What comes to mind for you when I ask you to think about Lebanon?
Is it the mass exodus of Palestinian refugees into Lebanon during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948?
Is it the Lebanese civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990, during which Beirut in particular was so often on the news? Internal conflict between political and religious factions within Lebanon, Invasions and attacks by Israel, counterattacks of Israel by the PLO and other Palestinian Liberation organisations and factions, and a Syrian intervention to name but a few facets of a long and very complex period of history.
Or perhaps the more recent 2006 conflict between Israel and Lebanon that resulted in 1,200 Lebanese deaths and 160 Israelis ones?
Or do you think of the Hezbollah, the militant political party and paramilitary resistance movement that emerged in the early 1980s, in response to conflict with Israel?
For me, it is all of the above, yes, of course – the civil war was almost a permanent news story during my childhood – it’s inevitable that it’s part of my consciousness about Lebanon.
Sometimes, though, it seems these responses are all that people associate with the country.
But what about the food and culture of Lebanon?
I have long been fascinated by the (much longer term) history of the wider region, reading tales about the Phoenician sea-traders and the ‘fertile crescent’, often considered to be the cradle of civilisation.
And I’ve been drawn by the reputation of pre-1975 Beirut as a glamorous, cosmopolitan city much appreciated by commercial and tourist interests alike. In its heyday, Beirut was popular with the rich and famous and was said to offer the best of both the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
More than once I’ve heard it said that the Lebanese are some of the most welcoming and hospitable people on earth.
And, of course, I’ve enjoyed what small fraction of the cuisine I’ve been able to try here in the UK.
So it was without any hesitation at all that I signed us up to Taste Lebanon‘s culinary tour of the country, lead by Bethany Kehdy, fellow food blogger, photographer and nascent tour operator. The tour is designed to give participants a “well-rounded taste of Lebanon through each of its region’s specialties” and is very much aimed at food lovers.
There is so much to do in Lebanon, it’s a fascinating country. Our tour focused on the gastronomy, plus key sights.
I plan to share more from the trip but in the mean time, here are lots of food and drink photographs from the trip: