The morning staple of the Middle East, the tradition of eating foul continues in Lebanon, from the street-cart to the 24-hour back street restaurant
An ancient dish, foul is both the breakfast
of Pharaohs and paupers across the
Middle East and North Africa. While
thought to have originated in Egypt, with
the mashed beans being mentioned as
far back as Ramses II, it soon spread to
the Levant becoming the staple dish that
it is today.
The Don of Foul
Mahmoud Safer stands outside his foul
restaurant Al Waleed (01 735800, Zarif)
clad in black, arms folded against his
bulging chest. To his right are a line
of motorbikes each accompanied by
a young man wearing an Al Waleed
uniform ready to make a delivery. Safer
gives off the air of a Don, and he is, at
least in the Beiruti neighbourhood Zarif
where his small restaurant is located.
Amongst those who consume foul on a
regular basis the ancient breakfast dish
causes a division. While the recipe is in
principal the same, the foul connoisseur
believes their local restaurant does it
‘just so.’ Safer agrees there are a number
of ways to make foul: “Each restaurant
has his own way,” he says, seemingly
philosophical for a second, then adds
with a grin, “but mine is best.”
Safer first began working in his father’s
foul restaurant in Tariq Jaddieh at the
age of eight. Twenty years later, Safer and
his two brothers each have their own
restaurants. He was only 19 when he took
charge of his restaurant in Zarif. Across
the brother’s three restaurants, the same
foul recipe is used that first began all
those years ago. For them, the length of
soaking time is key: the foul must be left
in water for a total of eight hours, before
it is simmered on heat for a further two
hours to remove any excess water.
Safer shares his trade recipe secret, a
delicate attention to detail in which he
adds the ingredients – garlic, lemon,
salt and oil – directly in the bowl the
customers will eat from. Other foul
restaurant owners mix the ingredients in
a larger bowl, then transfer it to another
for serving. He believes that his method
keeps the dish fresh and tasty.
Abu Hassan (01 266888/01 266880, Bourj
Hammoud) set up his foul restaurant
40 years ago. Over in the Armenian
neighbourhood of Bourj Hammoud,
he is almost certainly the Foul King. He
passed away years ago, but his photo sits
as a reminder above the entrance to his
restaurant where his daughter Saana
sits at the cash register. His sons also
work in the family trade. During the day
a mix of regulars, mainly old men and
families, frequent Abu Hassan’s but at
night it comes into its own. Unusually,
for a foul joint, he stays open 24 hours, so
by 3am you can find an intriguing mix of
customers, from groups of men arriving
after a late night shift laboring, or taxi
drivers after the night rounds, to hipsters
who just stumbled out of a bar in nearby
Mar Mikhael. In these early hours of
the morning, Abu Hassan’s foul brings
everyone together in their search for a
thick lining on an empty stomach.
Foul al Fresco
Pushing her cart along the Corniche,
with pots of beans balanced on top, you
can find Ilham Ali Kannan on most days,
wandering up and down the seafront.
She has been wheeling her cart of foul
around for the past six years with her
husband often joining. They serve
the foul whole rather than mashed,
on a tray garnished with lemon, salt,
and cumin. People strolling along the
Corniche eat it with a toothpick for a
quick foul on the go.
Making the best foul
Tips from Beirut’s local masters
• 1/2 kg of dry Fava or Madammes beans or two cans (serves 4-6 people)
• 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
• 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, or to taste
• 3 tablespoons of oil
• 1 pinch of salt
• 1/2 teaspoon of cumin
• 1/2 teaspoon of hot chilli pepper
• 1/4 kg of dry chickpeas or 1/2 can
1. You can use beans from a can but ideally use dried ones and soak 24 hours in advance.
2. Drain the water.
3. Cook the beans and chickpeas in two separate pans covered by water on a high heat, until soft.
4. Reduce the heat and let the beans simmer for 30 minutes up to an hour. They should be almost disintegrated and the water almost completely evaporated (you can drain any excess water if necessary as they should not be watery).
5. Place the beans into a bowl and mix in the oil, garlic, lemon juice, cumin, salt and hot pepper, mash gently with a fork, and serve.
6. Add the chickpeas on top of the foul dish for variety.
GET YOUR FOUL FIX
Historical Fava Hommos
A mix of hommos with tahinah and foul, induced with chili red sauce and topped with fried almonds.
Falamanki, Sodeco. LL9500
Le Professeur, Mar Elias Str. LL6000
Foul with a view
Foul Time, Raouche. LL5500
Foul with a history
El Soussé, Mar Elias. LL5500