Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? For those of us who grew up in the post-war 90s in Lebanon, we had our fair share of junk food to get us through harsh school days and long rides home in the “autocar.” Back in the day, fast food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King hadn’t yet sprouted, and eating out meant going to Showbiz Pizza or Winner’s. But hey, we did mighty fine on treats like Bonjus juice and Fantasia chips.
What other goodies can you remember from that treasured time of childhood?
To this day, I can still vividly recall the cloyingly sweet artificial flavors of the Bonjus juice boxes. For most of us, it wasn’t so much about the liquid contents as it was the cute pyramid-like geometry of the cartons containing them. If you bought a mankouche, you almost always washed it down with Bonjus. That was that. No negotiation.
For times when we craved a more adult drink, Pepsi, 7UP and Mirinda fit the bill. Soda pop came in vintage glass bottles that sold for a sweet 500 LL, and to encourage recycling – God, we were visionaries then – you’d get 250 LL back if you returned the empty bottle to the vendor. Not too shabby, eh? There was something indescribably uncanny about the taste and feel of soda that just could not be reproduced in an aluminum can.
Who else used to buy Fantasia chips specifically for the surprise gift stashed inside? Admittedly, the chips weren’t half bad—peanut puffs for the win! But the cheap little trinkets held unfathomable value to us youngsters: it could be a dinky plastic necklace or a tiny toy plane. Guaranteed pleasure, and we’d be sure to swap them at recess.
Today, we tend to dismiss MaLing as a high-sodium, high-cholesterol convenience food packed with preservatives, but back then, nothing tasted more savory than that questionable luncheon meat in the tin can with the tin key. Spread it on thin Arabic pita, dress it up with a few slices of cucumber, and you had yourself a feast fit for a king. Far fancier than Picon, that’s for sure.
Try serving a kid a canned wiener today, and he’ll scrunch up his face in disgust. Vienna sausages (think Libby’s) were what dream meals were made of: short, salty, and derived from meat like beef, turkey and chicken (or hybrids thereof). Stuff them in those fluffy Pain d’Or buns, dress them up with mustard and ketchup, and you had yourself one hot dog.
Danielle was born into a Lebanese household in Southern California. Growing up, she constantly found herself living between two realities: outwardly, she was an American girl who loved swinging on the monkey bars and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. Inwardly, she was Lebanese, speaking Arabic at home and forbidden from attending sleepover parties.
With age comes awareness and self-confidence, and Danielle learned to embrace these differences. She accepted that she'd forever be suspended between two worlds, and that she'd be like a tapestry, one culture woven into the other. As she grew older and worldlier, Danielle promised herself she would one day settle in Lebanon.
And here she is. Three college degrees and a few consulting gigs later, she is now in her parents’ homeland, working in strategy management, fleshing out her blog Beirutista, and contributing to Bitfood. Danielle gets her hair coiffed several times a week, like any proper Lebanese girl, and she loves the traditional mezze. But she still prefers peanut butter to Nutella. And her American accent is unmistakable.