Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Nabe'e Hassan on the River Markieh

One of the oldest restaurants in the Tartous area is Nabe’e Hassan (نبع حسان = The Hassan Spring). It is beautifully situated on the River Markieh in the shade of giant eucalyptus trees. It has always been a favorite destination during the hot summer days for Tartoussis and visitors from Syrian cities. In the evening, the eerie green and red lighting emanating from the trees and reflecting on the surface of the water, the sounds of hundreds of frogs frolicking in the dark and the subdued rumors of the rushing little waterfall all conspire into making dinner a unique experience.


Nabe’e Hassan would be a great place for a bunch of friends or a large family reunion to have lunch or dinner and perhaps get a little drunk. Since I am one who favors empty restaurants for such occasions, I would intentionally pick the dead days of the week for such a banquet. As other similar places in Tartous, Nabe’e Hassan will be in full mode and crowded on Thursday and Saturday evenings and all day long on Friday. The restaurant opens from June 1st till the end of September. It’s a shame, because I would really enjoy sitting outdoors in October or even November in such a beautiful place, but I think it’s not economically feasible. Once the Damascene, the Homsis and the Aleppians leave Rimal Zahabieh for the new school year, there wouldn’t be enough customers to maintain a decent income for the proprietor to remain open.


The food at Nabe’e Hassan is the traditional Syrian Coast/Lebanese Mezza + barbecued chicken, lamb or sea fish. A great Mezza specialty in the Tartous area is a hot plate of tiny fried river fish, called “Samak Nahri”. You have to be careful though, the fish has to measure less than 8 cm (roughly 3”) or it wouldn’t count as the delicacy it ought to be. The smaller the fish the more delicious they taste. They are eaten whole with tiny bones, heads and tails with a squeeze from a fresh lemon. When ordering this plate, you should specifically request that you want the tiny fish only. The Mezza I’ve ordered recently at Nabe’ Hassan consisted of Hommos, Moutabbal, Fattouch, Tabbouleh, Mfaraket Fitr, Jarjir, Ba2let, Zaatar Akhdar, olives, Awanes & Sawda, Bourak Bi Jebneh, Kobbeh Nayeh & Hamis, shanklish and Batata Me2liet. These plates are served with Arak, beer or soft drinks. A Nafas Argheele (water pipe with tobacco) is also served with the Mezza. Depending on the mood and the pace of the party, a smart chef would know when to bring in the chicken, lamb or fish. This is done when the customers start eating while leaning backward on their chairs to accommodate their expanding stomachs. The main dish is to be served right then. Afterwards, a gourmet (a Sa7eb Keif) will usually release his belt buckle and the top button of his trousers and continue to sip his Arak with love and affection. Before leaving, cold slices of watermelon and coffee or tea are brought, compliments of the management.


I highly recommend Nabe’ Hassan for a visitor of Tartous. The food is great, the atmosphere relaxing and the price is right. Bon appétit!

Dear Readers
For those who do not already know it, Mezza is a collection of small plates consisting of over 100 hot and cold appetizers served in succession before the main course. The most famous Mezza is the Lebanese variety but this is mainly due to the fact that the Lebanese are excellent promoters and more verbose than the Tartoussis or Lattakians (not counting me of course). The Mezza of the Syrian cost (Tartous and Lattakia) is very similar to the Lebanese and differs considerably from the Mezza varieties of Interior Syria. This is caused, in my opinion, by the fact that the Lebanese and the coastal Syrians share a fervent passion for Arak. For us, Arak is King and all the Mezza plates are the Harem. I have to admit though that the Lebanese variety is more exquisite, but so is the price you’d pay. The cuisine of Interior Syria has been more influenced and shaped by the Ottoman Turks. While home cooking is far more advanced in cities like Damascus, Aleppo, Homs and Hama, the Mezza, which is really in the end a compliment for Arak, is more our specialty. If anyone cares to further learn about the different plates that make up a Middle Eastern Mezza (in this case the Mezza of Tartous), let me know through a comment. In the Tartous area, I would say that we have about 30 to 40 such appetizers. By now it must be obvious that I am a food lover myself. If this topic is of any interest to you, say so and I will pursue it even further (you will be doing me a great favor since I wouldn’t be able to write about food unless I go out and experiment at various locations). As for Arak, an unsweetened aniseed flavored grape distilled alcoholic beverage and the national drink of Syria, there will be one post completely devoted to it (Just wait till the end of October).

Nabe’ Hassan is located on the river Markieh, 18 km north of Tartous. You get there by driving on the Tartous-Lattakia Hwy due north for 15 km then taking the right exit at [Rimal Zahabieh/Kamsieh]. Less than a 100 m ahead you reach the old Tartous-Lattakia Road, take a left and drive ahead for 2 km until you reach a bridge over a river to your left, a road straight ahead and an exit to the right. You drive over the bridge and continue for a couple of hundred meters till you see the sign to the right (نبع حسان). You take this private side road and drive another couple of hundred meters and enter through the main gate of the restaurant. I would suggest to the owner(s) that more care should be taken of keeping the place and the river unsoiled. I would also like that the restrooms undergo a complete refurbishing and a daily and thorough cleaning.

17 comments:

I love Munich said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post which made me drool for the delicioulsly looking "mezze" served at an out-of-this-world location! I need to ask a few questions though if you don't mind ...
I frequently see in the malls these kind of (deep-frozen) little fish (I don't know if THAT little though)... how exactly is that prepared? ONLY friend? As a whole? What spices?
Then ...the names of the different dishes! I tried hard to dig out the few words of Arabic I know but failed recognizing a few: what is "Mfarake Fitr"? "Jarjir"? "Bazlet"?" "Awanes& Sawda"? "Bourak bi Jebneh" is Bourekas with cheese, right? "Shanklish" .. is that like "shashleek", a meat-skewer? And "Batatat mezliet" is French fries ... right?
The dishes look fantastic .. what I admire so much as well is the way they are decorated in order to appear appealing to the eye .. outstanding!
Argheeleh .. I LOVE IT!!!
Slices of cold water melons (batikh, right?) and coffee/tea are served as compliments of the management??? That is unheard of over here ... I have the feeling there is a LOT to learn for our restaurant-owners!!
To wrap up - YEEEEEES - I'd LOVE to have further explanation of different platters -I'm highly interested to hear!!
Thanks so much for a post which is brilliant from all aspects!!

abufares said...

Karin thank you for sharing the passion.
1) Fish always taste better if fresh. However, many don't get such opportunity. You should try the following with the small fish. Thaw the fish, rub them with salt & pepper, dip them in a mixture of 1 cup flour/1 egg, fry them in a pan of very hot vegetable oil. Do not over cook them, just enough to give them a reddish color, shake any excess oil when removing. Enjoy them as an appetizer by eating them WHOLE. If they are too big for your taste, then pick at them with your hands and remove the unwanted parts (head, bones, tails, ...etc.)
2) Mfaraket Fitr = mushroom & onions sauteed in butter - Jarjir = eruca salad - Ba2let (notice that the number 2 is intended to replace the silent vowel Hamzeh in Arabic) = portulaca salad - Awanes & Sawda = chicken gizards & hearts sauteed in butter, lemon & coriender - Bourak bi Jebneh = fried rolls stuffed with white cheese - Shanklish = skimmed from the top of yogurt after vigorous and long shaking is a sort of very light cheese, aged to completely dry and covered by dried thyme, served with olive oil - batata me2liet = french fries
3) Now that I have you interested, I will definitely embark on my culinary endeavor in and around Tartous.
Once you come over, be ready for at least a couple more kilos to take back with you

I love Munich said...

The fish I will most certainly try - just the way you explained ... and at the end enjoy it with a squeeze of lemon, right?
All you mentioned in your explanation sounds soooo appetizing that alone from reading I am afraid, I gain a kilo at least!
Thanks for explaining what the "2" stands for ... I was wondering x-times already but THAT never occured to me! I know about the silent vowel Hamzeh in Arabic ...
I just found another question ... the chicken gizzards - you certainly cook them soft before sauteeing them, right?
Only a couple more kilos?? You're optimistic ... ;)

abufares said...

Karin
The chicken gizzards are indeed boiled first and the water thrown away.
I forgot to mention that garlic is also added to the chicken gizzards and to the 2 kinds of salad (along with lemon juice+ olive oil)
Bon apetit

Been there said...

Thank you for this post. I would love to learn more about your cuisine. I have ben to Syria before and enjoyed the delicious food.

Non-Blogging said...

You make me very, very hungry :-).

Abu Abdo said...

Abufares, it is a pity that when I visited you five years ago it was Ramadan and we never had the chance to go to all these places you have been talking about!! Inshaa Allah next time I go I will definietly dedicate more days to visiting you.

abufares said...

Hi Been There
I will certainly do my best and continue my in-depth investigation and no-fear approach. I will try in the time to come to post one or more article about the variety and diversity of Tartoussi food.
Thank you for visiting.

abufares said...

Hi Non-blogging
Thank you for dropping by. I tried to visit your blog but found out that it's unavailable.
I would love to learn more about food in Finland, and of course, about other matters.

abufares said...

My dear Abu Abdo
Indeed we couldn't go anywhere to eat and/or drink when you were last here.
I look forward seeing you again and spending some quality time together, as we always had.

Shannon said...

Do continue with the food and including recipies when possible!!

abufares said...

shannon

let it be then.
your wish is my command.
i will, over several future posts for sure,further explain and illustrate different dishes.
thank you for stopping by.

Non-Blogging said...

Hi Abu Fares,

No wonder you couldn't open my website - I just have a Blogger account, no blog so far.

I think these three links I found would be a good starter. I like the Wikipedia one most because it's somewhat more realistic than the one on Virtual Finland. The latter lists quite strange specialties which definitely are not part of the everyday fare but rather something you might find on the table of state guests and the like. The Syrian foreign minister was here today according to the news but I don't know what he was offered ;-).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Finland
http://virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=26062
http://www.finnguide.fi/finnishrecipes/

If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask me anytime in case they're not related to the practical part of making food (I'm such a terrible cook myself).

Although not haute cuisine, next time you go to Damascus, there's even a Finnish hamburger joint there, Hesburger (www.hesburger.fi). I don't know how this chain ended up having a restaurant in Syria, but God has his ways ;-). In the genre, I prefer McDonald's though.

Ascribo said...

Wow! You almost made me cry today!

I realized that it's almost been A WHOLE YEAR since I went to restaurant in Tartous. I have been living on noodles, Shawerma and Falafel during the whole semester. Then I had to travel to Oxford immediately after exams.

Although you can make good food here (Salmon for instance), and even you can find some places to buy foul and make it with garlic, lemon, and parstly...But on the other hand, I'll never be able to make any Mezze over here.

I longe to get back just for the sake of food, family and friends...

Keep up the good work

abufares said...

Hi Non-Blogging
Thank you so much for the information. I will check out the sites you suggested.

abufares said...

Hi Ascribo
I look forward to your return. Inshallah then we would be able to go to some of these places and have the goooooood food you dream of.

MomTo5 said...

thanks,i have writen down the name of the restaurant.