On a recent holiday in Egypt, I took a detour to Beirut to explore the city's resurgent dining scene. Given images I'd seen of Lebanon's brutal 16-year civil war and more recent conflicts, I marveled at the capital city's newly rebuilt boulevards and seafront. At meze restaurants, I gorged on the bulgur and meat croquettes known as kibbeh, the creamy strained yogurt called labneh, and warm, puffed pita bread. Still, my friends in Beirut insisted that the best dishes can be found only in Lebanese home kitchens, cooked by women long steeped in the distinct cuisines of their region. This is the food I wanted to taste, but with only a few days in town, I wasn't quite sure how.
That's when I heard about Tawlet, a new restaurant whose motto—"Shou tabkha el mama el yom?"—means "What's cooking, Mom?" Tawlet is the brainchild of Kamal Mouzawak, a chef and the founder of Beirut's first farmers' market, Souk el Tayeb. The restaurant, whose name means "table," has become a showcase for the market's produce, but it is also a producers' kitchen, where farmers, herders, and cheese-makers—mostly women from nearby villages—cook traditional dishes.
When I visited, the lunch buffet featured mfaraket koussa, a simple stew of Lebanese zucchini, tomato, garlic, and dried mint; kibbeh in a tangy yogurt sauce; makloubet djeij, a biryani-like dish of rice, eggplant, and cauliflower; and, for dessert, a pistachio-topped milk pudding scented with orange flower water, all cooked by a woman from Chouf, a district wedged between the coast and mountains southeast of Beirut that is known for its stews and preserves.
But the menu at Tawlet changes daily, depending on the season and the specialties of the cooks. Another day might bring tabbouleh and batata harra, spicy fried potatoes; or Northern Lebanese mjadrat el loubieh, a stew of red lentils, bulgur, and fried onions. For Beirutis, who spent years hunkering down during conflicts, the restaurant offers a chance to come out and celebrate the country's diverse culinary traditions. As Georgina al Bayeh, a 39-year-old Tawlet cook from the northern village of Kfardlekous, marveled, "Imagine how two villages within five kilometers from each other boast not one or two, but twelve different kinds of kibbeh!"
_Beirut, sector 79, Naher street
12 (Jisr el Hadid), Chalhoub
building #22, ground floor
+961 1 448129_
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