BEIRUT: In Saturday’s fading daylight, several scruffy-faced musicians and a dozen children had transformed a nondescript parking lot in Saifi Village with the acoustic melodies of childhood summer camp.
A popcorn maker sat just beyond the benches of warbling kids, as did card tables covered in freshly painted crafts. All that was needed was a fire in the evening darkness to complete the illusion of being in the middle of the woods instead of Beirut’s urban center.
Souk el Tayeb, Beirut’s landmark farmers market held at Beirut Souks, has expanded its presence to Saifi Village. For its first season at this new venue, the market is being held in the evening to celebrate the warm weather with a weekly block party vibe: music, snacks and an emphasis on family activities.
“The evening souk is more about ready-to-eat food, nibbles and live music. ... This is the fun souk,” Pamela Chemali, souk manager, told The Daily Star.
Every Saturday, Souk el Tayeb’s morning market, which opens from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m., offers the country’s small producers a chance to sell in the city’s bustling Downtown shopping center. In contrast to the luxury clothing brands and upscale eateries facing Souk el Tayeb, its booths feature traditional pantry staples: balls of labneh in oil, zaatar, vegetables, dried fruit and nuts, concentrated fruit syrups and fresh juices.
Whereas the morning souk has an up and at ’em vibe – with some stands selling out to early birds eager to stock up on mouneh and quality raw ingredients for the coming week – the evening souk is about hanging out.
Several producers, such as Oum Ali from Majdelzoun, set up shop at both souks and thus spend more than 12 hours peddling their homemade foods. After sunset, Oum Ali was still flopping pockets of fatayer, dough stuffed with marinated spinach, onto her saj grill to serve fresh.
One of the highlights of the evening souk is the abundance of free children’s activities with an educational bent. Organizers Saturday hosted a maamoul cooking workshop for children with Little Helps, a group of women raising money for needy people living in Lebanon. A gathering of young girls helped press the traditional Easter cookies into molds and bake them on site.
“They left with a little box of maamoul they cooked themselves,” Chemali said of the young bakers, who squealed with satisfaction as they showed off the fruits of their labor.
There was a painting station where children decorated ceramic masks and paper fans. In the coming weeks, the organizers plan to host more live cooking workshops for children and other family-oriented events.
The souk has also set aside an open space where musicians can jam together in hopes of bringing a little busking culture to Beirut, which lacks the random street music often found in other capitals, Chemali explained. A box for tips offered a little incentive, though the musicians didn’t appear to need any as they led children through rounds of Sheb Khaled’s “Aicha” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
To complete the summertime atmosphere, managers at Souk el Tayeb originally wanted to open their evening festivities in one the city’s scarce green areas. But to the ire of many, Beirut’s parks are mostly closed to the public. A parking lot located in one of Downtown’s swanky developments was the next best thing, Chemali said.
“We don’t have public gardens, we have public parking lots,” Chemali said. “At least it’s in the center of the city.” Souk el Tayeb at Saifi Village opens every Saturday from 4-8 p.m. For more information about upcoming activities, please visit www.facebook.com/Soukeltayeb.