A Taste of Lebanon Brings Middle East Politics to the Table

June 23, 2011|By Danielle Kayal
What was on the menu at a UNA Young Professionals group gathering in Boston last month? Lebanese cuisine at Sabra, a restaurant in Newton Center.

The Greater Boston contingent was there to learn about the cuisine of Lebanon, a member of the United Nations since 1945, and, of course, enjoy themselves.


The night was celebrated in typical Lebanese tradition — starting with delectable appetizers of hummus, tabbouli, falafel, grape leaves, and spinach pies. Over the next two courses, six teams of people played a game of trivia, while learning  various facts about Lebanon’s history and culture. The winning team was announced after baklava and coffee was served, allowing it to take home extra Lebanese treats.

The restaurant is owned by Sabra Foods, a family business that began in the state in 1978. The company provides many local supermarkets, such as Whole Foods, with a line of Middle Eastern dishes. In addition to the Newton restaurant, there is a take-out restaurant, Sabra Grill, in Harvard Square.


The participants quickly learned that Lebanon’s history, like many of its neighbors in the Middle East, is complicated. Yet in the last six months, as the region has undergone tremendous upheaval, Lebanon has remained relatively stable. Part of the reason is that after the Lebanese civil war ended in the early 1990s a Lebanese democratic coalition government was set up with representatives from  its three major religious groups — Maronite Catholics, Sunni Muslims and Shiite  Muslims.  But  the country’s  relative peace was hard won, as Lebanon has experienced more  conflict since. Most recently,  the coalition government collapsed, leaving the Shiite Muslims, led by Hezbollah, in ascendancy.


Indeed, the UN has been present in the country for decades. An interim force was set up in 1978 by the Security Council to restore peace and monitor the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon, which resulted in a small war. UNIFIL forces were again active in the summer of 2006, when fighting between the countries broke out in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL is now helping to ensure that civilians and internally displaced people have access to basic humanitarian needs.


Every other month, the UNA-Greater Boston Young Professionals group meets at ethnic restaurants to not only enjoy specialty dishes but also to increase awareness about other parts the world. The next meeting is in July at a Mexican restaurant in Boston. Learn more about UNA-GB here.

Danielle Kayal is the programs manager of Greater Boston UNA.

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