To dine at Tawleh is an absolute pleasure. “Tawleh” means table, and is often referred to as “Tawlet Souk El-Tayeb,” loosely translated as “The Market’s Table.”
Lunch at Tawleh on weekdays is prepared that day by one of the many producers who sell their goods at the market. What you eat for lunch depends on which region of Lebanon the producer of the day is from.
My lunch at Tawleh was prepared by Suzanne Dueitly, a producer from northern Lebanon who along with her husband chats with patrons and serves lip-smacking delicious food. On the menu that day were dishes one never hears about in a traditional Lebanese restaurant, and the creamiest kibbeh nayeh you could ever eat.
Drinks are either lemonade, beer from a local microbrewery or else arak, an alcoholic beverage made from liquorice and watered down in small shot glasses served from a simple glass pitcher. The novelty is that it is mostly self-service. Guests are encouraged to mingle with other diners whilst generous portions of delicious food are ladled onto their plates by the producer/chef of the day.
It is not Lebanese food as we were led to believe, but rather a great cuisine of home cooked food. The menu of the day is jotted down on a large blackboard by the buffet table, and I read: borghol bil banadora, masbahet el darwish, yakhnet koussa.
The borghol bil banadora, cracked wheat cooked and flavored with tomatoes, is so delicious Suzanne happily obliges me with the recipe.
The idea, according to Codis, is to keep “all these recipes from the mountains, villages, traditional recipes of our grandmothers’ that we don’t cook anymore.”
“We realized all these producers still have these recipes, and Kamal is such a foodie and I think the idea of Tawleh was in the back of his mind. Now we have a solid team for the Souk, and so now he can focus on creating Tawleh. As a concept, it’s also a new trend and people like it. It’s simple, not fancy, sourced fresh from our producers,” she adds.
Codsi explains the big con of Lebanese food: mezzehs are time-consuming dishes to prepare, and cooked for celebratory occasions, the tradition of mezzeh is to share in the act of eating. “Restaurants in Beirut only took the festive part, of a full table with various mezzehs to dip and share. Every day I discover new dishes in the restaurants.”
For a relatively small country, there is a wide range of dishes due to the country’s varied geography and also due to the presence of various ethnic and religious groups that have left different thumbprints on the country’s gastronomy. Suzanne’s kebbeh nayeh is creamy in taste and texture. Kebbeh nayeh found in other regions of Lebanon can be drier and spicier. It’s this great play of local ingredients and cooking methods that have yielded some of the delicacies which I’m enjoying during lunch.
One dines on beautiful simple wooden tables, and the restaurant’s interior is brigthly lit due to large bay windows. The theme is chic rustic overall with tableware stacked on shelves, dainty chinaware prettily arranged.
My favorite is the self-serving bar and dessert table above which hang two large fish-shaped Chinese lanterns. And there’s a little bit of hipness and flair thrown in with some local artwork hanging on the walls. Fresh flowers are arranged in silver pails making the whole atmosphere visually invigorating.
The patrons gathered for lunch on a Friday afternoon is eclectic: a notable politician’s wife with friends, artists, businessmen, in addition to a younger crowd.
“You’ll never see this crowd together in another place,” Codsi points out. Part of Mouzawak’s intentions is to create a space where people can meet, network and exchange information.
Tawleh is a for-profit organization, but it doesn’t generate a high income. “Money is never what drove us; we are happy to contribute. We feel it’s real, not something fake,” says Mouzawak.
“Tawleh has generated new projects that we’re currently discussing. Also, channels are being explored to develop and sell the farmers’ produce. Ideally for the souk, we want to extend into an eco-market, all made from recycled material, something permanent because the Souk is on land that has been donated for four years. We know at some point we have to move and think of a longer term solution,” he explains.
Tawlet Souk El-Tayeb:
Sector 79 Naher Street, n? 12 (Jisr el hadid)
Chalhoub building, n? 22 – Ground floor
Telephone: +961 1 448129
Mondays to Fridays. Producer’s lunch is from 1-4 pm, $25 per person. Brunch is served on weekends. Best to call and book in advance.
Saturday: Saifi Village Parking Lot 9-2pm
Wednesday: ABC Ashrafieh L3 Parking Lot 4-8pm
Tawleh’s interior design is a simple lunch time setting.