Let’s start with what’s important. I love my country, despite its flaws. I chose to live here and no one forced me to do so. I love its warmth, its people and everything truly feels like home. I won’t lie; there are times all I wish for is to pack my bags and move to a better place. Today is supposed to be one of those times, but it isn’t. I admit here and now that I’m confused. I’m scared of more rain – where instead of embracing the smell of the earth, we’ll be fighting for breath, I’m scared of History of diseases repeating itself, I’m scared of oh-so-many things but I’ll be fighting anxiety today, tomorrow and as long as it takes for us to retrieve even a tiny bit of our dignity. It is no longer a choice. Amidst the horror of what is going on, I still have hope for a better future. Some may think it is naïve, I think it is a start. We owe it to our ancestors whose Lebanon was heaven on earth, we owe it to ourselves whose Lebanon is too hard to let go, we owe it to our children whose Lebanon should be the best place to be.
To remind everyone why we’ll keep on fighting, and in light of this article, here are 20 things about Beirut.
1) How everything seems to function against all odds – yes, we do have uber, online shopping and food delivery at all times.
2) The familiarity – most of the time, people are willing to help, smile and ask about your day.
3) How the trends blend in with the old – the Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze neighborhoods are the perfect examples.
4) The sunsets.
5) Life at night – where all the city lights are on, people are out and it smells like happiness.
6) Cab drivers (although not all of them) – they have the best stories.
15) The wide choice of things to do – you can go have coffee, take a cooking class, have dinner by the sea or happy hour drinks, there’s always somewhere to go and someone to see.
16) The vegetable/fruit shops on every corner.
17) The rooftops.
18) The view on the giraffes at the port.
19) The coffeeshops, pubs and other warm and familiar places – to mention a few: urbanista, dar bistro, papercup, bar tartine, kayan, Vintage shop (and their wine tasting), Paul gemmayze, st. elmo’s, Moto, sporting beach club, and so many more.
20) Eternal Hope.
People who live in Beirut, and those of you who have visited, it would be awesome if you could post in the comment section below one thing you love about this city! That way, we can look at the full part of the glass 😉
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A few weeks ago, after watching CNNGo’s report on Beirut, I contacted Cyrille Najjar and asked if I could see him for a chat. He gladly accepted and it was fun to talk about food with such a talented Designer. Cyrille is the CEO of White Sur White, “a multi-disciplinary Architecture and innovation agency sitting at the intersection of architecture, technology, and materials”. Not only does White Sur White work on Architecture and interior design projects, but they also create products that go beyond beautiful aesthetics and target the needs of everyone from musicians, to travelers, to home owners.
We met in Cyrille’s office in Sodeco where the décor inspires designers to work creatively. The office is not too far from the workshop, which is in Ashrafieh as well and makes 600 square meters of space for infinite creativity. There, Cyril organizes workshops, sublets it for events by big magazines and companies and lets creativity unleash itself. Cyrille started by giving me a large idea of the projects and products he worked on and that came into life. He started by telling me about his passion for music (guitar to be more specific), how he worked on the design of music instruments and their customization for singers, dancers and musicians.
He adapted music instruments to the body moves of dancers, fabricated microphones for opera singers with the help of Corinne Metni, and helped a violinist make the most of his talent by creating a violin around which he would feel at ease.
A solar suitcase was also created by Cyrille to no longer count on the generator at home.He also created products for Mothercare, for Hemiplegics, for Haute Couture, Lighting and Kitchens. I suggest you daydream on this link to know more.
Cyrille actually started his career by studying law at USJ. After thinking about it, he realized he liked it, but loved the world of Design and Architecture way more, so he made the switch. He continued with a Masters in Interior Architecture at ALBA Beirut and went on with Product Design in the Royal College of Art in London. And because he wanted to teach younger generations what he learnt, he finished with a teaching degree at Central St. Martins in London. After teaching at ALBA, he is now happily passing on his wisdom to LAU students.
How does Cyrille get inspired? It’s a combination of desire and needs. Whether it’s his needs or the needs of his clients, Cyrille beautifully fulfills them. He created his own solar energy system at home because he needed it, he confectioned Avo’s violin because Avo needed it to show the world the best he could do. Most of the time, clients come to him with a need.
Which takes us to what Cyrille has to say on Design in Lebanon. For him, it’s more of a luxury, which has its beauty. But it will eventually get more need-oriented as this is what should be done in a country that has countless needs to fulfill.
About cooking and travel
Cyrille loves cooking and is a BBQ fan at heart. He’s not yet found a need to fulfill in this area and has currently all the kitchen tools he needs in his “vastly furnished” kitchen. For him, kitchenware has really evolved over time. Quoting Cyrille, we’ve been eating for so long that we’re fine! As for the dishes he cooks, he keeps things simple with meat, chicken, fish, pasta, etc.
When it comes to travel, he does that all the time, but there’s one thing he has not yet fulfilled when it comes to this area: the Byron burger in Lebanon 😉 As far as Cyrille is concerned, his favorite burger in the world needs to be recreated in his country. The subject of travel immediately led us to talk about the good food in the big cities and countries of the world: Paris, London, New York, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Belgium for beer only.
His guilty pleasure is British food! As much as it surprises people, Cyrille views British food as going beyond beans and sausages. For him, it’s more about the homemade and the comfort food for a cold British weather and lifestyle.
Cyrille is also a big Philosophy fan. His book pleasures revolve around Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Heidegger. When he needs something light, it’s comics he turns to.
Here’s a video of 10 fast questions with Cyrille Najjar for you to get a glimpse of one of Beirut’s most terrific Designers. Enjoy 🙂
Selling points: SMO gallery, Platform39, National Museum, Urbanista.
Every culture has its own way of interpreting one dish. They all add their twists and spices, making it particular to their tastes and habits. Restaurants too have to gratify the palate of the people they are serving. One thing I’ve noticed about Italian restaurants in Beirut is that they add crème fraîche to a lot of their pasta sauces. Almost all Italian people I’ve met are quickly revolted by the act of adding cream to pasta sauces. They also consider the use of a spoon to roll your spaghetti as a disgrace. But here in Beirut, it is considered to be the proper practice of eating Italian food. Where did these habits come from you ask? From restaurants, of course. Who started it? I think it’s a chicken and egg type of story.
But it’s safe to say that the way the Lebanese have adapted Italian food has somewhat strayed away from the original cuisine. So because we can’t go to Rome everyday (check out 20 Things about Rome), we’ve been on a quest for ‘real’ Italian restaurants in Beirut.
My judgment of ‘what makes a restaurant Italian’ is personal but of credible experience. I’ve been to Italy a lot, read about their food, talked to people and been in their kitchens, cooked a carbonara and more with them, and visited their restaurants accompanied by locals.
In my mind, the ones that serve the famous spritz or bellini have the knowledge, the ones that serve dishes cooked with fresh ingredients have the quality, and the ones that present the place and the dish well have the honesty and authenticity.
There are many criteria that can lead you to judge a restaurant as being typically Italian and accordingly, I’ve ranked the top 10 I’ve tried in Beirut, keeping in mind that all of their menus contain dishes adapted to the taste of the Lebanese audience (hospitality rules oblige).
Harry’s Bar is my recent favorite. It is THE place to fine-dine, enjoy great wine and beautiful dishes. The staff is extremely friendly and knowledgeable. The sommelier recommends excellent wine and the service is the most professional I’ve seen in a while. When it comes to the food, you won’t regret one bite of it. Apart from being exceptionally tasty, every dish is carefully crafted and full of colors. The presentation clearly reflects their recent Michelin Star touch. Don’t hesitate to go there for a nice, romantic dinner or even for a business lunch, where you’ll find a set menu for the circumstance. Make sure to try their Fleur de Courgettes with ricotta cheese, beef carpaccio, beetroot risotto and panna cotta. An unforgettable Italian experience in the heart of Beirut.
When walking into Totò, you’re struck by the simple yet uplifting décor. The way they managed to give an identity to the place while keeping the original charm of this old house is admirable. Waiters and staff are not only nice and helpful in your choice of dishes, but they also have a sense of humor. Their seafood risotto is one that I won’t forget. I also love their pizzas and their Totò Express concept upstairs for a more relaxed dinner experience or for takeaway and pizza night at home.
Every time I visit Rome, I go to my favorite place (Vicolo 88) for an absolutely delicious Spaghetti al Vongole. In my mission to find it in Beirut, it’s at Marinella that I discovered one very close to the taste I never forget. The interior is refreshing and the changing menu gives you the certainty that their ingredients are freshly picked. The presentation of their dishes is lovely and the waiters are friendly and professional.
La Traviata doesn’t serve pizza but they sure make it up by serving the freshest pasta dishes in town. If I’m looking for a place to have a calm, relaxing lunch or dinner with a good dish of traditional pasta, this is the place I think of. They also have generous service, offering bites and nibbles before your order comes through, and great knowledge about Italian wine. Oh, and no ketchup allowed! Their carbonara, tiramisu and most importantly their tortellini al cioccolato are a must-try.
The best thing about Cucina is its location. Located in the most modern and trendy part of Beirut, it’s a good place for hip lunches in the sun and dinners. The staff is welcoming and friendly. Their appetizers and risottos are a good choice followed by pain perdu for dessert, which is worth a try. I’m heading there for a friend’s birthday tonight to enjoy a nice setting for this special occasion rather than the relatively average food.
Al Dente’s risottos are a must-try as well as their desserts. This hidden place gives a feel of authentic old Italy mixed with a refined character. Their appetizers include the famous Melanzane gratinate alla Parmigiana and Mozzarella di Buffala which is one of my favorite mozzarellas. It’s an excellent place for a special occasion.
Dottore is the type of place where you go for comfort food and good wine. Burrowed in one of Hamra’s inner streets, it’s the perfect place to spend a cozy night with a few friends. All you need is their wooden-oven baked pizzas, the spinach crepe and really good Italian wine that the staff will perfectly recommend, and you’re set for a great night.
Nestled in one of the inside streets of Mar Mikhael, Mario e Mario offers a very special menu. Get ready to taste dishes you haven’t before, as this fine-dining Italian knows how to use fresh ingredients and transform them into a beautiful and innovative dish. The place is charming and romantic and the table is set with special little touches. I also love the use of fresh ingredients in all of their dishes. You’ll also be very happy with their famous olive oil and bread served before your main order.
If you’re planning on booking a night out at La Posta, make sure you ask to be seated outside. The staff shows gusto for Italian food, and their pizza is not too thick or too thin. Their portions are generous but you can be sure you’ll get a refined presentation. Go for a seafood linguine with a nice wine or head there for Saturday brunch with friends or family.
If you’ve been to Italy, you must be familiar with the Aperitivo concept. L’Osteria is one of the rare Italians in Beirut that master the Spritz and its accompaniments. Their dishes are also appetizing and typically Italian. You can head there around 7 pm for a fresh Spritz and a cheese/cold cuts platter. They also serve homey dishes that will satisfy your tasty Italian food cravings.
Any Italian place to add to the list?
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Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Souk el Tayeb and Tawlet Souk el Tayeb, is the first guest shown in the video. Since I’ve already met Kamal and had conversations with him, I enjoyed his tours around Souk el Tayeb (the only Saturday market in Beirut), Bourj Hammoud and Le Professeur for a nice foul breakfast. His message is clear:
Make Food, Not War.
The next guest is Rosalyn Ghubril from Zawarib, who I also met a few years ago as part of my job at the time. Rosalyn takes us at Platform 39 with Cyrille Najjar (learn more about what he does on this link) and at Brut L’Atelier, Mar Mikhael, where contemporary artists work on their creations.
A great part of the video is where we follow Mashrou’ Leila, Lebanon’s favorite indie-pop band, around the AUB campus – one of the fewest green spots left in Beirut. I love the portrait they made of the city: surrounded by water, Beirut is full of micro-communities with different identities and codes, pushing you to be a bit more tolerant and willing to negotiate. They also say that it is the most interesting time for music.
To sum up, Beirut is very small but also very diverse. There is incredible room for improvement in Food and Art, so let’s take advantage of this and put our ideas into life.
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Even though the rainy weather is still surprising us on those May nights, the season for drinks at sunset is here. Like every month of May in Lebanon, the crowd’s sole excitement at the moment is to go drink the sunset away to celebrate the opening of the happy-go-lucky summer season. 🙂
For this occasion, I’ve compiled a list of 6 places to watch the sunset while having a cocktail in Beirut.
Sporting Beach Club
There’s nothing better than to have a late lunch at the Sporting Beach Club terrace, then sit there and watch the sunset while you drink your Mexican Beer.
Four Seasons Hotel Roof
If you’re in need of a calm escape to quiet your thoughts, the four seasons rooftop is the place to be. It’s also very romantic.
One of the most relaxed places in Beirut.
O Monot Rooftop
The best place for a fancy sunset drink with a small group of friends.
Zeitouna bay is great for an afternoon jog then a sunset lemonade or coffee at one of their cafes.
Iris – and you thought I wouldn’t mention it 😉
Iris is familiar to every Beiruti. It’s a favorite place to go for a drink, or even -most recently- brunch until 6 pm.
Any place you’d like to to add to the list?
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Two years ago, along with a group of friends, we came up with a tradition. Since not one of us is really into Valentine’s Day and the buzz around it, we decided to have dinner together on the 14th of February. Our first dinner was Armenian and delicious and the habit took off from there. It’s been two Valentine Armenian dinners. The very last one was at Onno. The initial plan was to head to the original one in Bourj Hammoud. But we then heard a new branch had opened its doors in Badaro so we booked our 20 (s)eaters’ table for the 14th of February. We now swear by this great and homey Armenian Bistrot.
When I approached the managing team over at Onno to chat with them and Karnigue Nigolian (the original person behind it), they happily accepted. So today, I bring you their story and a small glimpse of the atmosphere and the characters behind this cozy and welcoming place.
I first sat with Saadi Hamady and was later joined by Karnigue (both owners of ONNO).
Saadi first told me about his relationship with food. How he started in the food and beverage industry in the States in 1988, dealing with various domains such as dry food, groceries, delis, coffee shops, restaurants, and even airline catering. Then, like any Lebanese at heart, Saadi came back to Lebanon after spending 29 years in the States and opened up the very first fusion-cosmopolitan food places in Beirut called Cello. He quickly expanded his restaurant openings and other businesses related to the tourism industry.
His new baby is ONNO. The story is actually one of those coincidences (if they do exist) we love to hear about. Saadi’s plan for an evening out was to go fine-dine with friends somewhere upscale. But he wasn’t convinced that was the atmosphere he wanted and begged them to take him somewhere more relaxed with a proper glass of Arak. His friends, without hesitation, decided to take him to ONNO, this cozy little homey place in Bourj Hammoud where a nice glass of Arak was guaranteed. Right then and there, Saadi fell in love with the food and Karnigue’s personality, who made you eat as he pleases. He then absolutely wanted to take ONNO in his hands and expand it like it should be. Karnigue had been approached by many and had humbly refused. But Saadi managed to convince him. “I didn’t come as an investor who wanted to take. I came and told him we would work together hand in hand. We think alike a lot. Sometimes I think about something and then he comes and says it to me!” Saadi.
So a joint-venture was established and ONNO is now quickly expanding. They are open in Badaro and will be open in Hamra in June.
The Badaro branch was a great success for the ONNO team. They saw a great feedback from people who loved the food and the place.
Onno succeeded to attract the mass clientele, which was the biggest challenge. You can see people in their 60s and 70s but also in their 20s. This was basically the idea of opening up a bistro. It serves only one purpose: good food. “In our bistro, they only come to eat, not for the drinks or music, just the food.”
For Saadi, it’s simple. It’s all due to their Bistro’s atmosphere, philosophy and values behind their work.
The values they follow are quite natural. According to Saadi, in all businesses and in anything we do, if there is no honesty about what you do, what you serve and give your clients, there is no success. To him, ethics are the most important thing in business. “We pick our ingredients, we have no shortcuts. The cost doesn’t matter because in the long-term, you are the winner”. “My value is my honesty.”
“I believe you are what u eat and food to me is very dear to my heart, I’ve been doing this for a long time so have good customer service, good products and value for money and then the people will come to you. It’s that simple.”
One very important thing Saadi mentioned was the importance of the authenticity in the dishes one serves at his place.
“When I started working in Lebanon, I saw that if, let’s say we go out to eat penne arrabiatta, we notice the same taste in all of Lebanon even though it’s not a real arrabiatta. So people start thinking it is the real taste because not everyone knows the real taste. They all taste the same because it’s all the same ingredients. So this is where we said: let’s give them the real taste, the authentic taste and then let them decide if they like it or not. Give it as it is and let them decide. Every time you give something authentic, it will be liked.”
Karnigue came to sit with us at this point. His first sentence was: “It was a dream. It was a dream to open a restaurant one day and make food for everyone.”
He went on saying he hadn’t learnt cooking in any school or institution, that his school was his home when he was younger, his mom and his grandma. But the most essential school of all is experience and love for food. Everything he learnt was from testing with his clients in his small homey restaurant in Bourj Hammoud.
“He sometimes surprises you with a dish you didn’t even order!” Saadi
When asked why he chose ONNO, Saadi had a clear answer: “Because it’s one of the tastiest restaurants I’ve ever visited in my life and I’ve tasted a lot, everywhere. I remember the first bite I had there. This is why I chose ONNO, but also because you see something good, you want people to try it. It’s too bad if they don’t. ONNO has to be known. And I now have a belly donut.”
For Karnigue, the most important thing is to see the customer happy. “They’re happy, I’m happy. There was a couple outside just now, I said hello and gave them the menu. He asked if I was Onno, I asked how he knew, he said I speak differently. Always talk to the people.”
Onno is indeed a story. It is a story of partnership, chance and good authentic food that is just waiting to be shared with the world.
The menu is a work of 20-25 years of experience, trial and error. If you haven’t tried it yet, you must!
Click here to watch a short video about Onno and to get an idea of the warm atmosphere and the people behind it. 🙂
Have you been to Onno? We’d love to know your thoughts!
All Winter, we’ve been running home every night to finally get in bed and start new episodes of The Mentalist. I know the show’s been on for 7 years but we decided to view it all in one shot. A few days ago, we reached the final episodes (very very sad I know). To our surprise, 2 episodes take place in Beirut (not sure if Patrick Jane actually came to Beirut but there were shots of our beloved city in the episodes). Not so surprisingly, it wasn’t the Beirut we know that was shown in The Mentalist. We would’ve expected more from Patrick and I must say we were disappointed. I didn’t make much of this and quickly forgot it, maybe because we became used to this bad portrayal of our country in the media. But then Jean sent me this post and it brought on new thoughts. How can we possibly change the perception of our country in the media?
1- Rely on some of the Lebanese bloggers. The internet is powerful and can convey information faster and more efficiently.
2- Expats, we know the nice job you’re doing at educating the ones who don’t know about us so thank you.
3- We have so much talent that we shouldn’t just showcase it in Lebanon. Mahrou’ Leila are on the way with their occasional international concerts, and Hiba Tawaji is making us proud.
4- Photographers and videographers, use your connections and present your work (including photos of the real Lebanon) outside the country.
I can’t complain about our national food. The mezza and everyday dishes are nothing but healthy (unless you over-use oil or fatty ingredients) and full of flavor. But my weakness for spices and that mix of different ingredients that varies from one culture to another, gets the better of me every time I have to choose where to go out for a meal. I’m afraid to say that I prefer a great ethnic meal over our traditional food contrary to Jean’s opinion, but we’re working towards a compromise 😉
What I mean by the word “ethnic” is precisely what I mentioned above. For some (like myself), ethnic is food from other cultures, in which ingredients we know are used differently and ingredients we don’t know are there for us to discover. For others, the meaning of ethnic is different as it is only meant for specific cultures or countries around the world.
So when we don’t feel like cooking at home, here are the top ethnic food places we visit in Beirut that give my palate what it needs to feel satisfied.
1) Mótto, Mar Mikhaël, Beirut. This charming bohemian-style little place is located in one of Mar Mikhael’s streets. We went there several times for brunch (once for Sri Lankan and another time for Palestinian which was cooked by my good friend Hisham from Cook in 5 m2). I heard they also make exquisite Ethiopian meals so that’s on my list!
2) Little China, Monot, Beirut. If you’re looking for a simple and authentic place to have a casual dinner with friends, that’s your place to go. Food is delicious and affordable.
3) Onno, Bourj Hammoud or Badaro, Beirut. Onno is the place to go for the best Manti in town. Both Bourj Hammoud and Badaro restaurants are agreeable for a nice and cozy dinner.
4) Jaï, Clémenceau, Beirut. Thaï food places are rare in Beirut. Jaï satisfies your Asian food cravings provided you reserve in advance as the place is tiny. They deliver but I’d advise you to go and have your meal there for a fresher experience.
I have yet to try one of the Indian restaurants here in Beirut and let you know which one is my favorite. Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated 🙂
What are your favorite ethnic food restaurants in Beirut? I’d love to know!
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I constantly hear about Prune Bistro from friends and family. Their feedback is always positive but I’d never had the chance to try it until yesterday. Sarah, SerVme‘s co-founder, called me to join her for lunch at Prune where an event called Meet the Chefs is being held every Tuesday of the month. Yesterday was Chef Karim Bibi’s turn to cook at Prune. I was happy to hear I’d be trying out his food as I had the chance to take a class with Karim last summer at Kitchen Lab for a friend’s bachelor party.
Karim Bibi’s story is inspiring. After working for more than 10 years in the Advertising and Marketing industry, the Chef decided to change careers and switch to the culinary sector. He thus moved to New York City and studied at the International Culinary Center. His philosophy is simple: passion for cooking and love for great ingredients.
Our lunch experience yesterday was warm and inviting. The atmosphere of the restaurant screamed of joie de vivre and conviviality. A glass of wine and tasty food kept coming at us. Here’s the entire menu:
Oven Broiled Prawns with lemon zest breadcrumbs
Seared Mushroom Caps
Poached Monkfish with saffron risotto
Grilled Tri-tip with brandy sauce and winter vegetables
Chocolate Decadence Cake
The Wine I had was a Red Caprice D’Antoine, Vallée du Rhone 2011. Sarah had the White Chai de bordes, Blanc Bordeaux 2012.
What I loved the most about this experience is that we got to keep the menu booklet which contained all of the recipes! I will be trying that chocolate decadent cake really soon and sharing it with you. Meanwhile, here’s the recipe. The trick I think is in the chocolate Karim used, and I was intrigued by the use of sour cream. Let me know if you try it before me.
Chocolate Decadence Cake by Karim Bibi
Ingredients (for 6 persons)
For the Cake
120 g unsalted butter, chopped
220 g brown sugar
240 g sour cream (room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
225 g plain flour
75 g Dutch cocoa
0.5 tsp baking powder
For the Ganache
200 g dark chocolate, finely chopped
300 ml thickened cream
How to make it
Make the ganache: Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl. Place the cream in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir until melted and combined. Divide the ganache between 2 bowls. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate one bowl and leave the second bowl at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 16 degrees celsius.
Make the cake: Place butter and sugar in a saucepan. Cook, stirring, over medium heat for 3 minutes or until the sugar dissolves and the butter is melted. Remove from heat and whisk in the eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Sift over with cocoa, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, then whisk until smooth. Divide the batter between 2 pans and bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Let them cool for 5 minutes.
Remove the ganache from the fridge and stir until smooth, then spread over the top of one cake. Top it with the second cake and pour over the room temperature ganache.
In partnership with SerVme
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We live in a world where freelancing is becoming the trend, where bloggers are increasing and where meetings take place in trendy places instead of a standard office. Coffee shops are thus the place to be. A few days ago, I got a message from a friend asking us where he could go sit and work calmly with fast wifi and a nice cup of coffee. That’s when it dawned on me that I only knew about 2 places – the ones I visit all the time. But there surely had to be others. So I kept digging in my head and came up with those 5 places I think are the top to go work in.
Breadonbutter’s Top 5 Coffee shops to work in Beirut
Papercup has no wifi but you can take it as good news and go there to quietly work offline, surrounded by books. Order a latte and a piece of their daily cake and you’re all set! You can read all about the place on this link.
Where do you work? Any additional recommendation?
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Yesterday evening was Beirut Cooks’ first book signing event. It took place at The Food Dealer, a very very cool new deli in Mar Mikhael. Apart from the wonderful interior we noticed when we entered the place – despite the crowd of people – we saw a long table where the author of the book, Pascale Habis, as well as some of the cooks featured in it, were seated and signing the books of eager food lovers.
Beirut Cooks is really something unique as it brings together the recipes of amateur cooks from various backgrounds. They are entrepreneurs, they are artists and business people. They are everyone and everything, and that’s what makes their recipes beautiful. Each recipe is the product of a different realm of life itself. The first thing that hits you when you open the book is the images. They are exceptionally vivid, colorful and clear, it makes you want to read it all right away. And when you do read it, you are far from being disappointed. Get ready to be enchanted by real people!
Having lived abroad, watched movies and traveled loads of times, one always looks for things he learnt to love. As Lebanon is not an easy country and you spend your time longing for things you saw abroad that don’t exist in your own country, it’s a delight to find a hidden space that could possibly be “it”.
So when I contacted Rania and she agreed to chat about cakes, coffee, travel and books, I immediately jumped at the chance. Who could ask for better, right?
Papercup (www.papercupstore.com) is a bookstore located in Mar Mikhael, in Madrid Street (parallel to the mainroad). You can check their website for a detailed map. They also serve coffee and cake over there for a “coffee-infused book therapy” as they state agreeably.
Rania is Papercup Store’s owner. She has a publishing background, has worked in New York, is a reader and a traveler and also a new mom! And here’s a summary of our conversation.
Why a place like this and in this location?
I was living in the Mar Mikhael neighbourhood in 2005 and loved it. I saw that what was missing was a library and decided to go ahead with the project. I found a notebook I had 12 years ago in New York. That’s when I realized I was already thinking about the idea then because the whole plan for the place was in this notebook! I wanted to create a place where I’d personally like to hang out on a Saturday.
Why design, travel and art as a focus for books?
I worked in publishing abroad and then moved back to Lebanon 11 years ago and worked in distribution. I saw that there was something missing in the choice of books and noticed that people around me saw this gap as well. The gap was in things less mainstream and commercial. So this completed the idea of the bookstore. I saw there was actually a market for it.
How do you decide which cake you’re going to offer on a specific day? Where do you get the recipe? Do you bake it yourself?
It’s my sister who bakes the cakes. She’s actually the chef and owner of Frosty Palace (facing papercup, one of the best burgers and milkshakes ever). She basically decides which cake to bake. I just let her know we need a cake and she happily bakes it! There’s only 1 cake because it’s a tiny space and the point is a bookstore with a tiny coffee shop.
Where do you find the cool things and books you sell?
I just do really a lot of research, spend my time looking for these kinds of things because I like them and because I’m curious. I used to choose things alone but I now have a small team that helps me choose as well. We show each other everything we like ranging from books to cards to maps, etc…
Who are your clients?
There’s no specific client profile. Clients are mainly teachers, parents, artists, amateurs in art, design and photography.
How do you market yourself?
I don’t advertise. There’s no budget for that. My cousin is an architect and she did the whole place. At the time, there were a lot of available spaces in Mar Mikhael. I didn’t want the main road, I preferred the store to be a hidden gem, not too commercial.
For the opening, we sent out 400 private invitations and since it’s a small country and everyone knows everyone, word of mouth played its role to perfection. We also got a lot of international press.
Are you a cook? A traveler?
I love to cook but now I have no time. I used to host a lot of dinners however and try a lot of new stuff in the kitchen. I used to travel a lot but now I just had a child so there is a change in lifestyle happening. When I travel, I really travel with passion.
I have no favorite book but I can say the type of books I like the most are novels. I don’t sell novels, however, only once a year, we offer a guest table of summer reads. Every year, someone different (a guest) creates the table. The approach is basically that they make a list of their books with a written synopsis of why they chose the book and why people should read it and the table is displayed for a month. This year, Holly was the guest. She worked in publishing in New York, she’s a papercup customer and a big reader. She also reviews books and she’s a huge fiction reader.
My favorite cake is my mom’s carrot cake. It’s just the best carrot cake ever. It has been my birthday cake since the age of 16.
I can’t say I have a favorite country but there are some cities I absolutely love: London, Stockholm, New York, Portland, Seattle, Melbourne. I also love the Pacific North West, calmer than cities.
Any advice for the young ambitious people of Lebanon?
Try to discover the world and leave the nest for a while. A company can easily be opened abroad as well and it can be managed better than here as you won’t have to worry about the basics. In Lebanon, if you want to survive, you have to create your own bubble but then again that’s not necessarily healthy.
Rania just recently gave birth to a baby boy. She’s discovering motherhood and the moms’ world. Kind of like re-discovering herself. Thanks for this lovely chat! 🙂
Anyone here a Papercup customer?
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