Lebanon has risen to the top of my favorite countries in the world. Its complicated history, hospitable people, their openness to creativity and the arts, their progressiveness mixed with traditional values, the fluidity between European, Asian and Arabic culture, among many other reasons is why I continually dream of going back for longer periods of time. Visiting Lebanon is the best way to get a taste of their diverse culture. But in the meantime, I’ve listed 6 books about Lebanon’s travel, food, and politics for you to read before traveling there.
Taste of Beirut – Lebanese Cooking Book
There is no denying that Lebanon is one of the best culinary capitals of the world. Its native ingredients, rich nutrients and cooking techniques are an art in itself. Mixed with the influences of the whole Arab region throughout the past few centuries, which includes the refugee populations from Armenia, Syria, and Palestine. A trip to Lebanon just to eat is worth it in itself.
Joumana Accad, the creator of TasteOfBeirut.com, is a trained Pastry Chef, native Lebanese and professional Caterer. She generously shares over 150 traditional recipes and anecdotes taught by her Teta (grandmother in Arabic) from their family kitchen. Some recipes include Mezzes, Kebabs, a large variety of Vegetarian/Vegan appetizers, Stews, Zaatar bread and more.
In Lebanon, I recommend dining at one of the Tawlet Restaurants with unique dishes served by refugee women. Ingredients are sourced from local organic farmers where the restaurants are located throughout Lebanon. Also, read 10 Foods to Try in Lebanese Cuisine.
Also Recommended Lebanese Cooking Books:
- Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen: Authentic Recipes for Fresh & Flavorful Mediterranean Home Cooking
- Lebanese Cuisine: More than 200 Simple, Delicious, Authentic Recipes
Syria & Lebanon Travel Guide by Lonely Planet
I trust Lonely Planet as a starting resource to plan all of my trips. With the dozens of writers within each issue, it provides a diverse range of opinions and levels of travel styles and accommodations. The guidebooks are well organized with the first chapters providing an overall background, historical, cultural and practical tips on traveling to Lebanon (and Syria). With all the major cities and regions divided into different chapters, allowing it easy for readers to plan out their trip.
I always advise people to pencil in a tentative schedule. Book your first 2 night’s stay in Beirut, and then allow your schedule to be flexible. You never know who you will meet. It is common in Lebanon and throughout the Middle-East for new friends you meet at the beach, the bar or even on the street to invite you in for a cup of tea which turns into a meal. And possibly days later, an invitation to camp with them in the Chouf or Bekaa Mountains.
- If you are traveling throughout the Middle East, you can buy a condensed version of all the destinations in one Lonely Planet book here
- Bradt Lebanon Travel Guide
House of Stone
House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East is written by Anthony Shadid. In the summer of 2006, while reporting in Lebanon on the Israeli invasion, he found himself in his ancestral land. Marjayoun, which translates to “Meadow of Springs”, located in southern Lebanon, is where Shadid discovered his great grandfather’s once beautiful estate in near ruins. A year later, he returns to rebuild this home. Not just structurally, but also as a way to uncover his roots.
House of Stone is a book about Lebanon’s past and present. Written beautifully as a memoir, an autobiography and provides rich insight into Lebanese culture. The author also explores the history of his family’s immigration to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. He refers to “the lost world” of Lebanon and provides profound insight into the history of the Middle-East.
Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon
Robert Fisk, the author of Pity the Nation, has 25 years of War Reporting experience in Lebanon and throughout the region. He writes about the complexity of Lebanon’s history, with an analysis of why the Israel-Palestine problem is intractable. He is the first journalist who Osama bin Laden announced his ‘jihad’ against the US to show the depth of his involvement in the Middle-East. Fisk goes into depth about the Lebanon Civil War, including the extreme political/religious organizations involved (such as Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization “PLO”).
Many visit Lebanon today and enjoy the glitz and glam of “The Paris of the Middle East” coming back to fruition. But it would be irresponsible not to learn about the history, the wars, the deaths that occurred in the past century. And the peace treaty, after the Civil War, which brought Lebanon to advance to where it is. In Lebanon today, it is incredibly common for Muslims and Christians to all sit at the same table and to also mix families. Maronite Christians, Sunni, Shiite Muslims, Syrians, Armenian Orthodox Christians, and Palestinians are among the many mixed religious and ethnic groups that serve in government. And live overall peacefully throughout this diverse country.
From Beirut to Jerusalem
Thomas Friedman, a 3 times Pulitzer Prize Winner and also the author of The World is Flat, spent 10 years between Lebanon and Israel during the late 1970s and 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War. He recounts the day to day atrocities that happened during this brutal time in Lebanese history – on all sides. And this book also provides deep insight into the complexities of the history and politics of the Middle East until today. With a focus on continual conflicts and wars happening between Lebanon’s various political and religious groups, the Lebanon-Israel ongoing beef (with Hezbollah and Iran), rooted in the Palestinian-Israel issues since the early 20th century.
Born and raised in the US, the author is a Jewish American who has also spent a great deal of time in Israel. Due to the extreme complexities of the region, any books about Lebanon or politics in general in the Middle-East are perspectives, opinions, and points of view that are personal and will always be disputed and debated by many. I suggest you read this book as a general overview and insight of the past 40 years in the Arab region. Do keep an open mind and use your own judgment for analysis.
Arabic-English Dictionary & Phrasebook
Arabic and French are taught as the primary languages in Lebanon. And then English as a third. Most travelers will get by speaking English though it’s not their native tongue. Since you are visiting their country, you should try to learn some important words. Not only will this help you get by easier, but it also shows respect to your host country.
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