Tag Archives: destruction

Clock Ticks for Traditional Lebanese restaurant in Hamra

17 Aug

Clock ticks for traditional Lebanese restaurant in Hamra
By Dalila Mahdawi
Daily Star staff
Friday, August 08, 2008

BEIRUT: In a city seeking to re-invent itself as modern and chic, there are few restaurants left in Lebanon’s capital that aspire to provide diners with the “warm and cozy atmosphere, just like home” – an environment Walimet Wardeh, also known as Wardeh, promises. Thirteen years ago, Wardeh Hawaz and two friends opened Wardeh in a former residential house on Makdessi Street in Beirut’s Hamra neighborhood.

Amid a market dominated by Western fast food, Sushi and French cuisine, Walimat Wardeh al is a throw-back to “the good old days” when the taste buds of the Lebanese were still content with the fuss-free food of their grandparents.

According to Elissar Loghmaji, Hawaz’s daughter, the restaurant’s two chefs not only serve up many of the traditional Lebanese dishes ordinary people might prepare at home, but also dishes that have bizarrely been shunned by many other Lebanese restaurants.

One such dish is fawarigh, intestines stuffed with rice, spices and meat. Freek, wood-smoked wheat or barley ears served like a soup, is another.

Everyday there are three main meals on offer, with the menu set at two-week periods.

“Wardeh makes traditional, home-made food. This is the food of our mothers and grandmothers,” says Loghmaji. “My favorite dish here is molukhiya,” chopped Jewsmallow leaves cooked into a thick soup with tomatoes and chicken and served with rice, she says.

The Walimet Wardeh building is heavy with the atmosphere you might find in a Naguib Mahfouz novel, oozing with the character of a traditional Arab house – well lived in, snug and instantly comforting.

Stained glass windows give the main dining room a soft glow and traditional tiles pave the floors, with each of the restaurants four rooms boasting their own unique pattern.

“Walimet is like my baby,” says Hawaz, who says the best thing about owning a restaurant is that she constantly meets “new people from all sorts of different places.”

The scope of Wardeh goes beyond serving up hearty meals.

On Thursdays, people crowd in for Tango night, instructed by a qualified tango teacher. “He was a customer who used to come, and suggested doing the night,” Loghmaji says.

“The first night was a huge success, so we continued it,” says Loghmaji. Ziad Sahab and his band Shehadine Ya Baladna play Arabic tunes on Fridays.

A number of non-governmental organizations use the premises as a meeting point, too. Wardeh hosts the Committee of Lebanese Families in Support of Palestinian Families (CLF) for a monthly charity lunch, which raises hundreds of dollars for needy Palestinian families in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Helem, a gay and lesbian rights organization, has also used the facilities.

It seems Wardeh’s charisma has bewitched some of its customers, too.

Loghmaji recalls the first time she ever waitressed at Wardeh. “I was serving someone kibbe bi labban [a meat dish served in yogurt sauce], and I dropped it all over him.”

Rather than getting angry, “he just laughed at me,” she said.

But the restaurant’s charm comes with an expiry date.

According to Hawaz, “Wardeh is going to close in about 16 months.”

The premises, along with the greengrocer next door, will be torn down to make way for the new luxury high-rises that are rapidly eating up Beirut of its traditional architectural charm.

“We’re sad because we have been here for a long time,” says Loghmaji. “Actually, the customers,” many of whom come on a daily basis, “are sadder than we are. It’s hard, but this is life,” she says, adding that they are currently searching for a new place to re-open.

“We hope, with the current economic situation in the country, we can find a place similar to this house,” says Loghmaji.

“But really the only place with similar architecture is in Downtown,” which will cost Hawaz much more than her current $1,500 monthly rent.

“I feel a sense of loss and sadness,” says Ikram Shararah, head of the CLF.

“Wardeh was a special meeting place because of its unique, Beiruti architecture. It also served typical national dishes, in a homely, intimate setting.  When it closes, we will lose one of Beirut’s beautiful faces. Lasting friendships have been formed here,” Shararah says.

A glass case near the entrance shows off photographs of Walimet’s notable guests. Among the smiling faces are the late Palestinian academic Edward Said, the late journalist Joseph Samaha, who was Hawaz’s “best friend,” and a number of politicians, artists and other public figures.

“We might find another place with good services, but nowhere will have the same homely atmosphere and beautiful architecture as Walimet Wardeh,” says Shararah.

As the saying goes, all good things come to an end.

Beirut breathes, if only temporarily

10 May

Broken glass at a restaurant still under construction.
A car and shop behind are left with no glass.

This morning I woke up feeling optimistic: It was a beautiful sunny day, there hadn’t been any notable gunfire/rpgs for quite a while, and I saw people creeping out onto the streets. My boss called and asked me to go into work, so off I set. Only a street away, I began to get a feel for what had happened Thursday/Friday. The whole of Hamra was full of black flags, with a Nazi-like red symbol enclosed in white.: the flag of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, who apparently took the area over on behalf of Hizbullah. It is still to early to tell truth from reality however.
Many shops near my house were wrecked, one was burnt out, most others had shattered glass, which their foreign workers were duly cleaning up. And yet Hamra street was almost back to normal, with people aplenty. There was, however, one exception: people were not buying clothes or meeting friends for coffee, but were going on exploratory missions: what had been hit, what food shops are open, what would provide a good photograph, etc. I myself picked up a bullet cartridge from the middle of the street and took it home: I did the same in August 2006 when I visited Haret Hreik in South Beirut, whose buildings took the brunt of Israeli air strikes. That time I had taken a piece of a jigsaw puzzle, a tiny remnant of some family’s life whose property had been strewn across the pavement when their apartment was ripped apart by a missile attack. It is possible that some people think what I did was wrong, but I carry that piece of puzzle around with me everywhere I go, as a reminder of how quickly you can lose everything dear to you and how quickly you can lose your life. I shall hold onto my copper-coated bullet case for the same reason, so as to always remember the absolute idiocy of violence and to never be tempted by anger into such violence.

On my way to work I have to pass several government buildings and two Future/Mustaqbal (of the Hariri family) TV buildings. I was surprised to see that there were not all that many soldiers guarding those building, as I had seen on the TV the previous evening alot more. Where had they all gone?

After work I stopped by my local manooshi bakery for a little bite to eat. Manooshi’s are my absolute favorite: soft pizza-like bread straight out the oven, cooked with dried thyme and sesame and garnished with tomato slices, olives, cucumber and mint. I was happy to see Yehya, the amiable young chap I always buy my manooshi from, smile out at me and hand over my order without me even asking for it: he knows my tastes too well. I’m glad he and his heavenly bakery made it through the fighting unscathed.

Having stuffed myself, my mother and I went back out for a little walk, having felt stifled by staying indoors. We wandered down to my mothers friends house, which is directly next to the Future TV station that got torched yesterday by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. Her house stank of post-fire- my own apartment recently caught fire and so I knew the acrid smell all too well. The family had spent most of the night in the bathroom, after stray bullets hit their apartment repeatedly. I mentioned in an earlier post her husband was actually struck by a bullet-by some stroke of luck it only hit the side of his leg and so he only had a small cut. They have several bullet holes through their windows and showers, and the Syrian party across the road are keeping a watchful eye on the street: as I took a photo of the burnt out Future office, I noticed an armed gunman monitoring my activities. I pretended I hadn’t seen him and kept taking photos.

Walking home, my mother noticed something eerie: I was talking on the phone to a friend in Syria so wasn’t paying attention. All the pedestrians had disappeared from the streets and all the shops had closed. The roads were deadly quiet. I ended my call, we quickened our pace and got back home as soon as we could, anticipating a turn for the worse.

(Photos my own, of some of the aftermath of fighting in my area)