(Image via nogarlicnoonions.com)
Food and happiness – that is Anthony Rahayel’s ultimate philosophy on life.
Beirut.com sat down with Lebanon's most famous food blogger - typing discreetly on his iPad in the corner of a new sandwich shop in Hamra called Minis - to find out more about the man behind the blog. Rahayel says he prefers doing his reviews from the corner of a restaurant, where he can take photos and write down notes without bothering anyone or attracting much attention to himself.
From an early age, Rahayel says he was driven by an inexplicable desire to explore the hidden, dusty corners that life has to offer. And at 16, photography became the apparatus through which to explore. Today, he is a hardworking dentist (we’re talking about a ten-hour daily work schedule), hypnotherapist, “24-hour father and husband," and he still manages to find time to explore his passion for food on his blog, No Garlic No Onions. It is a site that has become the go-to directory for reading reviews about Lebanese restaurants.
So why the name, "No Garlic No Onions?" Rahayel tells Beirut.com, "I cannot understand a blog in the name of a person. Anthony's Blog? No, thanks.” Also, it's just a flat-out explanation of the truth: Rahayel has an intolerance to garlic and onions.
The NGNO blogger says he doesn't come to the table with any sort of culinary expertise, but focuses on giving readers his honest experience. “I just compare things," hey says, admitting, "I’ve eaten a lot”.
To help us better understand, he references the “heavenly” pizza he had at PZZA CO. earlier in the day. "Alright,” he chuckles. "PZZA Co is the best pizza in Lebanon because it is the only pizza that's thirty centimeters round and has been prepared by hand. It has fantastic dough that's not watery, and this is very important because when you eat it with your hands, the ingredients shouldn’t fall out.”
Rahayel continues talking, illustrating the importance of other details like the subtle crunchiness of the crust. It's clear that while he remains humble about his passion, he has gained quite a bit of knowledge over the years, delineating his expertise in the field of food.
Despite all this, the blogger admits to Beirut.com that he'd rather eat food than cook it. But his wife, to this day, remains in his eyes "the best cook ever." Yet if there's one restaurant in Lebanon he would suggest you try, Rahayel says La Petite Maison is the restaurant that makes him “jump for joy."
His other favorites? The Four Seasons Hotel for its phenomenal brunch; OSLO or Hanna Mitri in Achrafieh for “orgasmic” ice-cream; Prune for being the best French bistro; Sud for its exquisite ambiance and relaxed atmosphere; Frosty Palace for its “mmmm... no words” burger; Halabi for Arabic fine dining and Nasma or Al-Balad for Arabic cuisine with a funky twist.
But the blogger astutely points out, "You cannot say there is 'that one' [best restaurant in Lebanon]... all restaurants are unique and have their own strengths and weaknesses." His advice on writing up a proper review: never go in with preconceived notions about what it will be like.
He chuckles, and orders another round of sandwiches, adding “even airplane food is great! Take a deep breath; smell what you’re eating; feel what you’re eating. Realize you’re on a plane with food that has been cooked six hours earlier.”
Of course as any blogger knows, he's run into situations where readers emphatically disagree with what he's written. "At first, the hurtful criticism wasn’t easy. But with time, you mature, and realize some things, and some people aren't worth wasting a thought over," he tells Beirut.com.
“But I cannot lie to people. If you don't want to hear my opinion, don't read my blog."
His advice to budding bloggers? “Build something you believe in," says Rahayel. Despite being filled to the brim with work (and food) every single day, he works hard to find a balance between dentistry, blogging, having a social life and family by making every second of his day count and also by not wasting his time on the things that don't contribute positively to his life. "If you have a positive outlook on life, you can make anything happen."
And it is through this positive thinking that Rahayel says he maintains his weight, despite the endless feasting (just check out his Instagram account and you'll see what we mean). He also focuses his palate on rich ingredients, flavors and dishes. Chips and chocolate bars are not calories worth indulging in, he says.
Incredibly, as Beirut.com conducted this interview, Anthony continued taking notes and pictures of the sandwiches we were gulping down, including the way it was being served, the ambiance of the restaurant and the taste of the bread.
Indeed, Anthony Rahayel is a man who makes every moment count.
(Image via nogarlicnoonions.com)