About

mona for site

My name is Mona Usher.  I was born Mona Tabbara in Beirut.   My family is registered as number 9 of those that settled in Beirut.  That means that the city runs through our veins — even when we run away from it as both my sister and I did.

I come from the centre of town overlooking the sea squeezed between the burnt-out husk of the Holiday Inn on one side and the abundant palms and cedar trees of the American University of Beirut on the other.

The war started when I was still a small child and followed me up to the day I left in my twenties. So, I can’t really think about my childhood or adolescence without thinking of the war and all its fears and anxieties.

My father is a printer and his works are in the basement of our apartment building so when the bombs started falling around us and the lights went out, that’s where we and all our neighbours in the 6-floor block would gather until the danger was past. I can remember night after night that went by like that, with the radio telling us what was happening above our heads.

When I was old enough, I wanted to go to university to study art and design but the war made this difficult. Fortunately, Rafiq Hariri had set up a foundation to help young Lebanese like me and I was able to go to the American University and then Beirut University College. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was to have the most dramatic effect on my life.

Among the lecturers at AUB was a young Londoner, who had just left Oxford University, looking for adventure and thought Beirut would be a good place to find it.

Four years later, I left Beirut without telling my father and met him in Cyprus where we were married. We had to borrow my airfare to London from an old friend of his grandparents in Nicosia.

I have lived in London ever since. We now have two funny and lively girls, Isabel and Samara, who have — as people always tell you — turned my life upside down, but in the most delightful way.

My first job was in a fish and chip shop in Queen’s Park. Then I worked at the Lebanese embassy in Kensington. And after that, I worked for a while for the Arabic newspaper, Al Hayat, in its offices next to Olympia. I then worked at the BBC for the following eleven years and in 2007 I dedicated myself to my own cooking and events business, Samara Cuisine.

When I first came to London, my English wasn’t good. I found that one of the most immediate ways I could communicate with the new people I met and leave a good impression was through the Lebanese food I cooked. This had always been a passion with me. As time went by, I became known for my cooking. 

Food is still a passion for me first and foremost — the love of art and design that I once studied in Lebanon now finds its expression in cooking.  

The hundred dishes I am presenting here are a distillation of all I have experienced in my life between London and Beirut.

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23 comments

  1. Just found your blog and looking forward very much to exploring it! I’ve been lucky enough to go to Beirut twice this year to visit a friend of mine from Baghdad who is now working for one of the humanitarian charities in Lebanon. In February we stayed in Achrafieh where his family has an apartment, but last month, we had two glorious weeks in September in an apartment in Ain Mreisseh – which must be pretty near where you lived! We also managed to get out of Beirut on both trios and went to Jbeil, the wineries in the Beqaa and Saida in February and out to the Cedars and Ehden this time, with a few wonderful days down in Tyre. We have eaten many splendid things, both Lebanese and other, including Armenian and I know I shall enjoy cooking from your recipes.

    Greetings from south London and thank you!

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    • really nice to hear from you. Glad you like the blog and Beirut of course… Yep Ain Mreisseh is where I grew up. My father is still there. Has changed a lot of course, but still an exciting, vibrant place — just like the food…

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  2. Dave

    I like your blog and the photos from Beirut in the 60’s the “Tramway” and the policemen with the Italian hat.
    Did you know they trained in Italy? they preceded the traffic lights generation.
    Ain Mreisseh is where I lived in the 60′-70’s, not far from the Bain Francais and Saint Georges where we spent the summer days. Are they still there?

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    • Thanks very much — yep the St Georges is still there but it remains derelict for now — a long running dispute with Solidere — the hariri company that rebuilt Downtown. Ain Mreiseh is where I grew up and my dad still lives — there’s quite a few posts on the site about it…

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  3. Ruby

    I am so happy I have found your blog! It is beautifully written and the recipes are so authentic – I feel I have my (late) Lebanese Mother In-law in the kitchen with me. Please continue writing and sharing your cooking expertise. It is really enjoyed by many

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    • Hi You can come for a tasting at my house All the details with possible menus etc are on my business site, which you can find if you google Samara Cuisine. Do give me a call once you have had a look there and we can discuss this further Mona

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  4. james fleming

    Hi, I would like to contact Sebastian about a new story concerning teachers working illegally in Saudi Arabia. Would you be able to provide a contract email address? All the best, James

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  5. Hi Mona,
    I found your blog quite by accident! Didn’t even know you wrote one! Happy to be here now, and look forward to following your recipes to add to the knowledge my Teta, Dahlia Tabbarah, and my Mom., Hiam Tabbarah-Odds passed down to me…. With some valuable lessons from Lina Abu-Rustum and my Tante Souad. Hugs.

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  6. Leticia Fogarty

    Hi Mona. I am from Panama, but I live in the United States since 2013. My favorite restaurant in Panama is called “Café Libanés”. I love the food of this and other, called “Beirut Restaurante”. I found your blog because I’m going to cook a leg of lamb this Saturday. When I looked for a recipe came American recipes only. I changed the way to look for it, and I added “Lebanon”, and your blog came.
    I am so happy to have found your blog !!!! It’s sad that we are so far away, to try their food! I wish one day !!!
    I’m going to cook your: slow leg of lamb roasted with rice.
    Thank you very much!! Leticia

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