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Nov

little birdies 4 copy

It’s been two years now that I happen to be in Lebanon and Syria during fig season. I didn’t plan it. It just happened but this meant that I could eat kilos and kilos of the most amazing figs; and more importantly, I could also feast on dozens of the tiny little creatures that feed on them.

Now, many of you will be horrified at the thought of eating little birds but I have to confess that I’ve been eating them from when I was a tiny tot, albeit a chubby one — always loved eating. The birds I ate then were shot by my uncles. I often accompanied them on their shooting expeditions, up in the mountains where the fig orchards were. And while they did the killing, I  would go round looking for ripe figs to eat straight off the trees — the main reason why I went with them. Once my uncles shot several dozen birds, we’d drive back home and I’d help my mother, grandmother and aunt pluck and gut the tiny bodies, still warm from having just been alive while my uncles lit a charcoal fire. We kept the birds’ heads on but snipped the beaks off. Then we washed and seasoned the birds before threading them onto metal skewers to grill them over the charcoal fire. Every now and then we took the birds off the heat and pressed their bodies against pita bread to soak up the fatty juices. Then came the moment of ecstasy — a little exaggeration here although not far off — when I popped one whole little bird after the other into my mouth and crunched on the heads first to release the juicy brain.

eating birds at the club d'Alep -- photo taken by Anna Sussman

At the club d’Alep: holding a little bird for Anna Sussman to snap

There has been talk for quite some time now of the birds becoming endangered, and of course, shooting them is illegal in Europe (although I did once eat ortolans in France) but this doesn’t stop them from being on the menu year after year, both in Lebanon and Syria. Here are a few photographs I shot in the last month. The best birds were not at Halim in B’hamdum, the temple for these creatures, but at a rather disappointing new Lebanese restaurant in downtown Beirut called Lebnaniyet (ex La Posta) where the birds were just perfect despite the fact they had been sautéed (I prefer them grilled). Everything about them was right: the size (not too big and not too small), the amount of fat (enough to make them really moist without them being too greasy), and the chef had kept the heads on — they take them off now at Halim.

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The different sizes you can order at Halim’s

little birds-grilling copy

a little out of focus but it gives you an idea of how many birds get served night after night at Halim’s

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When they are grilled, the birds are served on marquq (handkerchief) bread

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Or you can have them sautéed in pomegranate syrup

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The simple mezze at Halim’s, with my beautiful mother looking a tad out of place in the modest café.

I guess I should really feel guilty and not eat these tiny creatures but they are one of the most heavenly foods ever, and to use a cliché, you only live once!


There is 20 comments on this post


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Anissa, I am horrified! i feel sorry for the little birdies esp. after seeing the photo from Halim’s …


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    you won’t be the only one darine. i should feel the same as you but i like them too much. it’s like foie gras. i’d be too sad if i had to stop eating it.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    I have to say that I am horrified as well! Every man in my family is a hunter. As a teenager, I have been traumatized many mornings by the sight of tiny birds (feathers and all!) sitting in the fridge next to my breakfast! I am especially horrified because these little creatures are almost extinct now and they are still being hunted. I don’t eat birds, I don’t recall ever having. And by the way, I have also stopped eating foie gras (which I love!) because of ethical reasons as well. I bet you’re going to get a lot of reactions to this post!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i’m sorry to have horrified you mayssam. i know it’s not the right thing to do but they are too good and i hadn’t eaten them for years if it is any excuse.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Anissa – coming at this from a non-American perspective, I think this is a lovely dish! and the photos are lovely, too.

    Though, I recognize how much culture plays into what people feel comfortable eating, and what not.

    Here in Burundi, roasted grubs are a seasonal favorite – I still can’t wrap my tongue around these – but do like very much the roasted flying ants – yummy!!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    PS – that is also a lovely photo at the top, with the little sofragi serving tea. I’d forgotten about those little guys; used to bright back tons for presents.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    ha, a comment after my own heart. and roasted flying ants. must try these one day.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    glad to see you’re back, and pleased to meet your mother!
    i look forward to reading and hearing more about your trip. as you can imagine, i didn’t look to closely at this first blog entry, but well done (honestly) for following your passion and not worrying too much about other people’s opinion.
    enjoy your meal!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Ethnically perfect!
    Ecologically and to some extent not very much popular around the globe.
    But c’mon fellas, eating is strange and no one is safe from nausea at some dishes, that’s our fabric, we are different, period! And thus very unlikelly that the word ethical applies to the same matter among different cultures.
    I feel very displeased, but surprised to know such fancy food.
    All in all our traditions are dying to some extent, but that is a whole different matter.
    Very interesting post, though, it only shows how little we know about each other.
    thank you for the post.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Were they alouette? I ate them at La Tupina in Bordeaux, stuffed with foie. Fantastic!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    sounds amazing amy. non, they were not alouettes, or at least i don’t think they were. in Arabic, they call them ‘asfur le-teen (the bird of the figs because they feed on figs). when the season for these is over, we get semmon, bigger birds which are grives. i’ve had these in france.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    you are welcome julio. and thanks for the comment.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    thanks christian. these birds have always been a passion, and they will remain so. had another half dozen last night for my last meal in beirut. they were good!!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Your mama looks absolutely regal, despite the plastic chairs and bowl of potato chips!

    Still laughing about your moment of ecstasy – crunching little birdie brains so to ‘release the juicy brain’… you crack me up Anissa!


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    yes, my mamma is regal, and i’m glad i made you laugh annette.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    my lovely friend luiz americo mentions this post on his blog and both he and fabio, a reader, give latin names to these lovely little creatures which i thought would be of interest. here’s the link to the translated page: http://translate.google.co.uk/translate?hl=en&sl=pt&u=http://blog.estadao.com.br/blog/luizamerico%3Ftitle%3Dpassarinhada%26more%3D1%26c%3D1%26tb%3D1%26pb%3D1&prev=http://blogsearch.google.co.uk/blogsearch%3Fhl%3Den%26ie%3DUTF-8%26oe%3Dutf-8%26client%3Dfirefox-a%26q%3Danissa%2Bhelou%26lr%3D%26sa%3DN%26start%3D20


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Hey, Anissa!
    I see you’ve read my blog. Do you have the scientific name for fig? Or maybe a picture? I found that there’s a specie called figbird, but i don’t it’s the same.
    Very good post (and very nice family feast).


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    i think it is the smyrna fig. here are two links
    http://www.virtualherbarium.org/resource/NationalGeographic1906.html
    and in this one, the fig that is most common in lebanon is that at the bottom, v pale green
    http://www.wanatca.org.au/acotanc/Papers/Hart-1/Author-n-Text.htm


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Anissa, this is a lovely, lovely meal. Buon Appetito.


  • Warning: Undefined array key 36 in /data/40/0/131/109/783598/user/802494/htdocs/anissahelou/wp-content/themes/Anissa/functions.php on line 377

    Darine if it makes you feel any better I am pretty sure that most of the birds are actually farmed (in Jordan and in Syria if i’m not mistaken). You can find them plucked and gutted in many supermarkets, and these ones are definitely farmed. There is also no single species that is consumed – it is usually a variety of passeridae although the fig eater is indeed a favorite.

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