The comedian spent his childhood in Lebanon and fell in love with its cuisine. Returning to tour the country’s mountains, he finds the food as good as ever
It’s difficult to pin down what is definitely your earliest memory but, I’m pretty certain that mine was food-related … most likely manakish. The smell of manakish – flat dough, covered in a mixture of za’atar and olive oil, and baked in a wood-burning oven – can still stop me in my tracks. There was a boy who used to roll his manakish cart into Brummana High School, the Quaker institution in the hills above Beirut where, for a year in 1974, both Osama bin Laden and I were students. Sadly, Osama was a lot older than me and we didn’t know each other, so I can’t tell you whether he loved manakish as much as me.
I left Lebanon when I was 18 and my parents divorced. Last year I went back to write a travel book, documenting my walk across Lebanon from the Israeli border in the south to the Syrian border in the north. I went with two old friends. It was part midlife-crisis adventure, part attempted weight loss. The latter was spectacularly unsuccessful as, every night, when we crawled into local lodgings, we were force-fed into submission by a series of extraordinary Lebanese home cooks.