Citrus and Sweet: Tripoli, Capital of North Lebanon
Tripoli, The Ancient Capital of the Phoenicians
“All around Tripoli too we find orchards of white Mulberry trees, Pomegranates, Orange and Lemon trees which bear fruit of the greatest beauty.” ~ Maria E. Catlow, 1855
Why Tripoli in particular?
For many reasons.
Naturally, for being the Capital of Lebanon, Beirut has taken all the spotlight for as wide and as back as I look on the web and in the news. Little has been told about Tripoli, that second largest city of ours, former Capital of the Phoenician 7000-year Civilization, and, thereafter to-date, the Capital of the North.
While it has been unfairly disregarded or minimized in its worthiness, the North of Lebanon is in fact significant in size, history, political power, diverse sub-cultures, agriculture, and amazing natural beauty.
The millenniums Cedar of God tops the Northern Cedar mountain. One of the top 3 most read ever in the world, Gebran Kahlil, is a Northern son of ours, born and raised in Bsharre.
I can keep citing and citing but I must remain within the framework of my blog. 🙂
Tripoli has suffered tremendously throughout the war and its aftermath. While Beirut boosted back on its feet by the grace of huge investments, Tripoli is still battling its way up; its border to a torn country in ongoing war makes it all too challenging.
My two other reasons for writing Citrus and Sweet lay on that Tripoli is the city of my origin, and that I have been mentioning it quite a bit, I believe, in my recipes, and sharing Northern ones.
So, that zesty tastebuds of ours, which I hinted about few times, gets to get some talks here.
The Citrus Fruits and Us, We Go Back in Time!
We, people of the North, love lemon juice to the point of increasing its dose in most of our dishes. From the Tabbouleh Salad and the Tahini Sauce to the Lemon Lentil Soup and the so-famous Tripolitan Spicy Fish “Samke Harra”, passing by several different dishes, we love them well-zesty.
That subculture feature in our Northern eating habits is probably rooted in the abundance of citrus trees that covered our coastal cities.
Our grandparents would speak of a time when Tripoli was known for its particular persistent fragrance of citrus blossom which these trees diffused generously.
It was as remarkable that writers and poets of past centuries spoke of “the fragrance of citrus blossoms that fills the air of the city of Tripoli.” That earned the Capital of the North its famous Arabic title of Tripoli Al-Fayha’a, meaning:
“Tripoli, The Abundant in Fragrance”
That aromatic feature had past ceased to exist at the time my life landed in Tripoli in the late 60s. A faded glory I would come to witness though as I grew up in front of an immense field of orange trees which flirted with the Mediterranean sea at the horizon.
Still, the sparkling yellow of lemon trees were everywhere to be seen, in front-yards and backyards of traditional houses and buildings in the city.
However, they were not alone to sparkle in beauty and scents. Jasmine plants climbing the walls were appropriating the thousands of years of aromatic fame, so did the gardenias.
On The Record & For The Record
Botanical Excursion Round the World, by Maria E. Catlow, 1855:
“All around Tripoli too we find orchards of white Mulberry trees, Pomegranates, Orange and Lemon trees which bear fruit of the greatest beauty.
Here, even in the middle of winter, the Orange trees are covered with fruit and flower at the same time, and the Banana is flourishing in the plain whilst the distant summits of Lebanon are covered with snow.”
Sir Charles William Wilson – 1880 – Lebanon & the North:
“(…) you walk for a few minutes among trees and flowers and murmuring waters to the convent … of the Tripolitans, and in the month of April, when the orange and lemon groves below and around are in full bloom ….“
Tripoli: The Capital of Lebanese Sweet
That is another nickname Tripoli holds in fame… and fact. I previously spoke of my childhood Sundays and the family habit of heading right after mass for our Mafroukeh breakfast. It fascinates me that, after so many years, the taste of these Pastries of Tripoli seem to hang on still to my sensorial memories!
When I lived in Jounieh (for years) then in Rabiyeh, I knew of many who used to ride all the way to Tripoli just for its pastry, bringing along with them plenty to store in their kitchen. There is a good reason why Tripoli was nicknamed the Capital of the Lebanese Sweets.
With time, these major Lebanese pastry restaurants of Tripoli – family owned, and some operating since 1881 – opened their branches in various main cities closer to, and in, Beirut, as well as in the Beirut International Airport. We see them even in London and New York, and in various main cities of the Arabian Gulf.
Today, these pastry restaurants have even launched their online stores, catering worldwide products of theirs that can sustain shipping.
And this was Citrus & Sweet; a little bit and a little not much of Tripoli, the City of my Forefathers…
Dedicated to my father Claude Beik and his remarkable love to his Northern homeland. May his soul rest in peace.