Old, authentic and full of life, the walls tell stories of the past, this restaurant that opened in 1924, managed by two brothers, Ahmad and Behzad, is a reference up in Baalbek. My parents and relatives suggested that I pass by this historic mythic place.
Located in the old souks, is a restaurant called Al Ajami. Al Ajami, opened in the early Twenties has been here ever since. Unfortunately, this will be the last generation of the current owners as their kids have already left the country.
Nylon-wrapped tables with green table clothes, old chairs, historical photos on the walls, a high ceiling, a bar and a food display, the restaurant looks like an "Ahwet Ezez", a coffee shop where the elders gather around.
Come here and meet Behzad and Ahmed, the owners, who spend their days here. The menu is simple and clear, homemade food freshly prepared the traditional way. Food is left to warm on copper stands which the owners serve you from. On the menu today was rice, ablama, zucchini and Sfiha with their simple yet famous salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.
All you have to do is ask a single question about the restaurant and the owners will be more than happy to tell you about their long heritage, their parents and the hundreds of celebrities who have walked through their doors, all with a big smile; Zaki Nassif, the Rahbanis, Charles Aznavour and many more.
“My kids are in the States, I have toured the world visiting more than 40 countries, I have three passports and so what? I'm not leaving Baalbeck... Baalbeck nights are the best the world has ever seen. The weather and the calm of the nights of Baalbeck is unmatched and I love them. I'm staying here and will never leave,” Behzad tells me.
Ahmed continues, “Do you know why it's called city of the sun? A team of international researchers came here to study the temple and found that the sun is the perpendicular to earth around the Middle East, especially here in Baalbeck. A strong sun, but a dry climate, this is why the Romans made it their chosen land.”
Now back to the food. You might say food is simple like the dishes we prepare daily at home, but it surely isn't. The food reminded me of my grandma, there was a special knowhow now lost in time. Unsophisticated recipes oozing love and passion, using the simplest, yet freshest, of ingredients.
A rice perfectly cooked with a light, firm feel and no oil, zucchini cut in cubes and thrown in a bath of yogurt, while the beans are tender like butter in a light sauce alongside soft, diced meat. What makes the difference is that the meat is cut smaller, the zucchini isn't stuffed with meat, the beans are light in color and the rice is neat and perfectly cooked. With that, came Sfiha and the salad. The salad is special because of its fresh ingredients and sauce that used homemade vinegar, it felt and smelled fantastic.
Al Ajami is history, an experience you should live before it's too late.