Doha, Qatar – You know the way they are saying good issues are available small packages? Whereas technically not small, Beirut Restaurant is actually unassuming, and it’s actually good.
It’s also a part of Doha’s historical past and material, the supply of many leisurely weekend takeaway breakfasts, drop-in dinners and deliveries devoured between conferences at work.
When you’ve lived in Doha, you recognize that Beirut is the place town’s finest hummus is.
Ali Shaheen may be very welcoming on the cellphone, confirming that, sure, he is among the Shaheens, that his uncle based Beirut Restaurant in 1955 and that he’s an authority on all issues hummus.
We head to Beirut’s new(er) location for a chat and a meal, winding by way of the streets of previous Doha, shopfronts clustered alongside the road and parking onerous to search out within the bustling neighbourhood of Bin Mahmoud. Preserve an eye fixed out for a giant pink facade with a silver Lebanese cedar over the door.
This isn’t a flowery place, however its brilliant, clear inside makes use of these large plate glass home windows, and actually everyone seems to be right here to eat, eat nicely and go residence. Ali welcomes us with a full-face smile from behind the counter, the place he’s sitting together with his nephew Dib.
We head over to sit down at a granite-topped desk with easy banquet chairs round it. At one finish of the desk is a field of tissues, a salt shaker and a steel shaker of cumin. These are your primary instruments, however you may anticipate some olive oil in a no-nonsense stainless-steel dispenser along with your meal too.
A waiter places easy paper placemats printed in pink and inexperienced down on the desk. That’s the menu, in English and Arabic. There are fewer than a dozen gadgets there as a result of the workforce at Beirut is aware of what it does nicely. Ali seems to be at us, ready as a result of, after all, first we order, then we discuss.
Whereas it will have been simple sufficient to order all the things on the menu, we defer to Ali to inform us what we needs to be consuming. Sensible transfer, as a result of he turns to Dib and offers him a rapid-fire checklist. All now we have so as to add is a request for mint tea and water.
Unnecessarily golden chickpeas
Dib is the third era to be a part of Beirut, which was based by his great-uncle. The Shaheen brothers began in Lebanon, the place they ran a restaurant within the Fifties, however work wasn’t going so nicely they usually determined to go away the nation in 1955. Abu Mohamed, Ali’s uncle, ended up in Qatar, and Abu Jihad, his father, ended up in Kuwait.
The brothers ran eating places of their new hometowns for 20 years till Abu Jihad got here to Doha for a go to and instructed to his brother that they promote one place and work collectively within the different. And so Abu Jihad moved to Doha together with his household in 1975.
The meals arrives earlier than Ali finishes his story, and we suppress an urge to applaud as bowl after bowl is ready on the desk. Hummus, fuul, msabaha, mutabbal, falafel, tahini, teeny bowls of olives and chopped onions, and a basket of sizzling, contemporary bread. Oh, and a no-nonsense stainless-steel dispenser of olive oil.
A phrase earlier than the meal begins: In Arabic, hummus refers to solely two issues, the chickpea itself and the puree constituted of chickpeas and tahini.
This hummus hugs the perimeters of its two bowls and surrounds beneficiant scoops of unnecessarily golden boiled chickpeas piled within the center and generously anointed with olive oil. Dib chuckles at our pleasure as he supervises arranging the meals on the desk. Then we spot a 3rd bowl of hummus, this one with a scoop of fuul (stewed fava beans) sitting within the center.
This was the reverse of the bowl of fuul, which featured mashed, seasoned fava beans cradling a giant scoop of chickpeas, the entire building reassuringly lined in beautiful olive oil. Fuul is a well-recognized sight, however the fuul-topped hummus is new. Ali defined that that is his favorite preparation: a base of silky hummus with a ladleful of fuul – rigorously drained of any cooking liquid – straight out of the large stewing pots, completed with a drizzle of oil within the center and across the outer edges.
It’s sampled straight away, and whereas silky is a phrase used typically to explain hummus, Beirut’s model is in one other league.
It’s a cloud – a cloud of such savoury softness that your mouth is confused for a second: What simply occurred? How do chickpeas get this easy? And what advanced elements did it take to realize this flavour?
The fuul beans, which sit excessive and dry on prime of the hummus, are an ideal foil for all of the softness. Their skins have dried just a little bit, giving a pleasant contrasting chew, and their quieter flavour balances out the savouriness of the hummus. This dish shouldn’t be on the menu, so whether or not you’re ordering it within the restaurant or by way of a supply app, Ali says you must specify what you need: Order a plain hummus, he says, and add (within the feedback field for supply apps) that you really want a scoop of fuul from the pot and a little bit of lemon on prime.
The recipe for Beirut’s hummus is a well-kept secret, and it hasn’t modified since 1975 when Abu Jihad and Abu Mohamed made it of their first Doha location, just a little to the east on Kahraba Avenue (Electrical Avenue), which has now been rebuilt as a part of the brand new Msheireb Downtown. Kahraba is a part of the older, extra languid Doha with low-rise buildings on both aspect of a large street that unfurls gently all the way in which to the arcades and shopfronts that sit proper on it.
It’s also often known as the primary avenue in Doha to have gotten electrical energy, no small declare to fame in a rustic the place summer season temperatures stay resolutely above 40C (104F) for weeks. Employees within the Kahraba department appreciated the facility a lot, they slept within the restaurant, Ali laughs. They stayed in that location till 2010, he says a bit wistfully, after which they moved to this “new” spot.
The neighborhood on Kahraba Avenue was irreplaceable, Ali says. Folks knew one another, helped one another out, and everybody who was anybody had handed by way of Kahraba sooner or later. However with the brand new developments, older companies began transferring out, scattering to the 4 corners of a quickly rising metropolis.
Weekends with ‘Hummus Beirut’
Ionel, who was eating at Beirut that night, remembers the Kahraba Avenue location fondly as nicely. The 41-year-old has lived in Doha since 2002 and recollects waking up on weekend mornings to drive practically half an hour together with his pals to “Hummus Beirut” to get their breakfast.
There, they’d line up behind about 30 automobiles alongside the sidewalk in entrance of the restaurant. 5 or 6 workers can be serving the automobiles in a relentless state of movement. Some can be taking an order whereas others have been dashing again inside to ring it up within the kitchen, passing others who have been bustling out once more with each fingers filled with provider baggage. Within the time between taking an order and coming again out with it, the road of automobiles would have moved as the primary ones received what they got here for. So the waiter would search for and down the road till he discovered the automotive whose order he had.
In years of doing this, Ionel says, they by no means obtained an incorrect order. Fortunately loaded up with hummus, msabaha and extra, the buddies would then drive to the Doha Corniche, the place they’d sit and have their leisurely breakfast, sip on gentle drinks and atone for what was occurring of their lives. Many, many giant takeout containers of hummus have been eaten on this method.
So how a lot hummus has Ali eaten? How a lot hummus do the 2 Beirut Restaurant areas make in a day? He has no concept, however he does give us recommendation on how you can make the dish.
He begins by mentioning that what he’s describing is a small batch that his household makes use of to check new chickpea provider samples. Take a 50kg (that’s 110-pound) bag of chickpeas that’s been picked over and washed, and soak them in water for 10 hours. After that, the kitchen workers decide by way of the chickpeas once more to take out any rocks or different impurities that managed to cover within the dried chickpeas. Then they get washed once more and boiled. No baking soda or another tips, he says, simply water.
As soon as the chickpeas are tender, they’re drained and whizzed up with tahini, lemon and salt. Solely.
Ali’s methodology is straightforward (apart from the huge quantities) and, he says, essentially the most loyal to the pure type of hummus. How a lot of every ingredient it is best to add is as much as you, he says, which is a well mannered means of claiming that the key recipe shouldn’t be getting out.
Onion and pickled inexperienced olive
Ali may be very strict about his hummus. He says he solely eats it on the restaurant, by no means at residence and never when he goes again to Lebanon for visits. He likes the simplicity of their recipe with its completely calibrated proportions that we are going to by no means be shared with us, the admiring public. However how does he really feel concerning the big selection of “hummus” that’s on the market?
That’s not hummus, is the emphatic reply. He recollects a time when, whereas on a visit to the US state of California, he met somebody who was attempting to arrange a “hummus” model and invited him to pattern the completely different sorts he made. After agreeing that he might be brutally sincere, Ali set about tasting. Conclusion? “No.”
For Ali and for a lot of, many Arabs, it’s not potential to incorporate within the hummus household these variations the place the intrepid have added issues like beets, roasted pink peppers and the very divisive chocolate. (See the definition of hummus at first of this story.) Nor would “white bean hummus” and its variations make it. The place are the chickpeas?
Had Ali tried “chocolate hummus”? It wasn’t within the sorts he listed for us. These have been beetroot, roasted pink pepper and roasted garlic – the remainder he both couldn’t or didn’t wish to recall.
We flip our consideration subsequent to the msabaha, heat, golden complete chickpeas stirred gently right into a barely tangy ready tahini, topped with extra naked chickpeas and, after all, lashings of fruity olive oil. There’s distinction right here – each a color distinction between the tahini-enrobed msabaha and the boiled chickpeas and a textural distinction between creamy msabaha and its glistening topping.
The most well-liked strategy to eat this, the preferred strategy to eat all the things on the desk, is to scoop bites up in items of heat Arabic bread baked contemporary on web site, interspersing the bites with bits of chopped onion or pickled olives. A phrase although, it tastes simply nearly as good eaten with a spoon, so the bread shouldn’t be a should, however it is best to undoubtedly take pleasure in some chopped onion and pickled inexperienced olives. They supply excessive notes to the overall creaminess.
The olives should not the juicy, oily, herby variety so well-known within the Center East. They’re small pickled inexperienced olives, which makes their skins look a bit dry. Much less picture-perfect maybe, however the acidic pickling does an excellent job of slicing by way of the wealthy chickpeas and tahini.
Household secrets and techniques
Ali believes Lebanese cooks make higher Lebanese meals, so all of the cooks listed here are employed straight from Lebanon and are like household. They’ve been right here for years, the most recent cook dinner having arrived 10 years in the past.
The workforce is now engaged on including extra dishes to their repertoire, venturing exterior the chickpea and sesame kingdom into shawarmas, pizzas and extra.
One factor the workers don’t make, although, is the hummus. They serve it however don’t put together it.
Solely Ali and his brothers make the silky, silky stuff that has put Beirut firmly on the Doha eating map. No one is allowed to face round and assist. No one is allowed to know the way it’s made, interval.
At one level, Ali will educate the youngsters, to allow them to work within the restaurant going ahead.
We actually hope he does, so future generations of Dohaites can indulge as now we have.