Easily one of the highlights of Sunday’s trip to the south of Lebanon, was the discovery of Abou Rami’s falafel stand. “Abou Rami” means “Rami’s Dad”, and his sandwich stand has all the advantage of “location, location, location” situated as it is at the entrance to the market area, directly across from the Sea Castle in the ancient Port of Sidon. If you look closely, below, you can spot Abou Rami’s just to the left of the young couple in the picture.
Abou Rami’s is mobbed with customers, and we learn later that Abou Rami’s falafel sandwiches are reputed to be the very best in all of Lebanon. We stop here for lunch and simply cannot resist the idea of returning for a second Abou Rami falafel feast at day’s end, before taking the Hariri highway back to Beirut.
At lunch time, the line up is very hospitable, and the good Moslem customers invite “abouna” (father) Krikor to go to the head of the line. It’s a different story at supper time, and the press for the delicious sandwiches is most impressive. Fr. Krikor applies every ounce of his Lebanese know-how to work his way down the counter, but even still it takes 40 minutes to get served.
Falafel sandwiches are stuffed with three falafel balls (deep fried chick pea molded mash), and an assortment of spicey garnishings in a tasty sauce, all rolled up in a 9-10 inch flat pita bread — the finished sandwich is about 3 inches thick! The fellow pictured here, perhaps Abou Rami himself (?), and his colleagues behind the counter work at break-neck pace to keep their customers happy, working in a frenzy seemingly the whole day long … it was crazy and lunch and even crazier at the supper hour. Click here, or on the photo above, to see a short film of falafel ball making in action. If you listen carefully, you might hear, amidst all the noise of the market and falafel stand, the call from the neighbouring minaret for the faithful to observe Maghrib, the fourth prayer of the day for Moslems, coming as it does, just after the setting of the sun.
This was a wonderful day of travel to the beautiful south of Lebanon, the fruitbowl of the country, with thousands of acres of fruit trees and banana bushes. Our drive back to Beirut goes, for the most part, very well. There are the predictable problems with round-abouts and check points, but Sunday traffic is characteristically less bustling here, and we are back in Antelias from Sidon in less than an hour.
A wonderful day comes to a wonderful end when Fr. Krikor invites me to join his family for the required demi-tasse of coffee before calling it a night. Mme Chiftjian and her middle son, Vartan, live in a delightful apartment on the fifth floor of a building only a few blocks from the Catholicosate.
There is still excitement in the Chiftjian household in the wake of the Christmas announcement of Vartan’s engagement to a young Armenian woman, a native of Montreal. The required engagement cognac and pink and blue candied almonds are served, and I get a chance to appreciate some of Vartan’s handiwork.
Vartan is an accomplished sculptor and jeweller, and his recent show in Beirut resulted in a half page write up about his work in an Beirut’s French language newspaper, L’Orient-le Jour. Vartan has been making jewellry since he was a teenager, and his current project is the bridal crown for the wedding. It is really a pleasure to meet this fine family, and to share in the exciting prospect of a beautiful Armenian wedding in Montreal in the not too distant future.
Postscript (Februay 11, 2007)
It took many months for Vartan's application for immigration to Canada to receive approval, but finally the big day came. On Sunday, February 11, 2007, Vartan and Ani were Married at Sourp Hagop (St. James) Cathedral in Montreal. Fr. Krikor and Sushan Chifjian (Fr. Krikor and Vartan's mother, pictured below) were on hand, with Fr. Krikor and his brother-in-law Fr. Karnag (pictured above) co-presiding at the wedding ceremony.
Vartan's bride looked particularly lovely wearing the gold plate crown that Vartan fashioned with loving care for the occasion. Work on the crown was already underway when I visited the Chiftjian home in March 2006.
Vartan and Ani will make their home in Montreal, and Vartan will work with his new father-in-law in the latter's auto body business, but continue his jewellery making at a workshop in their new home. Now all Vartan needs to do is learn to live with the very cold Canadian weather! (-20C on the day of the wedding.)