Tawlet: Beirut’s hidden gem serves up simple, seasonal treats

The restaurant all but shuns the staples of popular Lebanese cuisine, favoring instead the food of the home. (Photo supplied)
Updated 29 July 2018
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Tawlet: Beirut’s hidden gem serves up simple, seasonal treats

  • There’s something wonderful about Tawlet, which means ‘table’ in Arabic
  • The restaurant all but shuns the staples of popular Lebanese cuisine, favoring instead the food of the home

BEIRUT: Set back from the main road in an unassuming corner of Beirut’s Mar Mikhael district is Tawlet, the farmers’ kitchen of Souk el Tayeb. If you didn’t know it was there you’d never spot it.

There’s something wonderful about Tawlet, which means ‘table’ in Arabic. Maybe it’s the constantly changing menu and the rotation of cooks, or the championing of small-scale producers and the celebration of culinary traditions. Whatever it is, Tawlet is a rarity.

The restaurant all but shuns the staples of popular Lebanese cuisine, favoring instead the food of the home. Its dishes are regional, seasonal, simple. There are stews and salads, pastries and desserts. All form part of Tawlet’s ever-evolving daily buffets.

The man behind Souk el Tayeb is Kamal Mouzawak, an eccentric, flamboyant, occasionally arrogant but consistently articulate social entrepreneur. He oversees an organization that was formed to host a simple farmers’ market back in 2004, but has since grown to include restaurants such as Tawlet Beirut and Tawlet Ammiq, and a handful of guesthouses that are sprinkled sparingly across the country.

Souk el Tayeb is built around what Mouzawak describes as the “idea of coexistence through sharing food and sharing tables.” As such, a different cook from a different area prepares food from their region at Tawlet every day. They are Muslims and Christians, Lebanese and Syrians, Palestinians and Armenians. As a social enterprise, it is almost beyond reproach, generating profit to support cooks and producers above all else.

The restaurant's bayd bil fokhara. (Photo supplied)


When we visit it is a Saturday afternoon in early June. The restaurant, situated at the far end of a short cul-de-sac, is all but full and there are two rooms, the smallest of which houses the buffet. The day’s menu is written on a large green board that stretches to the ceiling.

A long communal wooden table dominates the main dining area and there are plants and paintings adding splashes of color and contrast. At the far end of the room, behind a bar serving coffee and desserts, is a giant floor-to-ceiling shelving unit. Outside is the small terrace on which we sit, hidden from the sun by the shade from a carob tree.

The day’s chefs are Fadi and Nada, siblings from Dhour El Choueir, and it’s hard to know what to eat first. There’s hummus and tabbouleh, of course, and batata harra (spiced potatoes), plus an array of salads that burst with both color and aroma: freekeh with chard and mushrooms; courgettes with garlic; tomatoes with basil; grilled cauliflower and green beans.

Of the salads, it is the massaee’t batenjeen that I savor the most. A mouthwatering aubergine and tomato dish, it is made richer by the addition of onions, garlic, chickpeas and chilli pepper.

There’s bayd bil fokhara (eggs cooked in a clay dish) and lahme bi ajeen (spiced lamb flatbread). I also encounter kibbeh krass for the first time. It is plumper than the regular restaurant fare and filled with fat, finely chopped mint and onions. Mouzawak, who has been sitting inside throughout most of our meal, warns us not to eat the fat, only the meat, mint and onions, which have been additionally flavored with both sweet and black pepper. It is, like everything else on the menu, delightful.

The kibbeh nayeh. (Photo supplied) 



Much of the success of Tawlet, of course, is down to Mouzawak himself. A perfectionist, a quibbler, a purist, a pedant, he takes pride in detail and is genuinely committed to Lebanon’s food and the land.

“All that I do is out of love of life and respect for life,” he once told me. “If you have this, how are you going to celebrate it? If you love life, you love to eat. If you love to eat, you love food and you respect the ingredient. I’m not trying to create a fancy restaurant or wait for a Michelin star. It’s about celebrating life. It’s about celebrating our traditions.”


Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

Nada Kutbi started baking from home for family and friends before setting up her Sucre De Nada pastry shop to expand her home business. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 43 min 59 sec ago
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Saudi home-bakers cooking up sweet business on internet

  • Thanks to social media, business is booming for Jeddah’s cake and pastry makers

JEDDAH: Enterprising Saudi home-bakers have been turning to social media to help cook up some sweet business success.
The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, and none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.
Her Sucre De Nada pastry shop in Jeddah has become one of the go-to places for homemade desserts and cakes, and the online side of her business is also booming.
Kutbi’s daughter, Nassiba Khashoggi, told Arab News: “She has basically been baking all her life, especially after having children. She used to make cookies for us and whenever she tried a dessert somewhere else, she would recreate it.
“In restaurants or gatherings, she would always analyze sweets and make them at home for her family. That was how she started baking.
“I don’t think she ever thought she could pursue it as a career, but everyone loved her baking and one of her closest friends encouraged her to start her business when she was a stay-at-home mom.
“It was in 2011-2012, and her friend basically forced her to start by telling her, ‘yallah! make a cake and I will buy it from you now.’”
Khashoggi added: “In the beginning we just went by word of mouth, but when Instagram came along, we made an account and started posting pictures and the customers loved her creativity and uniqueness. I don’t think many people knew what banoffee was before my mom promoted it.”
Although Kutbi’s unique takes and touches went down a treat with customers, it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.
But stepping up from running a home business presented new challenges. “When you are running a home business there are few staff and it is easy to control,” said Khashoggi. But expanding requires you to put more trust in other people and that was difficult for my mom. Also, when we increased the number of our products it became harder to maintain the quality of goods.”
Kutbi aims to avoid storing, pre-baking or freezing her products and is not a fan of mass production and blast freezing, according to her daughter. “In short, she is against commercial baking,” said Khashoggi. “What is unique about my mom is that everything she makes is made the same day from scratch. It makes it harder for her to redo everything but that’s what makes her special.”

HIGHLIGHtS

• The Kingdom’s food producers are proving to be some of the rising stars of the internet, none more so than 53-year-old mom Nada Kutbi.

• Kutbi’s unique takes and touches have been a hit with customer, but it was not until Ramadan last year that she officially opened her bakery in Jeddah.

Sometimes customers even send pictures or pieces of dessert to Kutbi asking her to recreate their favorite foods.
Another Jeddah-based bakery thriving on the internet is Ganache. Run by Anas Khashoggi, 58, and Jamila Ali Islam, 48, the pastry business has been operating for almost 20 years.
Khashoggi supported his wife after spotting her talent for baking and took a leap of faith by giving up his job and starting an online bakery.
“At that time, there was no social media, but we made an introductory website, which helped us gain popularity,” he said. That was in 1996, and the couple’s first store opened later the same year.
“Ganache has its own unique spirit as a family business, and it is run by Saudi youth who are managing the bakery and understand the Saudi market. The family committee is the one that approves the products,” added Khashoggi.