Kamal Mouzawak, food visionary for Lebanon

January 9, 2010  • 

 

My first encounter withKamal Mouzawak occurred seven years ago; my cousin Isabelle had taken me to meet  the top fashion designer Rabih Kayrouz, in his Gemmayzé showroom (Beirut); Kamal stopped by, casually announcing that   he was on his way to Yemen, to teach classes in macrobiotic cuisine. I remember being jolted by his words;  the association of Yemen, cooking classes and macrobiotic struck me as surreal.

Over subsequent trips to Beirut, I heard  more stories about Kamal Mouzawak:

  • He  created a concept new in Lebanon; a farmer’s market called  Souk el-Tayebtayeb means” tasting good”  in Lebanese)  where producers from the most remote villages could  (for a nominal fee)  present and sell the fruits  of their labor. The products are organic and free-range; the pastries are made with whole-grain flour.  You will find there mouneh products. (mouneh is the  larder that comprises foodstuff preserved in the ancient tradition  for the winter season). The souk is  located inSaifi village, a stylish and renovated area in downtown Beirut and has started hosting wine tastings.

Nobody in Lebanon up until then had paid any attention to small farmers who were basically left to fend for themselves, trying to survive without any governmental assistance; usually  forced to leave their villages and either immigrate or move to the big city and abandon their land.

I remember hopping on  a cab one Saturday morning and asking the driver to take me to Souk el Tayeb; Taxi drivers in Beirut are opinionated,  and  his comment was ” you know if you buy your cucumbers there, you will pay more but they will smell of cucumber for kilometers  around!” I was filled with trepidation as I disembarked  in front of the canopied area buzzing with people;  rows and rows of jam and other preserves lined up on makeshift  tables, people drinking fresh jellab and lemonade, people ordering flatbreads from a saaj maker, buying country cheese,sheesh barak, maamool, mujaddara hamra, stuffed grape and chard leaves, kibbe balls, zaatar, makdous; people greeting each other with hugs and laughter, I mean that place was happening!

  • Kamal Mouzawak  continued to carve a trailblazing path through the Lebanese culinary scene and took the concept to the next level: This time, in addition to a marketplace, he would provide a kitchen for the forgotten small farmers and producers of Lebanon:Tawlet was born. Set in a stylishly renovated garage, Tawlét (tr: Table, in Arabic) is a place where from 1 to 4PM every day, people can come, serve themselves buffet-style  and sample dishes  cooked by producers from all corners of the country, every day. The menu varies daily and is based on the regional specialties. Every dish presented is meticulously tested and fine-tuned  by Kamal. Dishes that jaded Beirutis are unfamiliar with, such as  lentil kibbés or goat-meat laban ummo. Reservations are required (01) 448-129. Location is in the Mar Mikhael district and cost is US $25, all-you-can-eat.

I was invited there by the talented artist Mona Dabaji;  All four of us refilled our plates at least once, eating heartily yet we did not feel stuffed;  three desserts including fresh fruit are also  offered.Tawlet also organizes children workshops,  to teach them about traditions such as St. Barbara’s day.

daily menu

tasting and coaching

  • Kamal Mouzawak also founded and contributes to a newsletter, El Tayeb, (English/Arabic); the free newsletter is filled with information on local food producers, villages to visit, any interesting news emanating from Lebanon (non-political).
  • Kamal and his team founded Beit Loubnan, a project aiming at keeping the farmer in his environment and reviving and perpetuating his local traditions; it also seeks to create jobs in the rural communities.
  • Kamal and his team run a kitchen workshop out of his home in Batroun, teaching ancient Lebanese culinary traditions.
  • Kamal and his team developed a Farmers Exchange Program which puts Lebanese farmers in touch with other farmers throughout the world and focuses on how both sides can learn from the other and improve their operation.
  • Kamal and his team organized Food & Feast, a series of festivals throughout Lebanon which aims at promoting local traditions and food specialties.
  • Kamal and his team developed a Seeds for Peace project, a Bala Nylon program, a Souk @ School program (raising awareness at schools for organic, sustainable agriculture and teaching food traditions).
  • Kamal created Dekenet Souk el Tayeb in order to support  small producers, to discover and perpetuate culinary traditions.
  • Kamal contributed to an excellent guidebook A Complete Insider’s Guide to Lebanon (Souk el-Tayeb Press 2008)

About food in general, Kamal says, full of  passion and feelings:   “Food is our identity. Taste is the only thing that we will take with us to the grave“.

About his accomplishments, Kamal refuses any credit: ” It is not me, it is all these producers out there who need credit: I only give them a voice and support them”.

Listen to Larry Kent, an expert in market management from North Carolina State University, who came to Lebanon to provide help and guidance to Souk el-Tayeb’s producers: ” The whole concept which Kamal has created (all the projects listed above) …Kamal is way ahead of us in the US… this is a leader project that can be a boost for peace, and can be duplicated in other countries.”

As Lebanese expatriates whose nostalgia and longing for the taste of our motherland and whose love for our country of origin is ever so vibrant, here’s what we would like Kamal Mouzawak to know:

Kamal, we root for you and we are proud of you.

We are proud that you are helping the small farmers and producers  and giving them  a chance to make it.

We are proud that you are reviving our ancient  traditions through all these forgotten  dishes, through your classes, events, media, and through the souk.

We are proud that you are helping put a stop to  the decay and  neglect of  farm  land  throughout Lebanon.

We give you our steady  support and wish you continued success.

NOTE: www.soukeltayeb.com

Tel/fax:  +961 1 448 129

Comments

84 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Ivy says:

    Great post Joumana. Beirut is a town I would like to visit one day and thanks for all this informartion you have given us. I hope that other countries will follow Kamal Mouzawak’s ideas.

  2. HistoryOf GreekFood says:

    Very interesting article, thanks Joumana. I thank you too for Mona’s link.

  3. pIERRE says:

    bonjour Joumana
    Beirut is really very attracting i would like very much to come and visit !! cheers
    PIerre

  4. diala says:

    Hi,

    When I met some small farmers in Lebanon and told them about the beautiful souks that we have every week in Europe, I saw the pain in their eyes and it did hurt me badly. I heard about Kamal Moukarzel a while ago and he has my support!!!! WELL DONE!!!

    Greets,
    Diala

  5. Peter says:

    Good read Joumana and bravo to Kamal! In Greece, the farmer’s markets are integral to the food supply and most Greeks will still buy their produce from the “Laiki”.

    With Lebanon being torn apart from civil wars, etc, what was the food market like or where did Lebanese buy their produce? Were there not farmer’s markets prior?

    • Joumana says:

      Hi Peter,
      Thanks for your pertinent questions! As you know Lebanon has had a very difficult time for the past 60 years and small farmers have had no help whatsoever. Sure, we would buy some produce from cart vendors (my grandmother would lower the basket from our 4th floor balcony and haggle with them over the price of tomatoes) and we would get our yoghurt delivered at home in a clay jar once a week, and our eggs in a basket, from a villager (wearing his sherwal and tarboosh for good effect) but by and large, small farmers which made up the bulk of the farming community in Lebanon where (like everyone else for that matter) ignored and left to fend for themselves. As you probably know too, working the land is not cheap! So, they gradually left farming, taking small jobs in the city, and the new generation left the villages for the city or jobs overseas. Today, it is very hard for a small farmer to make it in Lebanon. I sat down with one farmer in our mountain town of Deir el-Kamar, he tends to our orchard there, and asked him if we could grow more mulberries and commercialize the production (I was picturing making mulberry butter and selling it to Joel Robuchon and Ladurée lol); he told me to forget it. He said labor is much cheaper in Syria and Jordan and we’d barely break even. He himself has 6 grown kids and they all left the village and work in Beirut or Dubai or Amman. A lot of the produce in Lebanon comes from Syria, or people have a small plot and grow their own.

  6. Marina says:

    Being Greek, it was a reflect for me to start my comment the way Peter did : ) The lowering-the-basket-from-the-4th-floor method you described is identical to the one we have been using in Greece up until now -yet nowadays mostly in smaller towns- for the neighbourhood’s grocer/baker etc to load it and send back up with a signaling whistle : ) And cart vendors still roam the villages and city neighbourhoods selling their goodies, be it bread, cherries, watermelons, simit rolls, chestnuts, or hot sa7lab. I am so glad for all these similarities, I truly am. The Mediterranean is a blessed place.

    PS: I am so putting my name in the lottery-wheel for the Kamal goodies, I am drooling over them, especially the kammouné mix!! Slurp : ) And, thank you.

  7. Maggie says:

    I just found your website after reading your comment on Binnur’s Turkish Cookbook blog. I’ve been catching up on your entries. I love your photos and stories. Much success to Kamal. Look forward to your future posts.
    I hope also to win the food prize 😉

  8. Peter says:

    Joumana, I’m back to enter my comment for the draw. I love how the spice mixes are personlized….right down to the labels!

    Thank you for your reply and for opening up a new world of cuisine for me – beyond the shish taouk shacks we have here in Toronto.

  9. SE says:

    This is a great deal of information..and for me being from India, this is good to know about Lebanon and specially good to know about Kamal and all hes doing for the betterment !!
    Back home we always got the vegetables in the evening being sold by the farmers, the vegetables which were picked couple of hours early from the fields..!

  10. Azita says:

    This is a great and informative post. I’m learning so much about Lebanon, its food, and its culture just by visiting your blog Joumana. Thank you so much.

  11. Amy says:

    Great post! I love your blog for the informational posts and delicious recipes. I live in Michigan where luckily, I can find excellent Lebanese cuisine. I have been on the hunt for frikah though, and haven’t been able to find it anywhere. That might take a trip to the metro Detroit area where there are a lot more Middle Eastern restaurants and grocers.

  12. Arlette says:

    Marhaba Joumana
    great posting about Kamal, I owe him a kiss between his eyes!!!!!!!!! I heard lots about El Souk,
    I was joking one time with my mom, telling her I will go to Beirut and work at the Souk in Beirut during the winter season , and when the winter is over in Canada I will come back for my two markets in North Bay, which they start Mid of May till Mid of October…
    Great spice giveaway Jouman thanks , let someone else enjoy them… my family brings me always what I need, and when I ran out of something I try to do a mix myself, or ask my brother in law to get me what I want every time he has work in Windsor – Ontario, there is a big Lebanese Community there….

    p.s.: did i tell you that two years ago kashakit here in North Bay… and ate kishik akhdar, before the flavours ripened… my mom is from Baalback and I am used to all kind of mouneh preparation, this summer I made makdous flayfleh and makdous batinjan bi zeit…. excellent, on a piece of pita by iteself.
    for the F.Market I also prepare Lebanese jams and pickles. I am thinking of doing spice mix this year….

  13. Abu Kareem says:

    Joumana,
    My wife just came back from a 10 day trip to Beirut. Her friend Leila took her to Tawlet Souk el Tayib. As they were chit chatting with Kamal, my wife mentioned your website and he said that he was not unaware of it. Later that afternoon, Kamal called Leila to tell her that he met you earlier that afternoon. What a coincidence!!

  14. Mona says:

    Marvelous! Bravo! Very Informative and inspirational post. It feels so good when you hear things like these about your hometown, isnt it! Great job Mr.Kamal!

  15. Arwen from Hoglet K says:

    That’s a marvellous initiative, especially the farmers’ restaurant. It must be fabulous food! Kamal is doing a great job.

  16. cuisineplurielle says:

    Thanks for all this informations..Have a good day

  17. Rosa says:

    A great idea and concept! Thanks for the interesting post!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  18. sophia says:

    Wow…This post has opened my eyes to a whole new world. What college? I just need to read blogs, and I get so much more information and perspectives on things!
    And what a guy, that Kamal! He is quite an accomplisher!

  19. Dorit says:

    So close….and yet we are so far away!
    Love your blog and enjoy middle eastern food, of course…

  20. Christie @ Fig&Cherry says:

    Wow, what an inspirational man! Thanks for this fantastic post!

    I’d love to win those goodies, please enter me in the draw! 🙂 x

  21. Sophie says:

    What a grand post this is, Joumana!!

    What an inspiring man!! I so love food markets!! Excellent pictures too!!!

    I would love to participate into the foodie goodies!! Please enter me into the draw!! I also know & use zaatar already but the other goodies I haven’t used or seen before,…very interesting too!

  22. kamal mouzawak says:

    dear friends … i have tears in my eyes, reading joumana’s article and all ur comments – i m s touched and blessed by such a wonderful recognition. but i would definetly correct all joumana’s article, taking out all kamals and replacing them by souk el tayeb family – producers, farmers, team, supporters … and even u bloggers – we r really makin it all together, and each of us is just a part of a whole chain.
    let it always be a chain of health and peace !
    all of u r welcomed in our gardens and kitchens, souk and tawlet, blog and website … let s keep building together more and better !
    i would love to share more thoughts here too
    salamatt
    kamal

  23. Foodycat says:

    He sounds like an amazing man! How generous of him to give you all those goodies, and how generous of you to pass them on!

  24. Maninas says:

    Kamal is a very impressive man! Lebanon is lucky to have him.

  25. Imran says:

    another great blog! i love lebanese food!

  26. Chris says:

    Welcome back! We’ve been enjoying your blog posts.

    Lentil Kibbeh sounds like an interesting twist for vegetarians.

    Seattle needs more Lebanese restaurants!

  27. Julie says:

    Another great article. Kamal Maouzawak looks like a very generous person 🙂

    You really fascinate me with lebanese food, I am so looking forward to discover more of it. I’ll definitely try the address you gave me in Paris and some of your recipes !

    In the meantime, I’d like to participate to the draw.
    Have a nice day, and once again, thank you very much !

  28. farida says:

    Whether I win Lebanese goodies or not, I am still happy to have read this very informative post. I love enlightening myself about other cultures though blogs, and you do a lot for me with yours. Kamal sounds like such an inspirational person a a visionary. Kudos to him. I would like to visit Lebanon one day, and if I do I will make sure to visit Soul el-Yateb and Tawlet.

  29. farida says:

    I apologize for the misspelling in my previous post. I meant to say Souk el-Tayeb.

  30. northshorewoman says:

    I, too, enjoyed this post, as it is important to hear of the folks who are working to combat the rise of neoliberalism as it affects the production and consumption of food, and with that, people’s lives–literally. I have been reading Rami Zurayk’s blog Land and People for awhile and he has introduced me to some of the politics and economics of food in Lebanon, especially how it impacts on farmers. So, I was gladdened to hear of the work of Kamal and all of the people who work alongside him in their many wonderful projects to keep food culture local, fresh and supportive of farmer’s lives. I sincerely hope for their success and that their work is supported by the people of Beirut.

    In Canada, it is a struggle to shop local and fresh. It is much more expensive than plantation and agribusiness foods (whose social and environmental costs have been ignored/hidden) and especially in northern cities such as where I live, all people want is convenience. Hop in a car and buy in bulk. They have been branded.

    I’ll never forget visiting the chain grocery store in the next door village to Beshmezzine. The canned CRAP on the shelves made you sick. I think it is a French chain.

  31. Bria says:

    Wow, Kamal. Way to GO! That’s amazing work. Thanks so much for posting this information. It’s very inspiring, and I must check out the Souk Tayeb if (when!) I make it to Beirut.

  32. Kitchen Butterfly says:

    Me. Me. Me. Pick me….I know, shameless but…..would LOVE to try some of this spices :-). Welcme back!

  33. Divina says:

    Lebanese cuisine is one of the cuisines I would like to explore. They are rich in culture and traditions and the food is full of history. I’m glad you left a comment on my blog to discover more of your food. I adore your giveaway. I want them. I guess you ship all over the world. Thanks for dropping by. Hope to see more of you .

  34. Empowerment Engineer says:

    I so want to visit Beirut and all those places you mentioned, it sounds wonderful that this man is doing all of this. Thanks for sharing

  35. Sarah says:

    a very informative article, thank you for bringing it to my attention. The work Kamal Mouzawak is doing is priceless as so much traditional knowledge, in food and agriculture is being discarded in the name of modernity. Here he is helping the farmer without destroying the link to the past.
    Are the lentil kibbe similar to Turkish lentil kibbe with bulgur and red lentils? If possible I would like to know more about the seeds for peace program.

    and by any odd chance that I should win, please forward the giveaway to Afaf of http://www.simplyheavenfood.com/

  36. Lindsey says:

    What a charming place! Adding to my list of foodie destinations for my next visit to the region.

    Also, would love to be the owner of those wonderful products you’re giving away 🙂

  37. Fouad says:

    Hi again Joumana

    I think Lebanon owes a debt of gratitude to people like kamal. I have heard and read a lot about souk el tayyeb and will be going on my next visit. Thanks for this post. It’s great to get this kind of information. It keeps me in touch with Lebanon.

    I think Australia will be difficult to send food to, so it’s probably best I don’t get sent anything 🙁 I really had my eye on that sea salt… I’ll have to try it when I go next.

    F

  38. Kirstin says:

    Great post! I loooove Middle Eastern food, but everybody knows Lebanese is the best 😉

  39. Sarah Hamam says:

    Merhaba, I really enjoyed this post. It is good that people hear about all the positive things happening in the Middle East… I’ll be sure to check out Souk El Tayeb when I’m next in Lebanon, not only does it look wonderful but what an amazing idea? The man is truly a visionary.

  40. yasmeen says:

    Kudos to Kamal! Thanks Joumana for the great post about his inspirational work.I adore such farmer’s markets 😀

  41. Vegetable Matter says:

    So glad you told me about your giveaway because when I clicked on your site the first thing I saw was your zucchini soup. We’re going to definitely give it a try. And your goodies from Lebanon look wonderful! Robin

  42. Bethany says:

    Joumana! What a fabulous post and a great giveaway! Looks like you had a fantastic trip back!

  43. TastyTrix says:

    What a fantastic and informative post about such an amazing, inspirational person. I am so happy I found your blog! It’s absolutely wonderful.

  44. Ann says:

    Congrats Joumana – a great post and giveaway. Very generous of you to host this. Mr. Kamal is a visionary, we need more people like him in other parts of the world, where there is growing consumerism and addiction to branded goods and big chain superstores.

  45. Miriam/The Winter Guest says:

    Such an interesting blog, I mean it! I love Lebanese cuisine, will be visiting often. Thanks!

  46. pierre says:

    Joumana
    I find extraordinary what Kamal has done and I agree with you you must be proud of what he does to promote the lebanese farmers work ; great man !!
    cheers from Paris
    Pierre

  47. Joanne says:

    Firstly, awesome post. I feel so much more informed about Beirut and the goings on there!

    Also thanks so much for letting me know about the giveaway. I really appreciate it. The spices and goodies sound amazing! I definitely would have a hard time finding stuff like that here.

  48. Juliana says:

    Jourmana, how interesting the mixing and matching of the spices…and I absolutely enjoyed looking at the pictures 🙂
    By the way, thanks for reminding me of the giveaway 😉

  49. SN says:

    thanks for the great article; Beirut and Lebanon have always been on my ‘places to-see’ list, and this has made me want to go even more!!

  50. Mimi says:

    I’m so impressed. Kamal’s projects are visionary indeed.

    And I love your blog. Thank you for this post, and for all the posts.

  51. Marysol says:

    Mr. Mouzawak not only played with a concept, but turned it into a wonderful reality!
    Kudos to him and to you for putting the spotlight on him, or we never would’ve known about this man.

    Thanks J for alerting me to this post, even if I’m a hundred years too late and don’t stand a chance of winning. What the heck. Your story and pictures certainly made it all worthwhile. Good luck to Kamal Mouzawak for his determination in bringing a dream to life. And good luck to all participants of this giveaway!

  52. Marysol says:

    Mr. Mouzawak not only played with a concept, but turned it into a wonderful reality! Kudos to him and to you for putting the spotlight on him, or we never would’ve known about this man.

    Thanks J for alerting me to this post, even if I’m a hundred years too late and don’t stand a chance of winning. What the heck. Your story and pictures certainly made it all worthwhile. Good luck to Kamal Mouzawak for his determination in bringing a dream to life. And good luck to all participants of this giveaway!

  53. Marysol says:

    …and my apologies for the hiccups.

  54. Jeff says:

    Rural residents are usually shut-out of the economic viabilities and opportunities of the urban setting. Kamal Mouzawak has been able to democratize opportunity for the small, local farmer, but he does it in a way that is shows a genuine passion for his country, regional environment, and most of all, food. It’s how food should be.

    And what a wonderful blog of all these great, fresh Lebanese recipes!

  55. Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen says:

    This sounds like a great experience! The spices sound wonderful!

  56. shayma says:

    thank you, dear joumana, for this ‘contest’. the spices look amazing. best wishes, shayma

  57. farzana says:

    What a lovely giveaway. I had the good fortune of living in America some years back and was introduced to “Freekeh” by some Palestinian friends. I can still remember the smokey flavour. I have not found it in my part of the world and would love to receive this now. Thank you for an interesting and informative post. Take care. Pick me pick me.

  58. Nadjibella says:

    Joumana, mon amie, il devrait y avoir des Kamal partout dans le monde.
    Ca maintient des traditions culinaires et ça aide beaucoup le monde paysan à mieux se faire connaitre.
    A bientôt.

  59. Joseph Nicholas says:

    Very inspirational- in the Northeast US we are trying to plan our own gardens, and this is quite motivating. Kamal Mouzawak’s success is heartwarming, that there is some hope that we can maintain tradition and link generations of people through food. Its hard to find such resources in many parts of the US, I suppose a trip to Lebanon is the most pleasurable way to stay inspired! Thank you Jourmana for your exquisite blog, photography and reporting.

  60. lynn says:

    This is a lovely post, and he sounds like an amazing man. I’d love to win some of the tasty goodies you’re so generously giving away. Thanks for the opportunity.

  61. dana says:

    What an amazing person and amazing feats. Thank you Joumana for highlighting Kamal’s achievements. Lebanon is in dire need of visionaries like him. Your closing words couldnt have said it any better: thank you, Kamal!

    Plus, to all you foodies out there and fans of tasteofbeirut, Joumana has been doing a wonderful job of testing, archiving, and educating the masses about the beautiful culinary heritage of Lebanon. Thank you, Joumana!

  62. cmiranda says:

    I will be travelling to Beirut in March and I look forward to visiting this place.Thank you for sharing.

  63. Barbara Montagne says:

    A twitter follower has informed me of this site, and I have to say I liked it. I’m going to tell to my about 7000 fans, thank you very much!

  64. diane says:

    Hi! Just wanted to say good blog. Continue with the good work!

  65. sukienki says:

    Outstanding piece, thanks for sharing!

  66. Sherron Demallie says:

    Very informative post! Thanks!

  67. Krista says:

    I always wished to write on my site something like that. I regularly don’t write-up comments in blogs but yet your blog made me to, tremendous work.… Respectfully, Krista.

  68. Particia Station says:

    hi, good day. i was just reading about this on our local website

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