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Root s & Ri t ual

COFFEE AND CULTURE I N ETHI OPI A.
T H E I N - F L I G H T M A G A Z I N E O F E T H I O P I A N A I R L I N E S
NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2013
Cuisine
SPOTLIGHT
Bringing Lebanon’s
Breadbasket to Table
Tawlet Ammiq restaurant connects Beirut’s rural farmers and urban diners. | BY TI M FI TZSI MONS
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estaurants across the globe try to bring the farm to the table,
but there aren’t many places where you can gaze across
your plate upon the farms themselves. Tawlet Ammiq —
a restaurant in Lebanon’s fertile Bekaa Valley — is just a
90-minute drive from the bustle of Beirut, but it feels a world away.
There, on a hill overlooking “Lebanon’s breadbasket,” a visitor can sip
wine pressed from grapes grown one town over, munch on salads tossed
with greens from the farms sprawling out below, and savor freekeh (an
ancient grain) stewed with livestock that once grazed on the hills that
cocoon the restaurant. At Tawlet Ammiq, the people, the food and the
land that gave birth to them both are all within sight.
On warm Saturdays and Sundays especially, Tawlet Ammiq is packed
with Lebanese and foreign diners nibbling on such fine fare as roast trout,
grilled cauliflower marinated in tahini sauce, artichoke hearts stuffed
with lamb and pine nuts, eggplant drizzled with cilantro and lemon, and
kibbeh nayeh — a Lebanese delicacy of raw
lamb ground with bulgur, wrapped in pita
bread and eaten with mint and raw onion.
After eating, guests are invited to
lounge under umbrellas, on pillows and
in lawn chairs, and gaze at the snow-
capped Mount Hermon looming above
Bekaa’s rolling fields.
The story of Tawlet Ammiq is the story
of founder Kamal Mouzawak’s efforts to
bring together Beirut’s moneyed, urban
consumers and the country’s patchwork
of small farms.
In 2003, Mouzawak founded Souk el-
Tayeb (“delicious market”), the country’s
Tawlet Ammiq
is housed in
Lebanon’s most
environmentally
conscious building,
surrounded
by protected
wilderness areas.
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Kamal Mouzawak (above) founded the
farm-to-table restaurant with the aim
of celebrating foods sourced from the
surrounding Bekaa Valley.
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first farmer’s market. “It’s always been
about connecting rural to urban,” he ex-
plains.
Souk el-Tayeb’s quick rise to popularity
led to the market’s expansion from sim-
ply selling organic vegetables, honey and
spices to also hosting a series of regional
food festivals. Mouzawak and his staff
enticed food tourists to different corners
of the country, to appreciate the grape-
vines of the north as well as the cherries
and figs of Hammana and Kfour. The food
festivals seemed to help Lebanese people
reconnect with their food’s geographic
heritage. Soon Mouzawak was asking him-
self, “Why can’t we benefit from it in a
more regular way, and more easily?”
So in 2009, Souk el-Tayeb launched
a restaurant in Beirut called Tawlet,
which means “kitchen table” in Arabic.
At Tawlet, rotating cooks from surround-
ing villages and the countryside prepare
regional home-cooked meals and serve
them buffet-style, with diners sitting
at both communal and smaller tables.
Small-batch production Lebanese wines,
preserves, olive oils, paper crafts and
other products found in the weekly farm-
er’s market can all be purchased from the
restaurant’s own boutiques.
Though Lebanese food is revered
worldwide, most diners will only ever
taste “mezze” — the small, shared dishes
such as hummus, baba ghannoush, tabbou-
leh and labneh that are shared and eaten
with bread. These dishes dominate the
menus of Lebanese restaurants in Beirut
and around the world. But the cook-
ing most Lebanese eat on the average
weekday is a more informal and varied
experience that centers around a tabkha,
meaning a one-pot meal.
Housed in a converted garage in
Beirut’s trendy Mar Mikhael neighbor-
hood, Tawlet reintroduced the tabkha to
the Lebanese dining scene and pulled
back the curtain on traditional family
cooking for its foreign visitors.
But Tawlet’s next step — opening a
branch in Lebanon’s poor and agricultural
Bekaa Valley — was as much a prod-
uct of serendipity as of planning. While
Mouzawak contemplated an expansion,
another organization was about to pro-
vide him with just the space needed.
In early 2007, the Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation embarked
on a project to build Lebanon’s most
ecologically friendly model building in
Ammiq, a small town in West Bekaa.
When the building — a restaurant space
— was completed, SADC sponsored a
contest. Tawlet won, and so Mouzawak
was handed the keys — free of charge —
to Lebanon’s greenest building. In May
2012, Tawlet Ammiq opened its doors to
its first customers.
Blending the themes of ecological
stewardship with the restaurant’s character-
istic banquet-style dining, Tawlet Ammiq
invites diners to contemplate where their
food comes from and the ways in which de-
velopment can partner with environmental
preservation. Atop its insulating green roof,
solar panels generate electricity and heat
water, and a breeze-powered ventilation
system utilizes lower temperatures under-
ground to cool the building without the use
of air conditioners.
Sandwiched between the Shouf
Biosphere Reserve and the Ammiq
Wetlands Reserve, Tawlet Ammiq also
has the rare honor of being surrounded
by protected wilderness. Migrating birds
traveling between Africa and Asia stop in
the area’s swamps and ponds to relax and
rehydrate, and the country’s famed cedars
dot the hills above the compound. Diners
can even arrange, through Tawlet Ammiq,
a pre-meal mountain hike or an evening’s
guided bird-watching expedition.
And with the restaurant’s recent ad-
dition of a three-bedroom guesthouse,
adventure foodies will find a trip to Tawlet
Ammiq not only delicious but also con-
venient and comfortable — perfect for
exploring the tastes of the Levant.
—Tim Fitzsimons is a Beirut-based radio and
print journalist. An avid consumer of tahini and
whatever fruit is in season, Tim eats grapefruit
in the winter, strawberries in spring, cherries in
summer and apples in autumn.
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