Author: Ms. Dragana Todorović
“Our cuisine, first of all the street food of Beirut, is specific for being healthy, contrary to other street food worldwide which is fried, greasy and heavy. More than 75 percent of our dishes are made without meat and only from fresh ingredients,” the most popular Lebanese food blogger Anthony Rahayel explained to me. In fact, he is no food blogger in the usual sense, he does not make photos of the food and does not cook for a living, but to provide a living to everyone else. He is a doctor, dentist, who came up with an idea how to help his people. And he is doing well: his Instagram profile “No Garlic No Onion” has 257,000 followers, his YouTube clips are watched by millions and while we were doing the interview in the “Farmers’ market” (Souk El Balad), which takes place every Saturday in the central parts of Lebanon, people were treating him like a star and making photos – old and young, children, foreigners....
“More than 70 food producers from all over the country come to this market in order to sell their vegetables, local products, specialties, juices... but also works of art which they make. All of them are heroes of Lebanon, because these are hardworking people fighting to find a way to live a normal, dignified life. Among them are engineers, physicians, architects... and all of them are trying to adapt to the new situation and difficult circumstances of life, after the war, the revolution, frequent unrests, inflation which is ‘raging’ now. I would give them all medals and awards, because why would singers, actors, artists deserve them and not those who are trying to feed their families, as well as others,” Anthony said, he who is making up to three video clips a day about “the heroes” (when Lebanon was “locked” due to the pandemic, he was making up to five videos a day), in order to promote their small businesses through social networks.
By the way, my interviewee received several awards for his work: Google Maps Best Photographer 2018, World Best Street Food Blogger of the Year 2019, and Best Expert Food Account of 2020.
“I started on my own, two years ago, and now I have a team which is slowly growing and we are all together working on the same task – to show to the world that Lebanon is not only war and violence, but that it is the most beautiful country in the world. What we are shooting and publishing are not the usual tourist routes, but beauties of our country which foreigners have yet to discover, the food which is slowly being forgotten, but we are creating monuments to it.”
Of course, I asked him what he considers the best Lebanese dish: “It is made of rice and chicken meat, and called – riz a jej.”
If Anthony Bourdain was alive and could come again to Beirut, where he was in 2016, my interviewee said that he would be taking him to completely different places: “That was a political episode which did not show what’s best in Beirut with regard to food. I would take him to the village, show him what heroes are making with lots of passion and love.”
And at the end of our conversation, I got the answer which I could not imagine. When I asked him to explain the name of his blog, Anthony Rahayel said: “Simply – I am allergic to garlic and onions.”