Winter is here… and one of all time favorite activities in Lebanon is skiing… Whether Mzaar, Zaarour, Laqlouq or the Cedars, our country boasts beautiful ski slopes enjoyed by many in Lebanon and around the world. Now, what to eat on your way to and back from the slopes… Here are a few of my suggestions…
Breakfast on the way up
Start your day on a positive note with Em Bashir. Em Bashir, is a lady who sits behind the window preparing saj sandwiches in a welcoming attitude. I was never a fan of markouk mankoushe, but the minute I tried Em Bashir’s I was heart struck. Bite into this large Lebanese pizza style spread, which will break under your teeth like a galette de sarasin or a piece of whole-wheat French crepe. The dough is unique.
Afif, the man behind Mar Charbel Bakery, is a must-stop during my journey around Faraya's street food joints - especially if you're looking to have a laugh while enjoying some delicious bites. I say, "a laugh" because Afif is known around the country for his funny sense of humor, his extraordinary memory and his welcoming songs, and of course his tasty Lahme Beahine are to die for.
Abou Artine, his wife and two kids live in Faraya all year round and spend their days in their small shop, which is one before the last in the line of restaurants in Faraya Village. They prepare homemade food with an Armenian touch that's like nothing you've had before. My favorite is homemade soujok, instantly baked on Saj, filled with the famous Armenian meat. What a taste! Crunchy border, juicy heart, a blend of outstanding flavors.
Lunch on your way back…
Fawzi Restaurant is one of the few restaurants in Kfardebian, today, where you can enjoy some good traditional Lebanese food in a homey atmosphere. On the hills of Faqra, before reaching the army checkpoint towards Mzaar, is a restaurant that has maintained good quality of food for year. The attitude in the place may be somehow pretentious, but one can’t that the food is really good... Albeit at a high price.
El Mexicano is your Mexican restaurant up on the Faraya roundabout, where food is prepared by Fernando and his lovely wife Edith. It’s not at all another Tex-Mex restaurant but a real Mexican restaurant where you’ll get to taste and enjoy the real flavors of Fernando's hometown; real flavors of South America: Quesadillas, enchiladas, tacos and mouthwatering desserts...
If I want to recall a restaurant from my childhood, it would definitely be Le Relais. One of the first restaurants to open in Kleiaat, Le Relais was a place I used to come to every week with my parents. If you spend your summers in Keserwan or simply live around the region, you’ll know Le Relais for sure. This famous spot is not only a restaurant but it’s also known as bread producers and other related unique products, which are around the country's supermarkets. Le Relais existed way before Wooden Bakery and Moulin D'Or… They still serve great food, generous portions in a pleasant ambiance.
In the mood for some crepe? Head to Mr. Crepe in Feytroun settled next to Supermarket Bou Khalil on the Feytroun highway leading to Mzaar Skiing Resort. An innovative idea in the region, 80% of their daily income came from crepes, while the rest came from sales of pizzas, submarine sandwiches and burger for those who wanted to try something else. They have been serving the same quality crepe mix for the past 30 years. It was every child's ultimate satisfaction to eat a crepe from Mr. Crepe.
Some energy booster
A kind of Lebanese tradition includes enjoying some fruit cocktails, or what we refer to as "Cocktail Che2af" Yum... a cup of fresh fruits cut in pieces, mixed in fruit juice and other ingredients... how heavenly does that sound after a long day skiing... Fulatte is one of the best places I know; nestled in Jeita roundabout has become a reference for many... a landmark if I may say so... Open more than 20 years ago, Frullate started as a small cocktail shop until it developed into a pizza place with arguile. The place is known for cocktails and pizza these days.
Up to Zaarour
Mount-Lebanon Metn district, a few minutes before the Zaarour complex is the famous breakfast spot, Koukh El Sabaya. Here’s a place not to be missed. It’s a cozy place where everything is unique starting with the view, the ambiance, and the welcoming atmosphere and of course the food. They have a unique way of preparing the dough used in most of the menu: Mankouche with Zaatar, a delicious non-oily cheese mankouche, ham & cheese Lebanese style pizza, Kechek and Labneh from the village - all served with fresh organic vegetables from the land below. Not to forget the popular, Balila and Foul are also part of the menu. My favorite is the 'Eggs with Awarma' on thin brown dough baked in the oven.
Le Gourmet Bickfaya; The Famous Chicken Sandwich
One of the country's tastiest chicken sandwiches is found at Le Gourmet in Bickfaya, El Metn. If you live around the area, there's no way you don't know about Le Gourmet's fine chicken sandwiches, unless you've been hiding under a stone since 1976. Reach Bickfaya roundabout and find Le Gourmet immediately to your right... and taste the best chicken sandwiches... They were the first to introduce chicken sandwiches using the famous French bread, instead of the Lebanese pita bread. This was how they started the trend that spread 'viral' around town.
For a full-fledged head to Chebli restaurant in Naas, just a few minutes from the village of Bickfaya in Metn. Lebanese and tourists as its food is great and it's setting are even more appealing. The owner himself welcomes you and makes sure to give you the best table available, then takes the order and follows up on the quality served. With a background of famous Fayrouz tunes, you’ll enjoy one of the yummiest Lebanese mezze: Homemade small portions, perfectly served, with colors and odors that really transport you into another world.
Up to the Cedars
The first thing you have to do when you reach the Cedars is go and meet Joseph and Nathalie. Who are they? Joseph Kahya and his wife Nathalie can be found in the shop under the big tree facing the Cedars of God forest. The place welcomes you from early morning until late night, offering a large selection of homemade food, all prepared to perfection. Grilled halloumi, awarma, labneh…
Here’s a place I discovered by coincidence and sometimes you discover things that leave an impact, simple things with unconventional flavors in unusual places... I've found a mankousheh that left me speechless, Oum Karam's unique innovation. I remember being attracted to the color of beautiful light green Zaatar and the thin and light dough. It didn't stop here ... the taste, the taste of this mankousheh crunching under my teeth... I fell in love.
Up in Hasroun, you’re going to taste one of the best pizzas you have ever had in Lebanon. On the main road is a place, a small spot, where Charbel Touma prepares Manakish for breakfast as well as pizzas and subs. Imagine a pizza that's 50 centimeters in diameter. The pizza dough is cooked on both sides then covered with a homemade tomato sauce, piled with ham, topped with thyme from the village, mushrooms and seven varieties of cheese all mixed together. The dough is first baked before adding the ingredients and cooking it one more time. On top, slices of tomatoes, a cocktail of bell peppers and salami, it's not only generous but extremely tasty and all for just LBP20,000. Have I said enough?
On the road from Hasroun leading to Bcharre is a small town called Bazoun and there you’ll find a restaurant called Al Nawrage where local cuisine from the village, homemade specialties like Kebbe, Kawarma and others are served. The place is not fancy, but a local vision an "ahwet el ezez" concept. The food is great and they are generous to say the least.
Up to Laqlouq
No it’s not just another coffee shop in Lebanon, it’s actually a good one with tasty coffee, cakes and sandwiches. A very colorful and modern place where you can stop have a nice cup of coffee and a highly recommended Red Velvet cake…
In a hurry to hot the slopes, but need a cup of coffee, next to the Bonjour market, Starbucks in Jbeil offers a drive-thru service. If you happen to have some time, park the car and go into the small spot with a long bar, where four baristas with headsets are ready to take orders from customers. If you have time, stop and enjoy their Chocolate Lovers Cake among other tasty boost bites.
Lunch on the way back
éCafé at EddéYard, a project spearheaded with love by Roger and Alice Eddé, is also reviving the city of Byblos as an accessible and exciting cultural and social center worthy of its destiny. The éCafé is a mix of Italian eatery and French restaurant all in a relaxed and casual atmosphere around the patio. You can order any plate from any of the restaurants and enjoy it hot and fresh: they serve French bistro food with an emphasis on French ingredients: duck from Batroun, figs from Amchit, some homegrown herbs...
Let the Ski season begin!