I see a middle-aged Lebanese woman sitting by the window, patiently waiting. For food, or company, I wonder for a moment. There is a white VW Golf Mk1 parked outside, just in front of a shiny new BMW M3.
“BOA. All Pets. Fish + Reptiles” reads a signboard on the shop across the window. “10,000 LL for Picture with Snake” says another sign. I see green lattice-like windows above the pet shop. The building looks old and the windows remind me of the old Dutch buildings in Galle.
“Tick, tock, tick, tock...” a fashionably dressed young Lebanese girl trots past the window. For a moment, I wish I were sitting by the window. 90% of the Lebanese women are very pretty, according to my expat-friend, the expert of feminine beauty. The remaining 10% it seems, are simply drop-dead-gorgeous. All I can think of, at this very moment, is food – and nothing else. Feminine beauty could wait, but I laugh out loud and nod in agreement.
Sitting here, Beirut feels very real. It feels very different from the newly-built pebbled streets, high-end cafés, designer shops and downtown in general.
The shop owner comes along, greets us and distributes the hand-written Arabic menu. I look at the decorative handout and wonder why the menu is not printed. Apparently, nothing much has changed in this place since the humble beginning. Two generations later, the menu is still hand-written by the owner cum cashier cum head-waiter, every single morning.
A few minutes later, I overhear the man himself translating the menu to the Japanese family sitting at the table behind us. This is a legendary place that is often mentioned in travel guides. The pictures that adorn the walls tell me that the tourists pick this tiny place over fancy restaurants downtown, perhaps for the bragging rights.
While we get ready to experience the true spirit of Lebanese cuisine, the usual appetisers arrive on the table. The Olives, the mint leaves, spring onions, radish, pickles, hommus, moutabbel, tabouleh and the Arabic bread.
I decide to skip the Arak and settle for water. Brewed from Aniseed, Arak is an alcoholic beverage that usually takes a prominent place in a typical Lebanese lunch table. The clear brew turns milky and cloudy as it gets diluted in water – just like pouring Dettol in water.
We decide to settle for Molokhia – a rice and meat dish that is garnished with nuts and topped with Corchorus (like spinach) soup – as the main dish. Molokhia is a stew, but this restaurant serves the rice, meat and the stew separately for us to mix them ourselves to match our taste. Apparently, that is the “proper” way to serve the dish. An Arabic desert follows and we top up the meal with a Moroccan-mint tea.
As we wander back in to the narrow lane, leaving yet another Lebanese experience behind, I think of home. Good food, great ambience, and Boa reminds me of home. Masthana, the old canteen that used to be besides Raheema’s, in particular.