When you’re stuck in a town longer than you had expected, food can turn a hardship into a pleasure. In January, my husband and I were traveling in Lebanon when the government collapsed. A new coalition formed, but partisans unhappy with the results took to the streets, blocking roads with burning tires, big trucks, and flag-waving crowds. We were caught in Zahle, east of Beirut in the Bekaa Valley.
Fortunately, we found a restaurant named Mazaj. Over three nights we learned that Lebanese food ranges far beyond hummus, tabbouleh, and falafel to salads of purslane or wild thyme, spreads of fish and tahini or spicy peppers tempered with walnuts and honey, cooked greens garnished with crispy fried onions and lemon bits, and “cakes” of split pita, stuffed with spiced minced lamb and pan-fried. We ate raw kibbeh, too, and bastoorma (cured spiced beef), and even tabbouleh and hummus, to see how they compared to the American versions (more lemon!).
While uprisings continued in other Arab countries Lebanon’s “day of rage” ended when the ousted prime minister announced he could not condone violence. In heavy rain, we headed south to the Chouf Mountains and the cedars of Lebanon.