Lebanon has so many diverse elements which make this country so special. Some elements, just to name a few, come in the form of food, with the emphasis on sustainability, entrepreneurship, art and giving back. And no organization and business in Lebanon embody these forms collectively as much as the initiative behind Souk El Tayeb and it’s partner: Tawlet. I had the fortune of learning about them on my last trip. I needed a recommendation on where to stay in Beirut. My good friend Jamil of Colonel Brewery recommended Beit el Tawlet. A one night stay turned into two nights (and surely would have been more if I had the time), as I fell in love with this peaceful Bed and Breakfast in Beirut. Not only are the rooms clean, new and artistically decorated throughout, staying and dining there means that you are supporting the livelihood of local farmers and refugee women.
Where to Stay in Beirut: Beit el Tawlet
Thinking about where to stay in Beirut can become confusing with all the many options in the various neighborhoods. There are expensive luxury hotels located in Downtown Beirut and Zaitounay Bay which I find too stuffy and bougie. I prefer to near Mar Mikhael and Gemmayze street. But noise can be a concern with all the late-night bars running throughout the week. I found that Beit el Tawlet had every aspect that I needed in my stay in Beirut.
Beit el Tawlet is a charming guest house and bed and breakfast, in a full-service hotel environment. This 70s-inspired guest home is adorned with unique crafts from the local Lebanese art scene, with lush greenery around, dozens of plants within, and a glimpse into the jaw-dropping view of the sea and the mountains from the room private patios.
Its location is perfect: tucked in the back of a small, quiet lot, off the heart of Mar Mikhael street. It is quiet enough to get your deep sleep at night. Yet it is also within a 5-minute walking distance to the start of all the hippest restaurants and bars that Beirut has to offer. And Gemmayze Street and Downtown Beirut are within a 15 minutes walk.
Beit El Tawlet has eight double bedrooms, two with private balconies, two with direct access to the terrace, and a beautiful living room. Though Tawlet Mar Mikhael is only open for lunch from 11-4pm, guests can go to Tawlet Hamra (20 minutes by car) for a full dinner experience at a discounted price.
Room rates start at $115 USD with breakfast included
To book a night at Beit El Tawlet, call: +961 01 448 129
Visit their website: http://www.soukeltayeb.com/beit-el-tawlet
Souk El Tayeb: An Organization that Empowers the People
A “Souk” is traditionally a place where people have gathered in the past thousands of years. “Tayeb” in Arabic, means “good,” “tasty,” and “goodhearted.” This name embodies what Souk El Tayeb has become.
Souk El Tayeb is a Social Entrepreneurship, bridging “Entrepreneurship” + “Advocacy”. The organization initially started small-scale in 2004 as an experimental project to support local farmers. Which then turned into a national and international project to connect farmers and their local produce into established kitchens, cooked by refugee women. And the beautiful result? A thriving restaurant and farmer’s market culture serving a diverse range of Arabic dishes, available for everyone to enjoy. There is no better way to give back, preserve culinary traditions, cultural heritage, and natural environment than in this way.
Beyond employing refugees, this initiative also continually empowers refugees, especially the women, to become self-sustainable while making money. Souk El Tayeb does so by providing training programs in the kitchen. And they provide an opportunity for them to bring their own culinary arts, generational recipes and share it with Lebanon.
Kamal Mouzawak, the Genius and Philanthropist behind Souk El Tayeb
Souk El Tayeb was founded by Kamal Mouzawak. His mission has been to “create environments that bring people of different regions and beliefs together.” The organization vows to support small-scale farmers, organic farming (through eco-friendly practices) while promoting a healthy lifestyle. Since its start in 2004, Kamal continues to actively lead a network of non-profit and profitable organizations (throughout Lebanon and the Middle-East), social enterprises, and guest homes that empower local farmers, producers, cooks, and refugees. His leadership has led him to the coveted Prince Claus award in 2016 for his pioneering work in the field of culture and community development.
Tawlet collaborates in this way, as they have opened 6 farmer’s kitchens and restaurants throughout Lebanon. Most are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (except for the Mar Mikhael location). Not only are they supporting and empowering the refugee population, but they are also supporting local farmers and their livelihood. In addition, there is regular participation in farmer’s markets and festivals throughout Lebanon.
“Employment is the single greatest driver of migration and the greatest challenge migrants face upon reaching their destination.”
Stories of Empowered Syrian Refugee Women through Souk el Tayeb
In 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recorded almost a million Syrian refugees who fled during the war and sought shelter in Lebanon. Kamal Mouzawak felt the urge to do something. With the help of UNHCR and the non-profit organization, Caritas, Mouzawak created Atayab Zaman or “Bounties of Times Past,” a program for female Syrian refugees in Lebanon. The organization aims to help female refugees to start anew and earn for their families in Lebanon through dishes that they love cooking. 20 women participated initially when the program was launched in 2014.
Rasha Mhemid is a 31-year old mother of four who escaped Syria to Lebanon. Rasha’s husband was arrested after participating in an anti-government protest and she bailed him out using their life savings. With the little money left, she used the remainder to pay for a taxi to Beirut. From there, they had to rebuild their lives back up from scratch especially after losing contact with family and friends back in Syria. Rasha used to cry every day when she first arrived. But the NGO gave her a new life as well as new sisters to help her recover from the war that once engulfed their lives.
Another refugee named Marleine Youkhanna, an Assyrian Christian, was also one of the participants of the culinary program organized by Souk El Tayeb. Marleine left Syria in 2013 together with her husband and three children. They spent their savings which was originally meant for their children’s education to escape the war-torn country. They were saving for almost 20 years in the hopes that their children become the first in their family to go to college.
When they got to Lebanon, her husband underwent an open-heart surgery which meant that Marleine had to work double to provide for their family. Marleine has been devoted to learning English and improving her cooking skills so that she can provide for the family, as well as for the purposes of self-improvement.
“The Kitchen Has No Religion”
These farmers and women, despite religious and ethnic differences, learn and improve from each other’s practices, recipes, and experiences. Souk El Tayeb allows them to cook for Tawlet different days of the month, once they finish the culinary program. Many of these women are now financially stable. They also have the professional capability to start their own culinary businesses should they wish to do so. The program also helps Lebanese hosts and Syrian refugees bridge a better understanding of each other’s cultural and religious differences.
Learn more: http://www.soukeltayeb.com
Tawlet Farmer’s Kitchen, Restaurants + Cooking Class
Tawlet which translates into “table” in Arabic, was developed from the Souk El Tayeb organization. It is a farmer’s kitchen established in 2009 that serves Lebanese cuisine and supports local farmers. Each day, in every restaurant, there is a different menu being served. This is seasonal depending on the crops and produce. And the change is also due to the different cooks who prepare traditional dishes from the region of their origin. You can find all the branches’ weekly menu here.
As mentioned above, Souk El Tayeb was established to promote small-scale farmers, preserve culinary traditions, and support sustainable agriculture. In the same vision, Tawlet was developed as a social enterprise where profits are used to support local cooks and farmers. Tawlet producers and chefs also offer cooking classes for guests who wish to learn more about Lebanese food. Cooking classes run for two hours and class themes depend on the producer of the day. Students will have the chance to taste the food they made after the cooking class. Menu themes are to the right.
Tawlet also offers catering services for events and parties. They serve fresh and authentic traditional home-cooked Lebanese food at the venue of your choice.
“Beit” in Arabic translates literally to “House”. Besides Beit el Tawlet where I stayed in Beirut, there are a total of 5 Bed and Breakfasts, ran by Tawlet. I list the locations of the Tawlet restaurants and a link to the ones that also have accommodations so you get the full experience.
- Tawlet Beirut (Flagship location, Farmer’s Kitchen on Mar Mikhael)
- Address: 12 Rue Naher (Armenia Street), Beirut, Lebanon
- Open 11-4pm (Saturday “Producers” Buffet Brunch $30)
- Beit el Tawlet
- Tawlet Hamra (near Lebanese American University in Beirut)
- Address: Baalbeck Street, Beirut, Lebanon
- Tawlet Ammiq (Bekaa Valley)
- Address: 3 Ammiq, West Bekaa, Lebanon
- Beit Ammiq
- Deir El Qamar
- Address: Deir El Qamar Main Road, Past NDU Campus, Lebanon
- Beit el Qamar
- Biomass (enjoy a Farm Tour)
- Jrabta Main Road, Jrabta, Lebanon
- Saida (south Lebanon)
- Address: Courniche El Baher, Saida, Lebanon
- Beit Douma (Located in the mountains of Batroun, starting at $220/night)
- Address: Douma Main Road, Douma, Lebanon
Featured Location: Tawlet Ammiq, The Eco-Restaurant
The village of Ammiq is located in West Bekaa, one of the most fertile parts of the Bekaa Valley. This part of Lebanon is one of the most important areas for wine production in the country. Most residents of Ammiq rely on farming and agriculture. Thus, the municipality, through its various initiatives, is committed to advocate and promote sustainable agricultural practices in the area. Tawlet Ammiq was developed to showcase the local producers, their crops and techniques, as well as the cooks in the area. They aim to preserve the land, the traditions of the villagers, as well as help the people of Ammiq rediscover lost recipes and customs.
Tawlet Ammiq is housed in one of the greenest buildings in Lebanon with a green roof, solar chimneys, and a solar energy system. The building uses 80% less energy and all of the building’s waste is organic and recycled. The whole building was designed by local artisans and craftsmen and the furniture and fixtures are mostly made out of repurposed materials. Tawlet Ammiq also offers corporate venues and facilities. The eco-restaurant has a Dar (60-seater conference setting), a Sofra (60-seater dining setting), and a Stayha (100-seater dining setting). Tawlet Ammiq is only an hour away from Beirut so instead of having a coffee table conference, why not take your corporate team to Tawlet Ammiq for a change of scenery and a refreshing experience.
The eco-restaurant project was funded by the Swiss Development Agency (SDC). And the land where the building proudly stands today was generously donated by Skaff Estate. The project was implemented by Al-Shouf Cedar Society, A Rocha and Royal Society for Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Souk el Tayeb partnered with these organizations to support the conservation efforts of Al-Shouf Cedar Society and A Rocha in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.
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Shop Products at Dekenet
As part of the Tawlet vision, the organization created Dekenet as the farmer’s shop. Dekenet is a selection of the finest products from Souk El Tayeb. Dekenet sells traditional Lebanese utensils and cutlery, as well as culinary books about Lebanese and other Middle-Eastern culinary heritage. These special products and other Lebanese goods can be purchased at Tawlet and Tawlet Ammiq.
A fine selection of Lebanese Wine, Gata Gin and Secreterre Vodka (by Colonel Brewery), Fruit Jams by local farmers, Spices and Tea are also sold in the shops.
- Watch: Marcus Lemonis Meets Kamal Mouzawak
- Synergos in the Arab World: Powering Social Entrepreneurship
- Lebanon’s Food Festivals where farmers sell their food through Souk el Tayeb
- Travel Guide to Lebanon
- Colonel Brewery, another thriving business that brings the people of Lebanon, Expats and Travelers together