November 30, 2023


Food & Travel Enthusiast

Hummus and chill: Doha weekends courtesy of Beirut Cafe | Fork the Procedure

Doha, Qatar – You know how they say great items occur in modest offers? Whilst technically not modest, Beirut Restaurant is surely unassuming, and it is unquestionably great.

It is also portion of Doha’s heritage and cloth, the source of numerous leisurely weekend takeaway breakfasts, drop-in dinners and deliveries devoured in between conferences at work.

If you have lived in Doha, you know that Beirut is where by the city’s ideal hummus is.

Ali Shaheen is extremely welcoming on the cellphone, confirming that, indeed, he is 1 of the Shaheens, that his uncle started Beirut Restaurant in 1955 and that he is an authority on all factors hummus.

An aluminum tray with two bowls of hummus, a bowl of msabaha, a bowl of mutabal and some chopped onion and green olives
A typical tray served at Beirut Restaurant: hummus, msabaha, mutabbal, onions and olives [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

We head to Beirut’s new(er) place for a chat and a meal, winding as a result of the streets of previous Doha, shopfronts clustered alongside the street and parking really hard to uncover in the bustling neighbourhood of Bin Mahmoud. Continue to keep an eye out for a significant red facade with a silver Lebanese cedar about the door.

This is not a extravagant spot, but its vibrant, clean inside will make use of those massive plate glass home windows, and actually everybody is in this article to try to eat, take in properly and go residence. Ali welcomes us with a comprehensive-encounter smile from behind the counter, where by he’s sitting with his nephew Dib.

We head over to sit at a granite-topped desk with straightforward banquet chairs close to it. At a single close of the desk is a box of tissues, a salt shaker and a metallic shaker of cumin. These are your standard tools, but you can anticipate some olive oil in a no-nonsense stainless steel dispenser with your food too.

An old photo of Abu Jihad preparing food on a big tray in 1960
Abu Jihad, Ali Shaheen’s father, planning food in Beirut Restaurant in 1960 [Courtesy of Ali Shaheen]

A waiter puts straightforward paper placemats printed in red and inexperienced down on the desk. That is the menu, in English and Arabic. There are fewer than a dozen items there because the staff at Beirut appreciates what it does well. Ali seems to be at us, waiting simply because, of course, initial we purchase, then we converse.

Though it would have been simple adequate to order anything on the menu, we defer to Ali to convey to us what we should be consuming. Smart shift, due to the fact he turns to Dib and presents him a immediate-fireplace listing. All we have to add is a request for mint tea and h2o.

Unnecessarily golden chickpeas

Dib is the 3rd era to be component of Beirut, which was founded by his excellent-uncle. The Shaheen brothers started off in Lebanon, the place they ran a restaurant in the 1950s, but get the job done was not likely so very well and they made a decision to go away the place in 1955. Abu Mohamed, Ali’s uncle, ended up in Qatar, and Abu Jihad, his father, finished up in Kuwait.

A stainless steel bowl of boiled chickpeas
A stainless metal bowl of boiled chickpeas, prepared to be designed into hummus [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The brothers ran dining establishments in their new hometowns for 20 decades until finally Abu Jihad came to Doha for a check out and recommended to his brother that they provide a person area and perform with each other in the other. And so Abu Jihad moved to Doha with his spouse and children in 1975.

The meals arrives right before Ali finishes his tale, and we suppress an urge to applaud as bowl after bowl is established on the table. Hummus, fuul, msabaha, mutabbal, falafel, tahini, teeny bowls of olives and chopped onions, and a basket of sizzling, fresh bread. Oh, and a no-nonsense stainless steel dispenser of olive oil.

A word in advance of the meal starts: In Arabic, hummus refers to only two issues, the chickpea by itself and the puree manufactured from chickpeas and tahini.

This hummus hugs the sides of its two bowls and surrounds generous scoops of unnecessarily golden boiled chickpeas piled in the center and generously anointed with olive oil. Dib chuckles at our exhilaration as he supervises arranging the food stuff on the desk. Then we location a 3rd bowl of hummus, this one with a scoop of fuul (stewed fava beans) sitting down in the center.

An old photo of Abu Mohamed ladling out fuul in 1960
Abu Mohamed ladling fuul out of a stewing pot in 1960 [Courtesy of Ali Shaheen]

This was the reverse of the bowl of fuul, which featured mashed, seasoned fava beans cradling a significant scoop of chickpeas, the entire construction reassuringly covered in pretty olive oil. Fuul is a common sight, but the fuul-topped hummus is new. Ali stated that this is his favourite preparing: a foundation of silky hummus with a ladleful of fuul – carefully drained of any cooking liquid – straight out of the massive stewing pots, completed with a drizzle of oil in the center and close to the outer edges.

It is sampled correct away, and although silky is a word utilized frequently to explain hummus, Beirut’s version is in another league.

It is a cloud – a cloud of this sort of savoury softness that your mouth is puzzled for a 2nd: What just transpired? How do chickpeas get this smooth? And what intricate elements did it acquire to achieve this flavour?

A photo of Ali smiling as he shows old photos of the restaurant and his father and uncle
Ali Shaheen will take a large amount of pride in his family’s record, operate and hummus [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The fuul beans, which sit substantial and dry on top of the hummus, are a excellent foil for all the softness. Their skins have dried a tiny little bit, giving a awesome contrasting chew, and their quieter flavour balances out the savouriness of the hummus. This dish is not on the menu, so no matter whether you are purchasing it in the restaurant or by means of a delivery app, Ali suggests you have to specify what you want: Order a plain hummus, he says, and increase (in the reviews box for shipping applications) that you want a scoop of fuul from the pot and a bit of lemon on major.


The recipe for Beirut’s hummus is a effectively-kept key, and it hasn’t modified considering the fact that 1975 when Abu Jihad and Abu Mohamed manufactured it in their very first Doha site, a small to the east on Kahraba Avenue (Electric Street), which has now been rebuilt as portion of the new Msheireb Downtown. Kahraba is component of the older, a lot more languid Doha with very low-increase properties on either aspect of a broad highway that unfurls gently all the way to the arcades and shopfronts that sit proper on it.

It is also identified as the to start with road in Doha to have gotten electrical power, no modest claim to fame in a region exactly where summer months temperatures keep on being resolutely over 40C (104F) for months. Workers in the Kahraba branch appreciated the electrical power so a great deal, they slept in the cafe, Ali laughs. They stayed in that area until eventually 2010, he says a little bit wistfully, and then they moved to this “new” location.

A brown bowl of hummust with swirled edges sits with a scoop of stewed fuul beans in the middle
A bowl of hummus sits with a scoop of stewed fuul beans in the middle [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The group on Kahraba Avenue was irreplaceable, Ali states. Individuals realized each individual other, assisted each other out, and all people who was any one experienced passed by means of Kahraba at some place. But with the new developments, older organizations started moving out, scattering to the 4 corners of a rapidly rising metropolis.

Weekends with ‘Hummus Beirut’

Ionel, who was dining at Beirut that evening, remembers the Kahraba Avenue locale fondly as very well. The 41-calendar year-outdated has lived in Doha considering the fact that 2002 and recollects waking up on weekend mornings to travel virtually 50 percent an hour with his good friends to “Hummus Beirut” to get their breakfast.

A photo of the old Beirut Restaurant shopfront
Kahraba Road and its outlets are component of the more mature, extra languid Doha [Courtesy of Ali Shaheen]

There, they would line up behind about 30 vehicles alongside the sidewalk in entrance of the restaurant. 5 or 6 workers would be serving the vehicles in a continual condition of movement. Some would be taking an buy though many others ended up dashing back again inside of to ring it up in the kitchen, passing many others who had been bustling out yet again with equally palms total of provider luggage. In the time amongst using an buy and coming back out with it, the line of autos would have moved as the very first types obtained what they arrived for. So the waiter would search up and down the line till he discovered the car whose buy he had.

In a long time of carrying out this, Ionel states, they by no means acquired an incorrect order. Fortunately loaded up with hummus, msabaha and additional, the good friends would then travel to the Doha Corniche, wherever they would sit and have their leisurely breakfast, sip on soft drinks and catch up on what was taking place in their lives. Quite a few, quite a few big takeout containers of hummus were eaten in this way.

Close-up of a brown bowl of msabaha doused in fruity olive oil
A bowl of msabaha doused in fruity olive oil [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

So how much hummus has Ali eaten? How significantly hummus do the two Beirut Cafe places make in a day? He has no strategy, but he does give us suggestions on how to make the dish.

He begins by mentioning that what he is describing is a tiny batch that his spouse and children uses to exam new chickpea provider samples. Consider a 50kg (which is 110-pound) bag of chickpeas that’s been picked over and washed, and soak them in water for 10 hours. Just after that, the kitchen area staff decide on by way of the chickpeas once more to just take out any rocks or other impurities that managed to conceal in the dried chickpeas. Then they get washed once again and boiled. No baking soda or any other methods, he says, just water.

As soon as the chickpeas are tender, they’re drained and whizzed up with tahini, lemon and salt. Only.

Ali’s process is straightforward (apart from the large quantities) and, he states, the most loyal to the pure sort of hummus. How a lot of just about every component you should really incorporate is up to you, he claims, which is a polite way of declaring that the top secret recipe is not having out.

An artist's rendering of the old shopfront of Beirut Restaurant in its first location
An undated artist’s rendering of the very early days of Beirut Restaurant, ahead of it expanded to consider about two outlets on Kahraba Street [Courtesy of Ali Shaheen]

Onion and pickled green olive

Ali is quite rigid about his hummus. He suggests he only eats it at the cafe, hardly ever at property and not when he goes back to Lebanon for visits. He likes the simplicity of their recipe with its flawlessly calibrated proportions that we will hardly ever be shared with us, the admiring community. But how does he feel about the extensive array of “hummus” that’s out there?

That is not hummus, is the emphatic reply. He recollects a time when, although on a journey to the US condition of California, he achieved an individual who was making an attempt to set up a “hummus” manufacturer and invited him to sample the distinctive types he produced. Immediately after agreeing that he could be brutally truthful, Ali established about tasting. Summary? “No.”

For Ali and for several, several Arabs, it is not feasible to contain in the hummus relatives these variations exactly where the intrepid have extra things like beets, roasted purple peppers and the extremely divisive chocolate. (See the definition of hummus at the commencing of this story.) Nor would “white bean hummus” and its versions make it. Exactly where are the chickpeas?

a male cook ises a long paddle to remove a freshly baked loaf of Arabic bread from the oven
A cook dinner utilizes a extensive paddle to eliminate a freshly baked loaf of Arabic bread from the oven [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Experienced Ali experimented with “chocolate hummus”? It was not in the types he mentioned for us. Those people have been beetroot, roasted purple pepper and roasted garlic – the rest he either could not or didn’t want to recall.

We switch our focus up coming to the msabaha, warm, golden full chickpeas stirred gently into a slightly tangy well prepared tahini, topped with far more bare chickpeas and, of system, lashings of fruity olive oil. There is contrast in this article – equally a colour distinction involving the tahini-enrobed msabaha and the boiled chickpeas and a textural distinction amongst creamy msabaha and its glistening topping.

The most preferred way to consume this, the most well-liked way to eat everything on the table, is to scoop bites up in items of heat Arabic bread baked fresh on web site, interspersing the bites with bits of chopped onion or pickled olives. A phrase while, it preferences just as superior eaten with a spoon, so the bread is not a have to, but you need to unquestionably indulge in some chopped onion and pickled inexperienced olives. They offer high notes to the normal creaminess.

Chef Mohamed flashing a thumbs-up as he prepares a number of dishes to go out to the dining room
Chef Mohamed Shaheen, Ali’s brother, prepares a range of dishes to go out to the dining home [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

The olives are not the juicy, oily, herby type so nicely-recognised in the Middle East. They are smaller pickled green olives, which can make their skins seem a little bit dry. Considerably less picture-best possibly, but the acidic pickling does a excellent job of chopping via the rich chickpeas and tahini.

Household tricks

Ali thinks Lebanese cooks make better Lebanese food, so all the cooks in this article are hired straight from Lebanon and are like loved ones. They’ve been right here for years, the newest cook dinner owning arrived 10 yrs in the past.

The crew is now functioning on introducing more dishes to their repertoire, venturing outdoors the chickpea and sesame kingdom into shawarmas, pizzas and far more.

Two smiling men in a tiled kitchen, dressed in cook's hats and short-sleeved whites
Abu Abd, remaining, was educated by Abu Jihad and grew to become a pressure in the kitchen. Here he is pictured with Ali’s more mature brother, Jihad, in the restaurant kitchen area about 2002 [Courtesy of Ali Shaheen]

A person issue the employees do not make, nevertheless, is the hummus. They serve it but do not prepare it.

Only Ali and his brothers make the silky, silky things that has put Beirut firmly on the Doha eating map. No one is authorized to stand around and help. No one is authorized to know how it’s made, interval.

At a single issue, Ali will train the youngsters, so they can perform in the restaurant going ahead.

We absolutely hope he does, so potential generations of Dohaites can indulge as we have.