If you’ve got a sweet tooth, Lebanon can definitely offer up some delicacies that satisfy it. Baklawa, sfouf, halawet jeben, ashtaliyye…the choices are endless. But when it comes to ice cream, people are more likely to think of the Italians than they are of the Lebanese. That’s probably because people haven’t heard of the late Hanna Mitri Moussa’s little hidden gem in Beirut.
Established in 1949 by Hanna Mitri Moussa, Halwayat Al Salam is an ice cream parlor in the heart of Ashrafieh. Although, many know of it, they might not know it as Halwayat Al Salam. Named after a well-known sports field in the area, the shop has taken on different monikers over the years: Hanna Mitri, Mitri Moussa, Bouza Mitri, and so on.
After working in the sweet industry, Hanna Mitri Moussa opened up his small corner of ice cream heaven at the young age of 20, offering a selective range of handmade ice cream flavors and Lebanese sweets and pastries. Hanna knew he had to have a competitive edge against other ice cream places around him. So, he poured his heart and soul into his work, lovingly making his creations, enhancing his techniques and improving his products to make sure he was always ahead of the rest. When it came to his ice cream, Hanna would take risks and experiment with different flavors, in order to differentiate his ice cream from others. Always using fresh fruits and ingredients that were in season, Hanna insisted that all his ingredients be natural, rejecting all use of powders, creams and colorings. His hard work has paid off, as the flavors of each ice cream bursts with every bite. You can taste the freshness of the fruits in the lemon, mulberry or apricot flavors. You savor the richness of the chocolate, or the sweet crunch of real almond praline in the almond ice cream (which is one of the shop’s best selling flavors).
Today, after Hanna’s passing, his son Mitri Moussa has taken the reins at the shop. Using the same techniques as his father, Mitri has taken on the responsibility of maintaining his father’s legend. He continues to not only make the ice cream by hand, but also the Maa’moul, Maa’kroun, Sfouf and Nammoura. Their Maa’moul is so popular, that come the holidays, if you haven’t placed a pre-order, you better be looking somewhere else for your celebratory sweets!
But let’s get back to the main attraction – the ice cream. Hanna’s creations have created a sort of cult-to-mainstream following. Over the years, celebrities, politicians and notable individuals have flocked to his little shop, as well as countless others that he considers longtime customers. But it’s not just their customers that have picked up on the quality of their ice cream. The shop has been mentioned in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Le Figaro and Paris Match, not to mention recently been named as the second best ice cream in the world by Forbes Magazine, Russia. The latter accolade has brought a steady stream of Eastern European tourist to his door, Mitri explained.
What really strikes you about Hanna Mitri is the fact that should you walk or drive by the store you probably wouldn’t think they make some of the best ice cream you’ve ever tasted. The sign at the front of the store is small, and the place is simply decorated, with white walls. Even upon entering, all the ice cream is packed into one fridge. Which is because all the ice cream is made only one day before, with only the ingredients that were found fresh that day limiting the amount of flavors Mitri will deem suitable for sale on any given day.
So after 65 years of making ice cream, will Mitri Moussa’s children take over the store? When Mitri was a young boy, he would spend every day after school learning the trade from his father. Then, every day after university as well. Even when he started working in finance, he spent his vacation days there too. He told us that his father taught him an important lesson: “You’ll never know if you want to do something unless you roll your sleeves up and learn to do it for yourself.” And that is what Mitri has told his son. So, time will tell if the next generation of Moussas will continue the family tradition, but all we know is that if this is the last generation to offer the absolute delights of Halwayat Salam, then ice cream will be on the menu every day of the week.
They say, “Work hard until you no longer need to introduce yourself” and in the case of a shop that goes by so many different names, the saying rings perfectly true.
We asked one last question of Mitri before we left, ice cream in hand: What’s your favorite part of the job? He smiled and answered, “When my customer is satisfied.” Which must be every single time.
If you’d like to try Hanna Mitri’s ice cream, visit the Ashrafieh store in Saint Nicholas, or call +961 1 322 723