Nelida Nassar 12.12.2013
Noura has been practically a household name in Beirut, Lebanon since Mr. Edwin Chaaroui founded the shop in 1948, when he was a practicing lawyer. Well before the topic engaged the attention of NGOs, Chaaroui was concerned with the conditions of the incarcerated prisoners he defended; and with the help of his wife, he cooked and delivered meals to the prisoners. When he opened his first shop in 1948, he named it after his beloved daughter Noura. The growth of the enterprise should, however, be credited to his son Habib Chaaroui. This charming, lanky gentleman seduces and enthralls you with his enthusiasm for Noura and the delicious food whose preparation he oversees. Not many people know that he is a graduate of the London School of Economics and tested his entrepreneurial skills in Paris and Switzerland before coming back to his home turf in Beirut to dominate the scene.
Noura is possibly the city’s most well know and, in any case, undisputedly its best caterer, a purveyor of delicate pastries and cakes as well as a chocolate specialist. The catering division is famous for introducing complex favors that you won’t find on the menu of any of its competitors. Noura is not afraid to evolve or experiment, reinventing classic dishes as well as offering lesser-known European and Lebanese specialties. Its kebbes — meat and cracked wheat in yoghurt, arnabiyeh, oven backed or fried — and rice with curry are among the firm’s exquisite staples.
The classic cream, gold and pastel green packaging sets the stage for its well known luxury line of sweet and savory delicacies. But Noura isn’t just a pastry shop: it’s a lifestyle, and although others perhaps, technically speaking, make better pastry, this is still a favorite place to come and indulge. The mille-feuille selection and black and white forest cakes (foret noire ou blanche) are favorites, but just about everything is wonderful. The fruit tarts here are world renowned not only for their superior taste but also for the amazing presentation; indeed Noura’s chefs have the skill to elevate a tart from a mere dessert to delicious work of art (the strawberry and mango tarts are heavenly). The more delicate pastries and the innovative cake flavors, which change seasonally, are also lovely and it’s not unheard of for locals to travel across the city to secure them.
Today Noura’s name also stands for fine chocolates. Indeed, it is a chocolate lovers’ haven, using the best Lindt products. Although you can find a number of other tempting sweets, the chocolates are by far your best choice. The truffles are some of the finest you’ll find anywhere and are fittingly displayed like jewelry. While everything is delightful, by far the most sought after treats are the brightly colored macaroons that come packaged in boxes that are just as beautiful. Each season Noura experiments with new flavors to tempt you to return time and time again.
Noura’s business is thriving, yet Chaaraoui has no interest in expansion. “We own the manufacturing facility in Sioufi and a retail store at Sassine, and we really consider ourselves part of our neighborhood and the cityscape of Beirut” says the owner. Noura’s brand name has been illegally used in Paris, and Chaaraoui disclaims having anything to do with the store there. Many of Lebanon’s best enterprises are family-run establishments that take a similar approach and pride in their community. Chaaraoui is looking forward to passing on the torch to his two lovely daughters, Alia and Hala, who will surely carry on the firm’s proud tradition of excellence. Incidentally, they will mark the occasion by introducing a line of dietetic meals in 2014.
Chaaraoui is a gentleman with a passion for transforming the mundane into masterpieces, but he is so skilful that his obsession with perfecting his dishes, pastries or chocolates doesn’t seem to create a real challenge for him. What distinguish his management are his employees’ loyalty towards an enterprise that some of them have been working at for over thirty years, his customers’ fidelity, and above all his unwavering commitment to the three “C”s: creativity, cleanliness, and consistency. Chaaraoui has managed to resist globalization and mass production by continuing to produce quality food, especially pastries and cakes that are eye-catching, sumptuous, and often downright decadent. This is one place you don’t want to miss for a truly authentic taste of Lebanon.