Savory to sweet, iftar at Beirut’s Em Sherif Café is a treat

The eatery is famous for its uncomplicated Lebanese fare. (Photo supplied)
Updated 04 June 2018

Savory to sweet, iftar at Beirut’s Em Sherif Café is a treat

BEIRUT: Ever since Em Sherif Café opened near Beirut’s Zeitouna Bay two years ago, it has been the place to see and be seen.

The establishment is owned by the charismatic Mireille Hayek, the diva of Lebanese cuisine who opened her first restaurant, La Parilla, in 2006. She sealed her reputation as a golden restaurateur with Em Sherif, which means the mother of Sherif, Hayek’s own son.

The concept of this eponymous cafe is grounded in traditional family values. “We are a family who loves to eat. You just have to look at me,” Hayek says, breaking into a hearty laugh. “I have always loved to cook. I cook at home for my family and friends. The recipe for success is simple, you just need good food and good service.”

She insists that the food served at Em Sherif Café is home cooking at its best, “I like authenticity in Lebanese food. There is no room for fusion.”

This year, a delicious appetizer called the “ajina bil awarma,” a pie stuffed with small chunks of fat-coated meat, features on the iftar and suhoor menu for the first time. Hungry diners can also enjoy a range of traditional Ramadan favorites, including soups, fattoush and fatayer — pastries stuffed with meat, cheese and spinach.

For those who favor a light iftar, the eatery offers a delicious spicy chicken. The presentation of this dish — and this can be said of all the dishes served at the restaurant — is superb. A long, rounded chili crowns the spicy chicken, accompanied by two little square bowls of sauce, including the addictive hot sauce.

To end the meal, those with a sweet tooth can opt for the pistachio brioche, which consists of a thick layer of crushed pistachios topped with ice cream, delicately sandwiched into a brioche and then popped into a hot oven.

With up to 800 customers a day, it is no wonder that the café is a must-try this Ramadan if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Beirut.

Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

Updated 21 September 2018

Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

DUBROVNIK, Croatia: Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.
Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.
Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.
“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.
On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”
The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.
The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”
It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”
It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”
In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.
“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.
But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.
Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.
The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.
Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”
The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.
“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?“