Almost anywhere you go in Beirut you can easily spot (or smell) a small bakery, or forn, cooking up the most delicious aromas – whether it’s cheese mana’eesh or meat pies (Laham bi Ajeen), you can’t help but get drawn in by the delicious smell and walk in. With that being said it’s obvious that nowadays these forns don’t get the attention they deserve due to the expansion of more commercial restaurants. These forns are perfect examples of what’s left of traditional quality of food and we can name one place that really blew us away. If you don’t believe this place is that good, how about if we tell you that we were taken away by the smells of the spices by accident! Yep, last week when we went to explore the Henenine Palace, on our way back to the car we smelled the most delicious smell with a charming lady whose smile was definitely as warm as the oven! Introducing, Ichkhanian bakery – home of the best laham bi ajeen you’ll ever have.
After we passed by Ichkhanian Bakery we couldn’t get the smell out of our heads for 3 days, which is when we agreed it was worth the visit. Having been there a couple of days back it was no surprise the same smile on the lady we had seen before was still there. Mrs. Koharik Kaptanian Ichkhanian, owner of Ichkanian Bakery, welcomed us with open arms. Before we even got the chance to introduce ourselves a swarm of teachers, college students, and a bunch of people walked in ordering left and right. They all had one thing in common – none of them ordered just one thing. They all ordered by the dozen or half a dozen and we didn’t know if we could make it through the interview without sneaking one laham bi ajeen that was cooling off right behind us. After the orders were taken, we began. Mrs. Koharik’s late father-in-law opened the bakery himself in 1946. Then, her late husband took over until 1984 and then it was time for her take charge, and so she has. “The most rewarding aspect of the job is seeing my customers happy, and seeing I’m the source of this happiness.” She explained. Well, we’re sure with food smelling like that it’s impossible for someone not to be happy. “It’s been a family business for so long and I’m so happy I could continue the legacy and most importantly keep it for the family.”
Once again, we were interrupted by what seemed like another swarm of hungry people on their breaks getting their orders in. There is more than just laham bi ajeen on the menu, but we noticed that mostly everyone was ordering the delicious meaty pies – but there was a difference in their orders. Some would say “half a dozen Armenian and the other half Halabi.”
What’s the difference? Well, let’s just say it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite between the two. The Armenian has a spicy taste where the Halabi has the ingredient “reb el remman” (pomegranate syrup) both deliciously irresistible and we couldn’t wait to try it. With so many orders going out, we had to ask the obvious. Exactly how many laham bi ajeen do you sell per day? Mrs. Koharik laughed and said, “I don’t even know”. Everyone asks me this question and I never give an answer because each day is different and I’ve never counted. It could be anywhere between 100 orders to 1,000, it all depends on the day.
With what seemed like the 1,000th person walking in to place an order, Mrs. Koharik knowingly snuck us each two laham bi ajeen (one Armenian and one Halabi of course) to enjoy while she finished off with the customers.
We wanted to know what Mrs. Koharik’s secret was to maintaining such a high reputation and a taste that’s ever lasting. She explained, “I wake up every morning and I’m the first person waiting in line at 6AM at the meat store. I make sure I see the meat I bring back to my oven and approve it or else it go near any of my ingredients.” She also then began to emphasize how important it is to make sure to have clean and fresh vegetables. “This is a family business and I don’t want to feed the people something I wouldn’t want to feed my family.”
With the family business going strong for so long, we needed to make sure that the legacy of deliciousness lives on. And settle down guys, it will. Her son is in charge of their second branch in Zalka and will continue in the future. When we asked if there were other plans of expansion she said, “This is our prized possession, we want to make sure we’re giving it our 100 percent and this is all we can handle right now without taking any short cuts.” Hear ,hear to years of deliciousness!
Ichkhanian Bakery is located in Zokak El Blatt facing Henenine Palace. Make your order today on 01 375 178