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!
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.