Last week, I decided to visit Saida. It wasn't a planned visit but I ended up trying a few interesting things. It was a great start for a next trip that will be planned properly and will be more extensive!
I decided to keep it simple and try some of their famous sandwiches, which many talk about. To start with I was invited to visit Bash Ahmad, famous for his roast beef (Rosto) sandwiches. Bash Ahmad, located a few meters away from Sahat el Nejmeh, is the cleanest and freshest place I visited. Bash Ahmad, which opened more than 25 years ago, welcomes you into an air conditioned space with granite surfaces and a certain cleanliness is felt in every corner. Behind the glass, two employees roll sandwich after sandwich using French bread and we had two for LBP14,000. The famous roast beef sandwich is not like any you've had before. The meat is shredded and not sliced like ham, filled in fresh French bread that's so tender, slinky and toasted on the outside. Tomato, pickles and mayonnaise will just make your mouth water.
We were told to try the chicken sandwich (tawouk), which luckily for me was not marinated in garlic. Tender and juicy chicken chunks served with garlic or mayonnaise and sliced pickles. I loved the pickles used, the bread and the ingredients of both sandwiches. Visiting Saida, that's a place not to miss.
The tour continued at Al Baba Sandwiches, at a shop called Al Papito. Honestly, this is a place to avoid. Turning on the side of the street are four shawarma skewers: Meat, chicken, Mexican, Chinese are on display, as well as falafel burgers. What's impressive here is that everything contains garlic. Yes everything, even the meat shawarma.
Accompanied by my friend, I ordered one of each sandwich. The Mexican red shawarma is spicy, with layers of chicken with bell peppers of all colors. The sandwich is first microwaved, making it intensly chewy and hard to bite, before being filled with chicken and an avocado sauce which I honestly didn't taste.
The Chinese, or green colored shawarma, is made up of layers of carrots, and vegetables in a sandwich with corn and mayonnaise. A sandwich that's also way too chewy and tastes like grilled vegetables. Microwaving the bread spoils all the freshness of the sandwich and it clearly shows that our sandwiches were from the day before. Those sandwiches taste nothing like shawarma. I wouldn’t order them if I were you. The meat shawarma is of cheap quality, purely street food, dry and tasteless without the tarator. You'll understand how bad it is when tasting the one at Abou Bahij. The falafel burger followed, a burger bun filled with all the ingredients of falafel. I liked its juiciness and crunch, it’s an interesting innovation.
Abou Bahij was the last stop before dessert. Many agree that Abou Bahij has a fine shawarma. Called Snack Naamani, the establishment has been open for the last 30 years. We received a fine welcoming in a busy place, and you’ll have to expect your sandwich to take at least 15 minutes to arrive.
The specialty, the man tells me, are the burgers, chicken (msa7ab) and shawarma. Indeed, the meat shawarma was very good, juicy and full of taste, but that cannot be said about the chicken, which was pink, raw and dry. The burger, a Lebanese one, reminded me of my grandmother. There's a street food feel to it with its fries, fresh coleslaw, ketchup and tender meat. I even had a fourth sandwich, the "msa7ab", or chicken without bone, served very hot, it was juicy with a lemon taste, fries and crunchy pickles.
The place looked clean, I loved the way all sandwiches were wrapped in nylon to avoid spillage, how the bread was bigger then normal sandwiches and how this attention to detail makes all customers want to come back. Two things I learned that day while touring the sandwicherias of Saida. Pepsi is called "Bared". They also love Chinese food or "Chinese" in a sandwich. There’s also some sort of competition to create the biggest shawarma skewer.
If I were to choose, I'd pick the roast beef from Bash Ahmad and the meat shawarma from Abou Bahij, and will skip Al Baba altogether.
Ending the day, you can't leave Saida without having some sweets and no, not from the famous Al Baba but from a smaller place, with lower prices, called Al Kassir. Enter a small place where a choice of oriental sweets is displayed, some produced the same morning and others the day before depending the type. Since it’s all fresh, you'll have to mange with whatever the store still has on offer. We tasted the maamoul madd bi ashta, which I found very tasty, as well as a baklava that's so fresh and crunchy and just sweet enough.
I'm not sure I can give you directions to the place, but if you ask around, everyone knows Al Kassir which is few meters away from Martyr's Square. I bought a mix of everything to take back home, 1,5kgs for only LBP22,000. I loved the guy’s generosity, the freshness of the sweets and their taste, that was really unique. Visiting Saida, you have to pass by, believe me you won't be disappointed.