To appreciate the importance of street food in Beirut, you have to begin in the streets. When I first moved here, in 2003, I assumed I would get a map, learn the street names, and figure out how to get around. I didn’t realize that there are hardly any street signs here, and that nobody knows the names of the streets – at least, not the names that are written on maps.
Instead, Beirutis go by landmarks of memory or desire: a narcissist may tell you to go down the alley where she got her first kiss. An old-timer will direct you to a movie theatre that closed in 1982. Hypochondriacs deliver directions by pharmacy. The pious use churches and mosques; the profane, cafés and nightclubs. The mercenary types, alas, inhabit a city of banks. All of these different Beiruts, imaginary contradictory maps, all layered on top of each other, make a city as baffling to navigate as your dreams.
And so I learned to negotiate the city through food: the baker, the butcher, the greengrocer. In the Middle Ages, the public bakeries were built next to other essential urban spaces, like churches, gardens and public baths. These days, the bakery is often at the centre of an ecosystem that ideally includes the holy trinity of Beirut street food: the farran, or baker; the lahham, or butcher; and the fawwal, or maker of foul, which is stewed chickpeas and fava beans. The butcher uses bread from the baker, the baker gets meat from the butcher, and the fawwal sends his prep cook to get meat or bread from both of them."