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
0

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.”


Nearly four in 10 US HIV infections from people unaware of infection

This electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health shows a human T cell, in blue, under attack by HIV, in yellow, the virus that causes AIDS. (AP)
Updated 19 March 2019
0

Nearly four in 10 US HIV infections from people unaware of infection

  • The Trump administration has said it will invest $291 million in the next financial year to fight HIV/AIDS, which has plateaued since 2013 to around 39,000 annual transmissions

WASHINGTON: Almost 40 percent of new HIV cases in the US occur because people do not know they are infected, while a similar proportion know but are not in treatment, according to a study released Monday.
The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is based on 2016 data and aims to bolster a strategy outlined by President Donald Trump to end the epidemic within 10 years.
The strategy has two main strands: far more widespread screening, and enabling the infected better access to treatment from the moment they test positive.
The study found that 38 percent of infections came from HIV-positive people who were unaware of their status, and 43 percent from people who knew they were infected but took no anti-retroviral drugs.
The remaining infections came from people who were receiving HIV treatment but were not yet “virally suppressed.”
The CDC blamed financial, social and other reasons for people not using medication, which these days typically comes in the form of a daily pill with minimal side effects.
The study said that the infection rate from the half million people in the United States who take medication and are virally suppressed — meaning they cannot pass on the disease to others — was zero.

The most at-risk group remains homosexual men, with almost three-quarters of new infections coming from men having sex with men, the report said.
Five percent of infections came from intravenous drug abuse among homosexual men, while 10 percent came from injecting drugs among the rest of the population.
Twelve percent of infections were among heterosexuals. Overall, the highest rate of transmission was among 13 to 24-year-olds.
The Trump administration has said it will invest $291 million in the next financial year to fight HIV/AIDS, which has plateaued since 2013 to around 39,000 annual transmissions.
The goal is to reduce that number by 75 percent within five years and by 90 percent in 10 years.
Questioned about the relatively small amount of money earmarked for the multi-billion dollar task of treating HIV carriers, CDC head Robert Redfield said he was “confident that the resources that are required to accomplish this mission are in the long term plan.”
The CDC, based in Atlanta, Georgia, wants doctors to make HIV screening a routine procedure.
“Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime,” said Eugene McCray, the head of the CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.
“Those at higher risk should get tested at least annually,” he said.
“The key to controlling is helping those with HIV to control the virus,” said the CDC’s Jonathan Mermin, who focuses on preventing the spread of the HIV as well as other sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis and hepatitis.
“Time spent working closely with patients who are having trouble paying for, picking up or taking their daily medications is time well spent“