We went exploring downtown Beirut and the fancy new Beirut Souks mall. There are dozens of high rise buildings coming up in the area, pieds-a-terre perhaps for overseas Lebanese who visit for part of the year and for well to do Gulf people who come for fun and whatever they can’t find in their own countries (greenery, mountains and alcohol come to mind).
The “Souks” are built on the pre-war site of a proper souk (market), which carried vegetables and that sort of thing and was frequented by regular folks of all classes. Now it is more than 200 small, upscale stores, designer names of Europe and the US, fashion from across the globe. A 13th century Mamluk shrine has been preserved and sits oddly to one side in a plaza area, as have ruins of Byzantine shops, and remnants of a medieval city wall (one wonders how much was not preserved and lies underneath the new construction). Another section is in the works that will house 14 cinemas and a department store. Wow.
A grocery store there, the Signature Store of a Kuwaiti-owned chain with multiple branches in Beirut, is filled with an eye-popping array of imported goods that include fresh frog legs and lobster swimming (well, alive) in tanks. There is a nail bar in the store (perhaps the lobster claw damaged your manicure?) and an eat-in sushi bar complete with conveyer belt. The produce section carries Italian salad mix, colorful hot peppers from Holland (Holland?), Belgian salsify, Thai longan, and Chilean blueberries, to name a few. Care for Ball Park franks (at $10), Breyer’s ice cream ($12), perhaps one of eight varieties or artisanal salt, Dutch sauerkraut, gourmet popcorn ($6), eggnog flavor hot chocolate mix? Or the frozen Maine lobster in case you didn’t want the fresh, for $20 for a pound, or perhaps you prefer the Scottish for $16.
Other items don’t surprise because we see them widely here, e.g. Brazilian beef, Danish butter, an array of French cheeses.
This is Beirut.
The store is less than 20 minutes’ walk, so we may be back.