I love food and where it’s sold: markets. Lingering in food shops and food aisles and chatting with food vendors and food makers are some of the ways I know PLACE. Let me introduce you to some of the markets I visited in Tripoli, Lebanon.
Sections and Service
This market caught my attention during my first trip to Lebanon in 2009. My father-in-law buys mandarins, halloum cheese, flat bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, and two-litre bottles of water here. The market is divided into sections, each with its own staff. A boy stocks the fridges. A man, who acts like the owner, works behind the cheese counter. A teenager handles the cash.
Outside, two men help clients choose, bag, and weigh their produce. They’re so good at their job that they serve three clients at once, moving smoothly from stall to stall, quickly weighing bags of fruit and veg, all the while leading one or two clients to the cash.
Did you think you were going to carry those bags home? For a dollar, one of the men will balance your purchases on a moped and arrive at your apartment before you do. Service.
I love this market because it’s small, clean, and colourful. I suppose that makes it like many other markets in Tripoli. But this one is ours, the one we go to every few days. On one of our last visits, I held up a pear as Sam paid at the cash. The cashier, friendly lad he was, offered me the pear.
This market has been here since 1996. Its owner watched me photograph the shop from across the street and invited me over to chat and photograph more closely. He told us that his display is one of the largest in Tripoli and that his fruits and vegetables come from Lebanon and beyond. I pointed to the mushrooms, he said Syria; to the kiwis, Iran; the chestnuts, Turkey; garlic, China. Tomatoes and cucumbers are his best sellers, which isn’t surprising as most families, most days, eat them with khubz (flat bread), halloum cheese, and labneh (strained yogurt).
The owner offered us each a juice as we prepared to leave the market. We couldn’t refuse even if we tried and drank them around the corner.
Chocolate and Cereal
In Lebanon, merchants and vendors snag the smallest spaces to sell obscure combinations of products. This shop sells chocolate and boxed and bulk cereal. Inside, I found the shop owner chatting with a friend. In Arabic, I asked permission to photograph. He granted it and posed for pictures.
Before opening this shop in 1984, the owner had worked as an electrical technician in Beirut. He, like his former Swiss employer, had left the city because it had been ravaged by the civil war (1975–1990).
Suspecting Sam is an emigrant, the shop owner told Sam that Lebanon is not for the Lebanese. “Lebanon is for the United States, France, Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria. Lebanon is for thugs and those who want to steal money.” He told Sam that he’s better off in Canada: “the only downside is the cold, but you’re equipped over there so it’s not so bad. You have automatic garage door openers.”
As we thanked him for the chat and his time, he gave each of us two chocolate treats. I immediately ate one and kept the other for later.
PS: Lebanon, thanks for specializing in chocolate production. And for having such generous and hospitable shop owners.