The Ashrafyeh district lies in the heart of Beirut, surrounded by a labyrinth of modern buildings and offices. But since December it has become home to the city’s second earth market, where fresh fruits and vegetables, Arab breads, herbs and spices and the bustle of market-goers paint the streets with new life.
Slow Food Beirut selected the market’s inaugural fifteen small-scale producers, whose offerings include sumac (a dark red spice with a lemony taste), flatbreads cooked on saj (a metal hotplate), cedar honey, kechek (ground corn seasoned with herbs in olive oil) and bottles of olive oil and wine. The market was inaugurated on Terra Madre Day last year and becomes the second in Lebanon to join the Earth Markets, Slow Food’s worldwide network of good, clean and fair farmers’ markets.
In its recovery from the 15-year long civil war (1975 to 1990) and repeated crises that culminated in the 2006 conflict, which crippled the economy and social fabric, Beirut has embraced modernity and unrestrained development. Following the example of the nearby Gulf States, it is unfortunately leaving behind whole swathes of Lebanese society and the city’s rich historical traditions are rapidly giving way to standardized modern tastes and numerous showy Western-style shopping malls.
Like the city’s first Earth Market, the purpose of the project is to revitalize the local production of food that represents the food culture of Lebanon, and to rebuild a direct relationship between small producers and responsible consumers, a relationship that too often has been damaged by the impact of the agro-food system. Every market is a building block in the creation of an alternative agriculture, one that is nourished by knowledge and traditions. Though still in its first months, the Ashrafyeh market organizers are hoping to expand and add new representatives of good, clean and fair Lebanese food to the repertoire: a fisherman, a cheesemaker, an organic beekeeper and more.
The Ashrafyeh Earth Market (Souk el Ard) takes place every Thursday from 8am until 2pm.
Find out more about Slow Food’s Earth Market network at www.earthmarkets.net