Souk El Tayeb: Food & Heritage

How bad is it to feel like losing part of your heritage and customs to the modernity and Westernization of almost everything we have in our lives today? Oh how I miss going to the field with my grandfather during Spring at the village to fill the straw basket with cherries. How I miss watching farmers seeding and harvesting crops in fields nearby, taking care of livestock, and preparing homemade foods that will last all winter. I want my kids to grow-up eating ‘Shanklish‘ next to all other traditional Lebanese foods, and know more about the Lebanese heritage, village lifestyle, and food culture. It all became clear to me when I heard about Souk El Akel, a festival that takes place every year in the same village I stay at during summer. 

The land, the people, the history, the food and the traditions underpin the very existence of Souk El Tayeb, or the “market of delicious items”. This ‘Souk’ has evolved since 2004 from an experimental farmers market promoting small-scale farmers and producers, to an organization working on both national and international projects to promote and preserve culinary traditions, rural heritage and the natural environment. Tayeb holds several meanings in Arabic…Tayeb as “good”, “tasty” or “goodhearted” (when referring a person).

Souk El Tayeb

Local villager selling his products

Souk El Tayeb aims to celebrate the food and traditions that unite communities and support small-scale farmers and producers who are facing a lot of hard time keeping up with larger farms and importers. It’s also there to create environments that bring people of different regions and beliefs together – celebrating the land we love, supporting and encouraging organic, eco-friendly practices, contributing to local communities, leading research and educational campaigns about food traditions and heritage, and promoting organic foods and a healthy lifestyle.

Food and Feast, the main campaign name of Souk El Tayeb, embraces Lebanese diversity and highlights local culture and food traditions of a village or a region – celebrating kebbeh in Ehden, fish in Batroun, karaz (cherries) in Hammana, akkoub in Deir el Qamar, kaak bi haleeb (cake with milk) in Marjeyoun…More importantly, it is a further connection between urban and rural Lebanon. In 2006, the Farmers Market began with the goal of connecting people to the farmers and producers who make their food. In short, it brought the rural to the city.

Food and Feast extends that concept by encouraging city dwellers to visit the towns and villages where the cherries they love are grown or the mouneh they love is made. These festivals not only introduce people to these villages, but also empower local farmers, producers and artisans by giving them another market in which to sell their products. Another target for Food and Feast is to promote Lebanon’s less touristic, less visited and less known villages/areas by collaborating with local authorities to create an event that will promote the village and its traditions.

Souk El Tayeb

Village Tomatoes

In most Food and Feast festivals, Souk el Tayeb arranges:

  • a market for local producers to sell various products like: locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, homemade mouneh, traditional local cuisines and traditional arts and crafts
  • a Village Lunch where visitors enjoy a number of different traditional dishes of the villages cooked by the villagers themselves.
  • entertainment celebrating each regions specific feast activity through competitions (most delicious local dish, longest church bell ring) and traditional entertainment (zajal, dabkeh etc.)
  • guided tours to promote each region’s specific natural beauty
  • educational and entertaining kids activities specific to each village

Many traditional Lebanese foods and traditions are facing difficulties staying alive. Thanks to projects like “Min Bladi”, “Bhebak Ya Libnan”, “Souk El Tayeb”, and other events are key in the revival of the old, authentic lifestyle of a Lebanese villager. Such campaigns are also essential for the younger generations; to encourage them to love and cherish what their grandparents and ancestors embraced and maybe follow their path.