The culinary heritage of LEBANON, by Chef Ramzi

May 17, 2009  • 

 

I started watching Chef Ramzi on Future TV a year or so ago. I especially enjoyed his segments on traditional Lebanese cuisine. On Saturdays, he would travel through the countryside, stop in a village and visit the local folks and watch them cook their homestyle dishes. I was fascinated. Then I learned that he had published a book on traditional Lebanese cuisine. I checked  Amazon and when I found it available, ordered it with some trepidation. Similar to a Larousse Gastronomique, this book does not leave a stone unturned when it comes to traditional Lebanese cooking. It is a monumental work. The book itself weighs 5 pounds (I checked). There are hundreds of recipes and color photographs, a total of 525 pages and more than 600 recipes.  The photographs make up 95% of the book. This is I believe the first time that a culinary professional has attempted to seriously explore authentic and traditional Lebanese cuisine from every corner of the country. 

What I liked about it:

  • This book is so thorough! Chef Ramzi and his team did not miss one area of Lebanon. From the Hermel and Akkar to Tyre and Bint Jbeil and everything in-between.
  •  The photographs are postcard quality. They render the dishes, yes, but especially the scenery and the environment that gave birth to them: the pine forests, the green valleys, the snow-capped mountains, the archeological sites at every turn, the ancient ports and citadels, the palaces and temples, the fortresses,  the fossil quarries, the grottoes, the lakes, the springs, the waterfalls, the bays, the stone carvings, the frescoes, the mosaics….
  • Chef Ramzi presents for each area a historical background as well as a report on the current situation.
  • The preserved traditional industries such as the production of silk at Bsoos, the production of tableware at Jezzine, the artisan soap factory in Saida, the cheese makers  such as the Jesuit monks in Ta’nayel, the olive oil makers, the tahineh factory, the moghrabiyyeh makers are all thoroughly documented (except for wine and spirits)… So, in effect, one gets the whole picture. A touristic guide and a cooking manual, all in one.
  • I discovered dishes  I had no idea existed and were used in Lebanon. Savory  ma’karoon, tabboossat, marshoosheh, matmoorah, shmakhliyyeh, mahrooseh, barhooti, harqoossah, fakhtiyyeh, etc.. and several desserts such as hareq isba’o which means “he burned his finger” and is a type of bread pudding that Chef Ramzi claims is one of the best and considered the dessert of the poor, due to its simplicity.
  • I discovered ingredients I was not aware of. When I was a child at school and  during break we would often grab a wildflower we called hommaydah and suck on it because it was sour and lemony-tasting. Well, apparently, people in some areas use it in their cooking! Or, a spice mixture called kammooneh…
  • Chef Ramzi explains the how and why of certain traditional ingredients: that grape molasses, for instance, was used to sweeten dishes before the introduction of sugar, which gave birth to khabissah, a pudding from the west Bekaa area.

What I did not like about it:

  • Very often throughout the book the recipes are very succinct and the quantities are for commercial use. One recipe for pumpkin kibbe calls for 16 pounds of pumpkin, another for lentil soup lists 1 whole cup of crushed garlic! So, unless you are an experienced cook with a background in Levantine or Lebanese cooking, you will find them challenging.

CONCLUSION:

If it was up to me, I would proclaim this book a national treasure and would ask Chef Ramzi to create in Lebanon an Institute of   Lebanese  Gastronomy. It is high time the Lebanese realize that our culinary traditions need to be preserved at all costs. When I read an article in the Daily Star (Lebanese daily in English) about the cupcake craze in Beirut, I am not happy. Sure, it is great to adopt culinary confections from other cultures for a while, as long as we protect our own. Here is what Chef Ramzi says in his introduction: “.. The young Lebanese, dazzled by these new fashions, neglect a centuries old cuisine, based on the produce of our land, breathing the air of our country, warmed in the sun of Lebanon and nourished by its water, modeled by our customs and traditions, our feasts and festivities”.  After all, didn’t the West proclaim Lebanese cuisine to be one of the healthiest in the world? We should not turn our backs on it.

Comments

15 Comments  •  Comments Feed

  1. Arlette says:

    Sound like a very interesting book Joumana, I will try to look for it, I didnt have the chance to see Chef Ramzi, and I don’t have the Arabic Channels where I live, I know Chef Antoine , seems they are all from the same old school.
    the recipes you mentioned never heard about either… and I am more interested to dig in and explore our treasure.
    thanks for your review

    • Joumana says:

      Chef Ramzi Choueiri is a chef who actually is trained in classical French cuisine and when he started 10 years ago on Future TV he was the first one to do televised cooking segments. He is very active and has even started a line of frozen traditional Lebanese foods and even a magazine, I think.

  2. maninas says:

    Gosh, this does sound impressive!

  3. diala says:

    Dear Joumana,

    Is it possible that you have the recipe for the kaak il knefe, the one which we eat as breakfast. And also the round kaak with a hole in it and filled with zaatar, the one we eat on the streets as a snack :)))))
    You see, I live in Belgium and we don’t have everything yet and if we have to drive to lebanese bakery, it will take like an hour or more to find what we need.
    And my mommy is always nagging on my head to find the recipes and unfortunately every lebanese cookbook that i bought doesn’t have it included.
    So It would mean so much to me if you could help.
    Thanks you so much and keep coming the beautiful recipes :)))

  4. adams says:

    hello cheif i want to meet you

  5. samir says:

    excellent review of this book…

  6. lcd tv says:

    Hey! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thanks

  7. Souzi says:

    Hi Joumana,

    I’ve been looking for a recipe for Ka’ak Bi Loz. Please let me know if you have it!

    Thank you, and again – I love your blog! I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve made and my family loves all of them!

    • Joumana says:

      @Souzi: is it the plain cookie with almonds? I have a couple/ it is like a shortbread cookie. I only know the one they make in the Chouf which is shaped like a crescent/ is that the one you are referring to?

  8. Jared says:

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  9. Sevak Vartomiyan says:

    I would like to Invite Lebanon to participate in the 2nd International Young chef Olympiad (Chef Students from all over the world between the age of 18-22)

    please contact.

    Sevak.
    Young Chef Initiative
    International Institute of Hotel Management, (IIHM)
    International Tower, X-1,8/3, Block EP,Salt Lake, Sector-V
    Salt Lake Electronics Complex, Kolkata-700 091, http://www.iihm.ac.in
    Mobile: (+91) 9903859423 / (+91) 9674134271
    what’s app/Viber(+91)9051572944
    Web: http://www.ycolympiad.com
    Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ycolympiad
    Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/iihmhotelschool/
    You Tube: http://youtube.com/iihmhotelschool/

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