News > Lebanese Armenians > Varouj restaurant in Bourj Hammoud
Seth Sherwood signed an interesting article in the travel section of "The New York Times" (27 December 2009), in which he introduced some of the most popular and trendy restaurants in Beirut.
Lebanese cuisine is a well known and established Middle Eastern cuisine, with a strong presence in almost all big cities in the world, escpecially in the Middle East, Gulf Region and Europe.
The article featured five restaurants: Abd el Wahab, Varouj, Walimt Wardeh, Istambouli and Le Chef.
Varouj Restaurant is an Armenian-owned restaurant in the Bourj Hammoud neighborhood.
Sherwood writes, "... throughout my stay, I kept hearing that one of the city’s most original dining experiences was an Armenian restaurant, Varouj. As it is hidden in the maze of streets in Bourj Hammoud, a somewhat dingy Armenian neighborhood in predominantly Christian East Beirut, I needed a guide to find it. Fortunately, I was able to recruit Carla, a Lebanese native with an Armenian father — and training as a tour guide. She guided us through the darkened, abandoned streets to the restaurant’s welcoming pink neon light.
Inside the minuscule dining room, the pleasantly rustic décor was at odds with the charmless neighborhood. After pouring our arrak, the owner briskly rattled off in Arabic the dishes available that night. There was no printed menu, and no English spoken.
We started with spicy fried sojuk sausage and some basterma, a cold cut typically made from soaking veal or beef for weeks in chaimen — a mix of garlic, paprika, cumin, salt and other spices — then air-drying it. The result is a spicy beet-red meat, sliced razor thin.
Despite its tartare-like appearance, the muhammara turned out to be a mix of chopped nuts, bread crumbs, garlic and red pepper, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, pomegranate juice and spices. It burst on the tongue, unleashing hot, sweet, crunchy, chewy, soft and tangy accents. A winner.
Our manteh — crunchy pasta tubes filled with lamb — came in a yogurt-garlic sauce so acidic that it could unclog a drain. But all was redeemed when more birds alighted at our table. These tiny, featherless creatures were every bit as crunchy and juicy as at Abd el Wahab, and the sweet-sour sauce even tastier".
Armenian restaurants in Beirut have always been popular with local residents and Arab tourists.
Kaelen Wilson-Goldie of "The National" (Abu Dhabi) explored some of the most known of these restaurants: "In Beirut, the fiercest of epicures seek out Levantine twists on the delicacies of Armenian cuisine. The restaurants Al Mayass, in Achrafieh, and Mayrig, in Gemmayzeh, are the most famous. But the most authentic is the closet-sized Varouj, tucked into an alleyway in Bourj Hammoud. Prepare for a marathon feast and make sure you try the soujouk, batrakh dressed in garlic, spiced kafta drenched in red cherries and, if you can handle it, asafeer (small roasted birds that you pop into your mouth and crunch)." ("The National", 09 October 2008).
Varouj restaurant has also its peculiarities, as discribed by a Kuwaiti blogger:
"The place is tiny on the inside with only 4 tables and the restaurant is run by a father and son, the son cooks while the father takes care of the guests... What makes Varouj unique other than the really good food is the character of the father. We were five people having lunch and we were ordering the cold appetizers when the father decided we had enough appetizers and walked away. He wouldn’t let us order any more. Then when he felt it was time he came to us and asked us what hot dishes we wanted and while we were ordering he again told us that he thought we had enough and walked off... He also wouldn’t remove a dish from the table unless it was wiped clean."
Photo from 248am.com