old readers to the most prominent cultural and historic icons of their country.