No money, no mutton: Lebanon crisis upends Eid tradition

People wait for their orders at a butcher shop in Lebanon’s northern port city of Tripoli, as Muslims across the world get ready to celebrate Eid Al-Adha, July 28, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 30 July 2020

No money, no mutton: Lebanon crisis upends Eid tradition

  • It is customary for the better-off to donate cuts of mutton to needy members of their community as a form of religious charity during the holiday
  • That might not happen this year in Lebanon, as the country is now mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Tradition dictates that Muslims donate cuts of mutton during Friday’s Eid Al-Adha festival, which would spell brisk business for butcher Abdulrazak Darwish but Lebanon’s economic crisis has cast a pall over his trade.
“This year has been the worst for us because of soaring inflation,” said the 54-year-old resident of the northern city of Tripoli.
“There is no demand for meat or requests from clients to slaughter sheep this Eid Al-Adha,” he told AFP from inside his nearly empty store near the city’s port.
Thousands of sheep are usually slaughtered annually in Lebanon at Eid Al-Adha — the festival of sacrifice — one of two major holy days observed by Muslims across the world.
It is custom for the better-off to donate cuts of mutton to needy members of their community as a form of religious charity during the holiday.
But that might not happen this year, as the country is now mired in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
The Lebanese pound has in past months lost around 80 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market.
In a country where most consumer goods are imported, that devaluation has had a huge impact on prices and the purchasing power of ordinary Lebanese.
In Darwish’s butcher shop, one lonely cut of mutton hangs from a hook. Fridges next to it are completely empty.
For the vast majority of people whose income is not in dollars, the cost of a sheep has more than tripled since last year.
Darwish says the price he pays his suppliers is already prohibitive and leaves him with “no margin to make a profit.”
Tripoli already harbored some of the country’s poorest but the combined effect of the monetary crisis and coronavirus lockdowns is sentencing thousands of families to hunger.
This has upset Eid Al-Adha mutton donations, said Sheikh Nabil Rahim, who connects wealthy families with the needy during the Islamic holiday.
“Donations have severely dwindled by more than 80 percent which means no mutton this Eid Al-Adha,” he told AFP from his office, a stack of religious textbooks piled on his desk.
“A big segment of the Lebanese population are now preoccupied with themselves and their personal problems as a result of the economic crisis,” explained the man who runs an Islamic radio station.
Sitting on a chair outside her Tripoli apartment, Mona Al-Masri said she is preparing for a frugal Eid Al-Adha this year because of the downturn.
“Our priorities have changed,” said the 51-year-old, explaining she is not planning to buy any meat for the feast, which usually abounds with lamb and mutton.
Instead, she will prepare dishes using lentils, vegetables and herbs, she told AFP, explaining she usually relies on donations for mutton.
“This year it seems no one is planning to distribute anything,” she said.
Eid Al-Adha will still be celebrated this year even though many mosques will not hold public prayers and travel restrictions will limit annual Hajj pilgrimages and traditional family gatherings for the holiday.
Butchers have faced further complication due to power outages that have increased as state failure worsens.
“We can’t buy large quantities of meat, not even during the holidays,” said Ali Hassan Khaled, a 50-year-old butcher in a low-income Tripoli neighborhood.
He said he usually slaughters at least 100 sheep for his customers during Eid Al-Adha, but this year he has only received 10 orders.
“This Eid Al-Adha, it seems, people won’t be eating meat and won’t receive their portion of mutton donations,” Khaled said, circled by several hanging carcasses.
Salima Hijazi, a 33-year-old Tripoli resident, is one of them.
The woman usually prepares stuffed vine leaves with mutton for the feast — a staple holiday dish. But this year, mutton is no longer on the menu.
“Our incomes are nearly worthless... and we are now forced to change our eating habits,” she said.

What We Are Eating Today: Carnivore kitchen

Updated 18 June 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Carnivore kitchen

Carnivore Kitchen is a Saudi local brand specializing in smoked food.

The business was originally established as a home venture by friends Sari Al-Harbi and Elyassin Al-Bukhari but has grown in line with its popularity among meat eaters.

Offering smoked meats, vegetables, and nuts with a Saudi twist, customers can pick from a range of cuts including chicken, full lamb with vegetables, and smoked najel fish.

Equipment capable of smoking up to 200 kilograms of meat per week produces tender and moist brisket that has been cooked for more than 18 hours, and the company’s lamb products are made over 12 hours using the same seasonings and smoking techniques as for American brisket. For more information, check Instagram @carnivore.k

Where We Are Going Today: Buttermilk

Updated 11 June 2021

Where We Are Going Today: Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a restaurant and bakery in the Al-Nakheel district of Riyadh serving classic American food.

It is inspired by southern cuisine and its hospitality, offering an array of traditional choices, from American pie, cornbread and mac & cheese to the famous Nashville chicken. That dish is presented with a country-style twist —a big portion of fried chicken and bread served in a basket.

Buttermilk’s signature order is the Harlem classic, buttermilk-fried chicken and waffle with honey and hot sauce on top of it. The delicious combination of sweet and salty with the crispness on the outside and the lightness of the waffle make it one of the best brunches you could ever taste.

Buttermilk is the go-to place for celebrations, as its relaxed and comfortable ambiance will suit your special occasions.

If you are into fine smoked ribs, you can choose your favorite style from the range on offer and enjoy a tender piece of beef covered with barbecue sauce. They also offer many types of steaks.

What We Are Drinking Today: So Tea

Updated 28 May 2021

What We Are Drinking Today: So Tea

Summer is close, which means we will need refreshing drinks to cool down the heat. 

So Tea is ready to satisfy our cooling demands. The Saudi brand offers a freshly prepared array of iced tea and locally made herbal drinks.

It was inspired by the healthy lifestyles of today’s younger generation, who are steering away from soft drinks.

The brand offers three main products inspired by Arabian flavors and herbal ingredients including iced tea, sobia and hibiscus.

So Tea’s natural flavorings and sweetness will keep you hydrated and cool during the day, with flavors including peach, grape and lemon.

The peach iced tea is mind-blowingly delicious. The total process of So Tea’s production — the chilling, steaming, and fermenting — is fully homemade.

Aside from iced tea, the brand also offers other refreshing cool drinks popular in the Middle Eastern region, including roselle, tamarind, and sobia. These three drinks are available throughout the year, but are more popular during Ramadan.

So Tea offers you a box of six bottles based on your choice of flavors. For more information visit the Instagram account


Canine coronavirus detected in Malaysian patients: study

Updated 21 May 2021

Canine coronavirus detected in Malaysian patients: study

  • Coronaviruses were understudied for many years, as they were mainly associated with common colds

WASHINGTON: When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, Professor Gregory Gray at Duke University’s Global Health Institute tasked a graduate student at his lab with developing a pan-species coronavirus test in order to help prevent the next catastrophe.

The idea was to deploy the tool, once its accuracy was validated, to look back at test samples from human patients in order to search for signs of coronaviruses that might have begun to cross over from animals.
Gray and his colleague’s findings, released Thursday in Clinical Infectious Diseases, showed a canine coronavirus was present in a group of mostly children patients admitted to hospital for pneumonia in Malaysia in 2017 and 2018.
The team suspect the dog virus caused their illness, as opposed to merely being present in the patients’ airways — but can’t conclusively prove it.
Given the genetic makeup of the virus it’s unlikely that it is currently circulating between humans.
“What we’re advocating for... is more application of pan-species diagnostics to look for five different viral families we think are the most problematic in causing epidemics in humans,” Gray told AFP.
Coronaviruses were understudied for many years, as they were mainly associated with common colds.
That changed after the SARS and MERS outbreaks of 2002 and 2012, which originated in civets and camels, respectively.
Most scientists believe the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid also has a zoonotic origin.
Gray asked Lishan Xiu, a Chinese PhD student-scholar, to make a pan-species coronavirus test, which he did by finding where the genetic sequences of the various members of this family aligned.
They used this tool on nasal swab tests taken from pneumonia patients from the hospital in Sarawak, Malaysia, and found that eight of 301 samples appeared to have a canine virus.

The finding was surprising, and to confirm it, they teamed up with leading virologist Anastasia Vlasova at Ohio State University, who was able to grow more of the virus and sequence its entire genome.
From that, they determined the virus, which they called CCoV-HuPn-2018, was mainly canine in origin but it also had feline and swine components.
It showed some mutations that were consistent with adapting to transmission among humans, but it’s not known how long this evolution might take — maybe decades, maybe never, said Gray.
All of the patients recovered from their pneumonia and were sent home.
“But getting admitted for pneumonia in general means you’re pretty sick, the clinician is worried about you,” added Gray.
The fact that the team was able to detect canine virus in humans in what was essentially a small pilot study, together with recent similar findings from other research groups, could point to a much larger problem, he emphasized.
“We are missing the boat here,” said Gray.
“If we set up surveillance of pig workers, poultry workers, cattle workers, we’re going to be amazed at what their immune systems are being challenged with.
“That doesn’t mean that they’re going to be the match that lights the next pandemic, but they would be a good resource to study.”

What We Are Eating Today: Joyn Bakery

Updated 21 May 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Joyn Bakery

Joyn Bakery offers traditional European and Arabic pastries with a modern twist to suit all tastes.

It has a variety of products, ranging from sandwiches, salads, pickles and cheeses to desserts, such as its caramel pie, featuring a delectable crust on top, sprinkled with granulated sugar.

Among the bakery’s signature products are its extra-crispy crackers with classic Middle Eastern flavors, such as zaatar, sumac and savory chili, all of which you can enjoy with your favorite homemade dip.

Joyn Bakery also makes classic Linzer cookies with jam filling, packed in a jar and perfect for gifting to your loved ones.

In addition to its range of healthy and fresh sandwiches, Joyn Bakery also offers seasonal packs for different occasions, such as its cheese box for picnics and afternoon tea time, its time-saving Ramadan spice pack, and its Eid basket that includes all you need to enjoy a real Hijazi Eid.

For more information, visit the bakery’s Instagram account @joynbakery.