UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is best known for its World Heritage Site designations, places both natural and man-made that ‘certain places on Earth are of outstanding universal value and should form part of the common heritage of humankind’. 190 countries signed the 1972 treaty to conserve and protect almost a thousand sites around the world. But UNESCO has another intriguing initiative called the Creative City Network, which identifies cities at the forefront of using creative endeavors in the cause of sustainable urban development. UNESCO has identified some 70 cities for their traditions in the realms of Music, Film, Literature, Folk art and Gastronomy. Eight places have been singled out for their fidelity to locally, sustainable sourcing of ingredients for outstanding historic cuisines. The list is surprising and full of places most have never heard of who applied for the designation, vowing to practice and advocate for preservation and innovation in the realm of cooking. This is no tourist advisory on where to get the best pizza in a resort town. These are the cradles of unique cuisines nurtured over the years, whose survival has now been assured by following the cardinal rules of local and sustainable.
8. Zahlé, Lebanon
Zahlé is a true foodie paradise. Lonely Planet guidebook says that aside from being a base to explore the Beqaa Valley, there are no real tourist attractions. All the better we say, to concentrate on the exceptional traditional food and wine and maybe the occasional tumbler of arak, the anise-flavored spirit that is served for breakfast lunch and dinner, similar to the French pastis and the Greek ouzo. Birthplace to many writers, it is known as “The City of Wine and Poetry” and what more sublime combination could there be? Zahle is said to have invented the mezze experience, the now globally fashionable array of small plates that make a feast. To the well-known Lebanese standards of shish taouk, tabbouleh, kishk (fermented bulgur and milk by-products), manouche. Zahle adds local delicacies of wild pork and famous locally farmed trout. Then there is this goat’s milk ice cream with rose water, musk and sahlab stambouli with its overtones of sugar and cinnamon. It may or may not be traditional Lebanese but with that flavor profile, how much do you care??