Once a year Les Amis de Sourat organize an evening of music and food for people from across the country to enjoy. They close off the village street (so that those wanting to visit the next village have to take the incredibly long detour to get there) and set up tables across and around it, surrounded by a buffet of all the best of Lebanese cuisine. But I’m getting ahead of myself – always wanting to talk about the food!
As the guests of tall uncle, yoga aunt and juggling cousin (who has moved back to Lebanon from Hamburg), Mom, Dad and I wound our way up the mountains to what we thought was going to be a visit to a church before heading down to Batroun for a concert. It was only when we parked the car in Sourat that we realized all events were to take place in this tiny little village.
A bus transported us up to an old Pagan-turned-Christian church built into a rock, dating back to 1 000 BC! It seems it was built for a hermit, as it’s full to capacity when four people occupy the cave-like space filled with later-century frescoes (including one of Mary in a red robe, which indicates the Byzantine period in Lebanon).
On this mountain top, we were also invited to visit the home of a Brazilian Lebanese man who has converted an old stone house into his modern holiday residence without sacrificing the traditional architecture. Even the ‘basins’ that the cows used to drink out of can be seen in his downstairs hallway.
Back in the village, we enjoyed the area’s popular lemonade (fresh lemon juice made with sugar), ahwe and a sweet treat Mom hasn’t seen since her school days. It was cute to see the older generation going mad (and going for seconds!) over the nahoume –roasted chickpeas ground and mixed with sugar and served in a paper cone, just like they used to eat it at school.
We then gathered around a makeshift stage in the village square, with some people seated on the steps of the main village church, others under the hundred-year-old oak trees, others further down simply enjoying the atmosphere from their own balconies. The entertainment came in the form of wonderful classical music (including Haendel, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky) performed by the Lundi Bleu orchestra from the Netherlands, under the direction of Claude Chalhoub, who conducted one of his own compositions under the brilliantly starlit sky. There was even an opera performance and then Lebanese songs sung by a dude who could really have made it a little more exciting. Hence Dad's excitement when tall uncle whisked him away to drink a kes (alcoholic beverage).
Okay, now for the food. After the concert, we were invited to help ourselves from the buffet tables (there were about eight 15-metre tables filled with a colourful display of Lebanese food). There was everything, from hummus and babaghanouj to wara hareesh (stuffed grape leaves) and koussa (stuffed baby marrows). Fattouche, tabbouleh, ftayer (spinach pies), kibbe, hindbe (kind of like spinach leaves topped with fried onion), shawarma and the speciality soup which is my favourite favourite, which not all Lebanese know of (depending on which region they come from), called hriese, a mix of mutton, wheat and spices, mainly cinnamon. To make this even more Lebanese, we could help ourselves to the local Sourat arak (a very strong alcoholic drink made with grapes and aniseed that is the colour of water until mixed with ice or water, when it becomes whitish).
Of course that's not the end of the dining experience. No Lebanese meal is complete without fruit (including the figs for which the village is known) - and baklawa, and raha (similar to Turkish Delight, eaten with Marie biscuits), and mogle (a dessert traditionally served when a baby is born), and mhalabieh (a milky pudding).
Okay, now we were really full. Luckily there was a live band playing throughout all this eating, so we all joined the dance floor, which happened to be right on the closed-off village street (or just anywhere between the tables) and danced under those century-old oaks with all the other happy visitors, making a long winding worm of people dancing together in a chain through the town square...
When both Mom and Dad dance, you know we've had the best time possible. Merci Sourat.