My Lebanese adventures, which I crammed into an incredibly short time, continue with another fabulous meal, this time centred around one of my favourite delicacies. Some of you will decry this post but as much as I would like to be caring for the environment, there are a few things I find hard to resist. Foie gras is one and the other is ‘assafir (tiny little birds called bec-figue in French because they feed on figs). The season is August/September when the figs are ripening and there is one particular restaurant in B’hamdun outside Beirut, Halim, that specialises in them to the point that it closes when the season is over (at least this is what my sister says). I have written about Halim before but this time the ‘assafir were truly superior, and this because I was lamenting the fact that no one served them with their heads on like they did in the past.
We were in the kitchen when I was complaining to the owner about this while I watched his son clean the tiny creatures and him stoke the charcoal fire with an automated electric fan. He immediately left his fire and took a tray of birds from his refrigerator with the heads on explaining that the reason why most ‘assafir are served without heads is because no one can be bothered to pluck the tiny heads. They just snap them off. The heads-on (or I should say in this case half the heads on) birds were just like those my uncles used to shoot and my grandmother kept the whole head with some of the beak on. She was also a lot more meticulous about plucking them and keeping the skin on than whoever sold the ‘assafir to Halim. Anyhow, I quickly reserved the tray, which had 36 little ones on it. As you can see from the pictures below, they were more plump and possibly even fresher than the regular one. He must have had them reserved for special clients and as luck would have it, we were the chosen ones!
But before the ‘assafir we had a few mezze dishes. The menu at Halim is limited: fattoush, baba ghannuge, hommus, an olive oil potato mash which I love although that night it was a little refrigerated, and the best pickles you can eat in a restaurant. Just like those made at home. They must make their own vinegar.
We also had maqaneq (tiny lamb sausages) and incredibly scrumptious grilled chicken wings: dry and crisp on the outside and moist and luscious on the inside without any hint of greasiness.
Finally, came the time for us to have our little ones and I was so busy eating, I forgot to go into the kitchen to snap them being grilled. Too bad but there is always next year! They came swaddled in marquq (handkerchief bread) to both keep them warm and let the bread soak up the delicious juices and what you do is tear up some of the soaked bread to wrap one of the tiny bodies in it and plop it into your mouth. Heaven, whatever anyone says! Although I have to admit, the first batch was a tad sharp. Too much sumac. The second batch was perfect, also the third batch even if too much of an indulgence but given that I have to wait another year for such a feast, forgivable.