Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut by Salma Abdelnour

Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut by Salma Abdelnour

If you like Anthony Bourdain’s TV series/book No Reservations, you may well love Salma Abdelnour’s very foodie memoir, Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut.

When she was just a child, Salma and her family left Beirut in the middle of a war. She tried very hard to fit into her new home in Houston, Texas, half a world away but always felt the awkward outsider, pining for the sights and other delights of Beirut.

By the time she was 38, she had settled extremely comfortably in New York City. Great job, great boyfriend, great town. But… in the back of her mind, there was always Beirut. To her, it meant family, sunshine, and belonging. Never mind that Beirut always seemed on the verge of breaking out in sectarian violence. It seemed like home, and quick visits with her family through the years did not satisfy her desire to completely come home again.

Could she do it—leave everything and everyone behind and live for a year in Beirut? Like so many expatriates, she desperately wanted to try to find the place and personal peace that was ripped away from her by circumstance. Unlike many of those wishful others, she had a good job that let her work from anywhere and a place to stay in what was for now a peaceful country. So she did it.

By herself in her family’s old apartment, homesick and travel weary, she wondered if she had done the right thing. She was exhausted, the electricity was going off and then on again, and she awoke to the A/C’s drain flooding her living room right over her digital camera.

But then, too, there was the sparkling sea visible from her window, a culture that she became comfortably a part of, extended family and new friends—so much to see. So much to sample! She planned solo days of exploration—many of them food pilgrimages—and was enfolded back into the community. It was not as if she had never left, but they had definitely kept a place for her.

Still, for every delightful day spent in remembrance and exploration as well as every taste of Lebanese culture (many of the best recipes are included!), Salma finds herself drawn back to New York City and a certain handsome and humorous person who lives there.

Salma Abdelnour is a free-lance travel and food writer and an editor for several leading publications, including Food & Wine, Time Out New York, and O, The Oprah Magazine. Her latest venture is being editor of iVillage.com’ s food channel,