Souk el Tayeb is a farmers market in central Beirut. Since its inception in 2004, Souk el Tayeb has evolved with regional food festivals, restaurants, accommodation and community programs.
Our Beirut Guide touched briefly on the farmers market kitchen, Tawlet, a social enterprise supporting farmers, cooks and producers.
Let’s dig a little deeper and discover more about the entire operation.
Kamal Mouzawak spent his formative years during the Lebanese Civil War in the mountain village of Jeita.
The son of a farmer and producer, he respects the land, its communities and what it produces. While a food and travel writer, his appreciation of the connection between people and food grew.
During his time as a macrobiotic cooking teacher, he shared his enthusiasm for the health benefits of natural products leading to the hosting of a television program on healthy living.
A board member of Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Movement in Italy, Kamal Mouzawak follows this concept in Lebanon.
Hear him speak in this video at the MAD Symposium brought together by René Redzepi of Noma fame and other industry leaders.
None of it was planned. One thing led naturally to another. The light-bulb moment, you could say, was at the end of the civil war.
As he completed Graphic Design studies he was involved with a cultural centre organising slideshows, readings and concerts.
Given a date, time and location, people showed up from all over Beirut. Previously at war, a common interest brought the community together. This has been the foundation of Kamal Mouzawak’s philosophy ever since.
In 2004, Kamal Mouzawak established Souk el Tayeb encapsulating his passions; sustainable agricultural practices, support of small-scale farming and the celebration of food and traditions that unite communities.
In short, “Make Food Not War”.
Quoting directly from Souk el Tayeb:
“Souk El Tayeb’s mission is to create environments that bring people of different regions and beliefs together – celebrating the land we love, supporting small-scale farmers and producers, encouraging organic, eco-friendly practices, contributing to local communities, leading research and educational campaigns about food traditions and heritage, and promoting organic foods and a healthy lifestyle.”
Souk el Tayeb.
Souk means market in Arabic. Tayeb has a few meanings – good, tasty, delicious and when used to describe a person – good-hearted. Essentially – a market for good.
On Wednesdays from 11 am to 4 pm, Souk el Tayeb is located in Beirut on Clemenceau at the Gefinor Center. Expect to find multiple nationalities with differing religious and political beliefs offering their products alongside one another.
Syrian refugees encourage sampling of their many kibbeh flavours. A Druze Sheikh from Bekaa dries fruit and nuts then drips them with grape resin. Try them, you won’t regret it.
Homemakers pickle and preserve abundant crops increasing the product’s lifespan. Fresh vegetables and fruit are always available seasonally. Baked goods entice and creamy dairy products provide the perfect accompaniment.
Over a third of the produce is organic and growing as certification increases. Handmade pottery, soaps and straw baskets make great gifts or a souvenir for yourself.
Kids are looked after too with arts and crafts, seed-planting and storytelling.
On Saturdays from 9 am to 2 pm, Souk el Tayeb is located at Beirut Souks, Downtown. Expect to find ready-made meals, coffee and every walk of life organising their pantry or soaking up the atmosphere.
Regional Food Festivals.
While Souk el Tayeb has ticked the box bringing rural communities to the city, Kamal Mouzawak went on to introduce urban communities to the country.
Food and Feast celebrates a region’s core product. It could be fish in the northern coastal town of Batroun or Karaz, a lamb and cherry dish from Syria in the region around Hammana.
The purpose is to highlight where products are grown and produced, empowering those producers and giving them another avenue in which to sell their goods.
Cooking demonstrations and classes are arranged. Mouneh; preserving, pickling, or any process that lengthens the life of fresh produce, are demonstrated.
Tuck into lunch where the villagers cook and serve traditional dishes from the region. Entertainment, competitions and plenty of activities keep the kids amused.
Souk el Tayeb arranges guided tours of the community focusing on local commodities, how they’re grown, processing if any and their different uses.
Tawlet is the farmer’s kitchen at Souk el Tayeb previously mentioned. Each day a different cook from a different region prepares their traditional menu using produce from the market.
This spread is available for your indulgence as an open buffet ($33) or simply enjoy the dish of the day ($15).
On closer inspection, this social enterprise is so much more than the divine array of traditional dishes.
The first Tawlet opened in 2009 as an extension to the market’s community development. When approached, humble home cooks were nervous, questioning their ability to provide customers with a restaurant-style experience.
Throwing caution to the wind, they were pleasantly surprised by the reactions their meals produced. Foodies from all over the world seek out Tawlet as one of the major highlights of their Beirut itineraries.
What is more important, these women are keeping alive traditional recipes handed down through generations, they bond regardless of their beliefs, and the sense of pride and self-confidence this produces empowers them to create and inspire.
To learn to make these traditional dishes yourself join an evening cooking class.
When the doors close for the day groups of 6 or more are welcomed and given an apron. Classes are fun social events and vary depending on the cook of the day.
Choose from “Lebanese 101”, “Armenian favourites”, “Southern Tastes” or “Forgotten West Beqaa” to name a few.
Cooking classes include a welcome drink, the cooking experience and dinner once the spread is complete. $60+10%VAT affords you this priceless experience.
For the less kitchen-centric of you, Tawlet provides catering. Choose your menu together with your preferred cook or leave it to them.
The warmth these women exude, the fine food they present complemented by locally produced wines provides a totally unique experience.
Tawlet has regional locations throughout Lebanon. Check here to include them in your itinerary.
Capacity Building Program.
Souk el Tayeb’s Capacity Building Program (CBP) enriches the lives of underprivileged communities by providing the resources to become economically independent.
The program provides technical, financial and personal skills through theory and practice in conjunction with experts and professionals in the fields of agriculture, production, cooking, sales & marketing.
Souk el Tayeb has partnered with the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Women’s Program Association (WPA).
Beneficiaries include rural & urban Lebanese women, Palestinian & Syrian refugees and migrant workers.
The success of the CBP has allowed new partners to replicate the project’s module and to continually reach out to new beneficiaries.
Kamal Mouzawak and the Souk el Tayeb team’s latest addition is Beit. Meaning house or home in Arabic, Beit is their accommodation arm.
Converted and restored traditional Lebanese houses offer guests the opportunity to experience regional traditions overnight or for a longer stay.
Each Beit is named after the village or region it is located in. Each Beit supports that community while maintaining Lebanon’s architectural and cultural heritage.
Wake up to a traditional Lebanese breakfast, tour wineries, ancient historical sites or spend time with a regional producer and see what a day in their life looks like.
Dining, cooking classes and guided tours of the villages can be arranged depending on the Beit’s location.
So far there are 4 in total. Each Beit is unique and has been restored as close to original as possible, with a few mod-cons. 😉
Following the eco-friendly sustainable ethos of Souk el Tayeb’s mission statement, a stay in one of these regional Beits gives back to the community and the land.
Kamal Mouzawak and his team are still expanding the Souk el Tayeb umbrella. Lower socio-economic quarters are being earmarked for markets, Tawlet, Food and Feast and Beit integration.
When planning your trip to Lebanon, make your adventure unique by staying in a rural village with the community and open your arms to them as they will to you. Souk el Tayeb’s all-encompassing mission: it’s a thing we love….
Pin it for Later!
For regular #eat #drink #explore #shop & #stay updates subscribe to our shenanigans and receive a heads-up direct to your inbox. Don’t worry, only admin sees your email address.
You know we love a chat, so scroll down, add your comments and please share this article on social media using the simple icons below. Thank you for your support as always!