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bhamdun-grilled birds 6 copy

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.

b'hamdun-halim-stoking the fire copy

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!


b'hamdun-halim-birds with heads on copy

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.

b'hamdun-halim-fattoush copy

b'hamdun-halim-potatoes & pickles

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.


bhamdun-halim-grilled chicken wings copy

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.

b'hamdun-halim-1st lot of asafir

We were stuffed but couldn’t resist an order of karabij with real natef. The natef was great. The karabij so so but the meal was magnificent all the same. I can’t wait till the next season!

b'hamdun-halim-karabij copy

There is 10 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

    Fantastic food with a touch of fantasy about it. I find this sort of food perfect, although I have never eaten such food in its home country. It intrigues me that many food writers use different spellings for baba ghannuge and hommus. Is it a question of phonetics or that each Middle Eastern country spells the same dish differently or that it is difficult to create an Anglicised version? There is only one spelling in English for potato, and one in French for foie gras:)

  • 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

    it’s a question of transliteration. i now try to follow the classic transliteration although i am not sure i always get it right but the spelling in arabic is always the same. love the picture of the egg yolk on toast. would like that now for my breakfast 🙂

  • 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 still remember having assafir for dinner during my one and only visit to Lebanon over 30 years ago. You are absolutely right….an unforgettable meal, as you can see. Thanks for the memories, Annisa.

  • 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 am very sorry and embarrassed for having misspelled your name in my 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

    you are welcome peter and not to worry about the misspelling 🙂

  • 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

    Natef is so alluring with that glossy shine! This dessert looks heavenly. I am so curious (and hungry) to try it now. Do you know if the root is available outside of Lebanon? ‘assafir also sounds greatly intriguing.. (: Thanks for the post Anissa, great to hear about your recent trip!

  • 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 you can. in fact if you look through the comments on the natef post you will find some info on who sells it in the US 🙂

  • 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

    Un petit aperçu de la façon avec laquelle on fait griller les “Assafir” dans le Sud de la France: Des “Brochettes de Grives”…
    Les oiseaux sont lardés (ou bardés !) et on laisse de gros morceaux de pain sous le grill pour récupérer le jus de la cuisson…
    La cuisson peut durer 3 ou 4 heures…

    Dans mon enfance, à Jéricho, c’est mon oncle qui les chassait (Il s’agissait plutôt de cailles sauvages). On les faisait frire à l’excellente huile d’olive local avec un filet de citron sur le jus de cuisson. On avait souvent des morceaux de plomb dans les dents…C’était génial !

  • 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’ve had grives in france. they are delicious but quite a bit bigger than our ‘assfir. same for quails which i also love although nothing really matches up to plopping a whole ‘asfur in your mouth to crunch it all. mmm… wish i could have some more right now 🙂

  • 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

    Great, thanks Anissa! I will investigate and try to make some natef here in the states – or perhaps I can find someone who makes it in LA. Hope to see you at the upcoming conference. (:

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