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November 02, 2012

Eating in Lebanon: Tawlet Restaurant

By Radha Chadha | Restaurants, Food

Photo by Valero Doval

I had been to Beirut once before but left with unfinished business: I hadn’t eaten at Tawlet, the unusual home-style restaurant that I kept hearing about. So when I was recently nearby, at a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan, I made a quick dash to the city, landing, luckily, right in time for lunch.

This isn’t any old restaurant. The food is unbelievably delicious, earthy, hearty—and everything tastes so fresh, you can picture it being plucked from the garden minutes before. But it’s the chefs who truly make this place so special.

Started by social entrepreneurs Kamal Mouzawak and Christine Codsi in late 2009 with an aim toward female empowerment, Tawlet brings women into its kitchen to cook—and there’s a different chef every day. They are ordinary folk, farmers and grandmas from various villages who turn out meals as they would in their homes. It’s a masterstroke—suddenly Lebanon’s divisions along religious-ethnic-regional lines are transformed into a diverse range of unique dishes. On my visit, it was Ossan Tikidjian’s turn, an Armenian woman from Aanjar (in eastern Lebanon) who served a feast of specialties like kibbeh mehche batata (potato-stuffed meat croquettes). I fell for her zouton trakhik (vegetable stew), with its small bulgur dough balls that had the texture of an exotic bean, in a savory sauce of tomatoes and hot pepper. I was happily stuffed but couldn’t resist the divine dessert buffet—do try the persimmons, with juicy flesh bursting from their peels.

The owners’ vision is lofty: uniting a battle-weary country by making opposing factions appreciate one another’s cuisine. As I sat back, contemplating the outstanding meal, I thought, Hey, they might just pull it off.

Tawlet is at sector 79, Naher St. 12; 961-1/448-129; tawlet.com.