Souk el Tayeb, Lebanon’s First Farmers’ Market, at the 2013 MAD Symposium

A perfect collaboration between the amazing women of Souk el Tayeb and MAD's hard working team of volunteers.

The word “tayeb” translates as both something that is “good” and “tasty” in Arabic. It also means “good hearted” when used to describe a person. At the first lunch served at this year’s MAD Symposium in Copenhagen by members of Souk el Tayeb, Lebanon’s first farmers’ market, tayeb in all its incarnations permeated every minute of the unforgettable experience.

Mtabbal from a cook in Tripoli (baba ghannoush with pomegranate and tahineh)

MAD’s organizer Rene Redzepi and Souk el Tayeb founder Kamal Mouzawak introduced the women who traveled from their homes in Lebanon to prepare the day’s meal. As Mouzawak discussed the mission of Souk el Tayeb, twenty women gathered in a line behind him. He told the audience that many of them had never traveled outside of Lebanon before, some had once been refugees in their war-weary nation, and many did not have the papers required to obtain passports; arriving in Denmark with travel documents issued exclusively for MAD.

The lunch menu

Knowing how onerous the journey had been for these women made their extraordinary lunch all the more meaningful. Souk el Tayeb was founded by Mouzawak in 2004 as a way to promote the rural agricultural and culinary traditions of Lebanon.

Preparing Manakish Zaatar (thyme bread)

In a country where violence was once a way of life for many of its people, the benign presence of a farmers’ market every Saturday on the chaotic streets of Beirut is a way to unite citizens who might not share the same idealogical beliefs but do collectively appreciate the camaraderie and hospitality that the exchange of food can inspire.

The scene is set for an extraordinary meal

Souk el Tayeb’s mission extends far beyond the organization of a weekly farmers’s market. Its goal of preserving rural culinary traditions, sustainable agriculture, and healthy living is accomplished through a multi-tiered approach that includes education, participation, and environmental protection.

Sumac beer brewed for the Souk el Tayeb lunch at MAD by Copenhagen's Mikkeler Brewery.

There’s the educational kitchen called Tawlet where profit is generated for the nation’s small scale farmers and producers through classes taught each day by cooks from every corner of Lebanon. As they teach participants recipes unique to their region, they build bridges of compassion and understanding through the exchange of stories about their daily lives and perpetual struggles.

Msakhan with a smile (bread roles stuffed with chicken, sumac and onion confit)

Another way Souk el Tayeb forges connections between the people of Lebanon is through their Food & Feast culinary festivals organized in several villages throughout the nation. It’s an effort to encourage the citizens of Beirut to explore their nation’s culinary traditions by venturing beyond the vendor stalls of Souk el Tayeb into the regions from which the ingredients are sourced.

Lsenet maa Harnod with Toum (beef tongue in a coriander and garlic sauce)

Souk el Tayeb’s mission extends far beyond the organization of a weekly farmers’s market. Its goal of preserving rural culinary traditions, sustainable agriculture, and promote healthy living is accomplished through a multi-tiered approach that includes education, participation, and environmental protection.

Lebanese hospitality at its best

Mouzawak and his team have no intention of resting now that Souk el Tayeb is an established fixture of the Beirut culinary scene. They have big plans for their farmers’ market that includes the establishment of an “eco-souk,” a permanent, environmentally friendly location for Souk el Tayeb comprised of a restaurant, educational center, and daily market.

Enjoying the Souk el Tayeb feast at the 2013 MAD Symposium

It’s a lofty goal for a farmers’ market in what was once one of the world’s most dangerous cities in the world. But if Souk el Tayeb has proved anything over the years, it’s that food and hospitality have the power to transcend a conflict that for so long seemed insurmountable.

The feast

The awareness of their struggle to sustain their beloved farmer’s market in a city once ravaged by violence made every bite of the lunch they prepared all the more poignant.

Like mothers around the world, the women of Souk el Tayeb piled plates entirely too high with their enticements. The exchange was a reminder that food is the universal way to express gratitude, compassion, and love; the one thing that has the power to trump language barriers, ideological differences, and even war.

On that blue sky day at MAD under an optimistic Danish sun I don’t think there was any other word more appropriate to describe the women from Lebanon who personified through immeasurable integrity, hospitality, and grace the definition of goodhearted, the spirit of tayeb.

For more on the MAD Symposium, here’s my coverage on Food Republic of day one and day two.

 

 

 

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