This Unique Travel Guide Truly Invests in the Lebanese People

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A year ago today, one of the planet’s biggest explosions shattered a city that was already at its breaking point. One year after the Beirut blast, life has only become more unbearable for Lebanese people. The wealthy were privileged enough to be able to leave the country, while those who stayed have been brought to their knees with more than half of the population living in poverty. As I cry for my people while I write this introduction in the comfort of four walls and a roof, thousands of people remain homeless after the blast and the worsening economic crisis has made it near impossible to find new accommodation, forcing some families to move into refugee camps. 

I used to get some version of, “Oh wow! A beautiful country,” and a comment about the iconic nightlife when I told people I’m Lebanese, now I get an apologetic sad face and something like, “you guys are really going through it over there”. Today, the average minimum wage is 675,000 Lebanese pounds, which is about $30 per month, and 77 percent of households in Lebanon do not have enough food or enough money to buy food. Lebanese people are surviving by relying on their families living abroad to bring them basic necessities like medicine, hygiene products, and even diapers. My Instagram feed is filled with desperate pleas for essential medication like insulin and chemotherapy medicine, as people with chronic diseases are struggling to get their treatment and hospital shelves are empty.

 

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If you’re considering taking a trip to Lebanon, bookmark this article because these are the people you should be supporting.

I can’t describe my excitement when I hear that someone I know is going to visit Lebanon. Knowing that they will be bringing fresh money that will contribute to the livelihood of the Lebanese people is hope to Lebanon, and it’s what they need to get through this. Something as small as buying a manousheh from a family-owned bakery makes a huge impact. It is up to us, the foreigners and expats to help the phoenix rise from the ashes once again. 

One year later, I want to highlight the salt of the earth of Lebanon. Lebanese people are known for their unmatched hospitality, appetite for enjoying life, and perpetual determination to survive, and they need to know they are not alone. In a country paralyzed by corruption, these small business owners have persevered and shown what it really means to be Lebanese. Being Lebanese is not splurging on a brightly lit expensive wedding while students are studying on the street due to long hours of electricity cuts. If you’re considering taking a trip to Lebanon, bookmark this article because these are the people you should be supporting, and please add any essential medicines to your packing list.

Krikor Bakery

Krikor has been running his small bakery in Baskinta for the past 55 years with the help of his wife Laure. He makes his own dough and his oven only takes two manakeesh at a time, so you’ll have to wait for your breakfast but it is SO worth it. You will feel the love that went into making your manousheh, it’s magical. 

Koko Bakery

Koko Bakery (Fern Koko) is located in the old souk of the coastal town of Batroun. Koko has been living in Batroun for his entire life and makes your classic manakeesh and other breakfast pastries, but he’s really known for his brioche. Koko’s brioche is only available after 4:00 pm, and you know that the line is going around the block by 3:59. He only makes a certain amount, so you’ll be lucky to have the chance to taste his famous brioche that you can smell from all over Batroun. If that wasn’t enough, he will hand you your pastry with the biggest smile and tell you “sahtein, come back soon”.

Furn el Sabaya

In the heart of Amchit, a town situated between Byblos and Batroun, is a small bakery that is 27 years old. This is the story of the Zgheib family, a united group of women who wake up daily with one goal: “Preach the best of Amchit’s culinary heritage”. What’s also remarkable about this bakery is that the women have even created a vegan menu including vegan shawarma, burgers and kibbeh, which are not easy to find anywhere in the Middle East. 

 

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Al Soussi

Al Soussi’s breakfast is history on a plate. Legend says that he has been cooking with the same pan since the civil war and hardly washes it, so you can literally taste the past 50 years of Lebanon’s history in your breakfast. Al Soussi symbolizes the strength and perseverance of the Lebanese people that no matter what happens we will never break. It doesn’t hurt that he was also voted the World’s Best Breakfast by CNN.

Hilmi’s

A family who has a historically sacred relationship with lemons continues to bless our palates with their iconic lemonade recipe at Hilmi’s, located in Batroun. Batroun actually has a historical connection to lemonade, and the art of lemonade-making has been appointed as one of its local specialties. The ancestors of the Hilmi family were the first to make and sell lemonade in Batroun in the late 19th century. Today, Hilmi’s three granddaughters, Rana, Farah, and Nour are carrying on their ancestors’ legacy by ensuring that the lemonade shop remains a cultural staple in the area.

Tawlet Souk El Tayeb

Souk el Tayeb is a weekly farmer’s market in Beirut that works to promote the growers and producers of Lebanon’s food. Souk el Tayeb provides them with a regular platform through which to earn money from their products. while using it as an opportunity to bring together communities that have been fractured by 15 years of civil war. Tawlet was born from Souk el Tayeb and is a purpose-driven restaurant where profit is generated to support farmers, cooks, and producers. Inspired by the hospitality of Lebanese homes, it is a place where cooks tell their stories and traditions through authentic homemade cuisine. The open-kitchen style breaks the barriers between those who cook food and those who eat it, giving visitors and cooks the opportunity to talk together about the food and the special significance of each region it comes from.

lebanon small businesses
Photo: Courtesy of David Lebovitz

Terre

Terre is a brand new youth-run contemporary restaurant and bar that focuses on a farm-to-table menu sourced from local farmers and fishermen. They serve eccentric dishes that break with tradition, which is quite cutting-edge for Lebanon. They also support local talent by bringing an unknown Lebanese chef to cook for the weekend every week or two.

 

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Beit Trad

Sarah was a child when her father purchased the home that is now Beit Trad during wartime in 1985. It became the Trad family’s mountain hideaway, which Sarah decided to refurbish and bring back to life after her mother’s passing in 2013. She says, “It is simply one of those places where you never want to leave.” Her personal connection to the place is visible in the interior design, which is so warm and inviting that you really will never want to leave.

 

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Joining Seafood

Joining Seafood is another family-owned Batroun gem serving fresh fish on top of one of the rocks enclosing a natural harbor. You could be sitting next to a couple playing backgammon (tawleh) or a group of girls tanning; there is a place for everyone and anyone can make themselves at home. They also offer inflatable boats to rent and discover the sea of Batroun, where you can find amazing caves, clear water, and huge turtles. The charm of a family-owned restaurant is that you could be served by the father who is in his 70s, or the son who is around 12 years old. Everyone contributes to the business and treats customers like one of their own. Don’t miss out on the calamari and shrimps. 

 

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Zejd

Zejd grew over two centuries as a Fares family heritage of pressing locally sourced olives from the northern Beino landscape. Zejd’s olive oil is one of the few extra virgin olive oils in Lebanon produced with no additives. ‘Zejd’ actually means olive oil in the ancient Phoenician language, and the name emphasizes the rich history of olive oil on Lebanon’s land. Youssef’s great grandparents started the business of olive oil but did not continue, so he took the initiative to bring this tradition to the family in 2004, giving rise to the olive trade and the Zejd brand.

 

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