Last summer I had the good fortune of spending two weeks learning and volunteering with Souk el Tayeb, an incredible Lebanese organization that promotes and preserves culinary traditions, rural heritage, and local food sustainability.
Kamal Mouzawak, the founder of Souk el Tayyeb – or ‘The Good Market’ in Arabic – hooked me up with truly amazing learning experiences to immerse in meze and akl el beit, or the simple, traditional comfort food of home, and the meet the custodians of these culinary traditions.
I jumped into stage shifts in the kitchen of Tawlet, their charming, hip restaurant in downtown Beirut.
And spent a day with chef Georgina Bayeh and her family in her catering kitchen surrounded by orange groves and nestled into a gorgeous northern mountain village in Lebanese countryside.
And learned the craft of mouneh with Souk el Tayeb vendor Sawsan – in the process perhaps rediscovered a long lost corner of my Shaaban tribe residing in Aley, Lebanon – and created family over generous hospitality and storytelling.
I found an inspirational tribe in the Souk el Tayeb community and vowed to return regularly to Lebanon to immerse in Mediterranean culinary traditions and lifestyle.
We’ve remained in touch. I keep Kamal’s cookbook Lebanese Home Cooking in my workspace for everyday inspiration. We’re even exploring ideas for future wellness initiatives.
But I would not make it back this summer. Not this season. Not just yet. Quite simply, I had to listen to the winds of fruition… and follow my heart to South Africa. It’s a story perhaps for another day friends.
Suffice it to say, however, it was difficult to postpone my return to Beirut, a part of world that continues to inspire and teach me about healthy culinary traditions and the good life. Just when I accepted that Beirut was not in the cards this summer, I get a message from Georgina. She’s coming Stateside with the Souk team for a working culinary tour of the Northeast, including a catering gig at the Beirut Caravan, a pop-up designer shop in Georgetown.
She asks me to join her for the opening launch party on a Friday night. I couldn’t believe my fortune. Without skipping a beat, I make my way - and bring friends.
The following week, I finally get to spend some quality time with the Georgina and the rest of the Souk team including catering manager Sami and chef Rima Chaaban – cousin of my beloved mouneh mentor Sawsan.
We enjoyed lazy walks, indulgent lunch and pastries, even journeyed to the White House and Union Market. (Not pictured… and that’s just fine…)
My heart swelled in gratitude for the moment. Even if I couldn’t make it back this season, the Souk tribe came to my corner of the world.
We rekindled a connection. And our roots continue to intertwine and create a solid foundation.
So with this, sending my love and gratitude to all of the amazing folks at Souk el Tayeb.
Until we meet again – quite simply – thank you