Tripoli, The Old Souk & Dad’s Samkeh Harra…

Malak El Samkeh El Hara- King of Spicy Fish

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Tripoli is a city with a lingering history;  the air stained with the scent of orange flowers, bustling sounds coming from the streets, markets and mosques, with lavish sweets to appease your lusty cravings, and a beautiful seaside for relaxation.

“Tripoli, the second largest city in Lebanon, is located in North Lebanon on the East Mediterranean coast and enjoys a strategic position with the added advantage of offshore islands and natural ports. This has allowed it to hold a dominant role in political and economic developments within the region for over two millennia. It is a commercial and industrial centre; oil storage, refining centre, the manufacture of soap and cotton goods, sponge fishing, and the processing of tobacco and fruits.”

Tripoli abounds with life, culture and ancient souks. There are around ten souks; the gold souk, the fragrance souk, the vegetable souk, the fish souk… you get the point. It is also known for it’s decadent arabic sweets, fresh fish, the dish; Samkeh Harra Traboulseyeh or spicy fish, fragrant orange groves, Hammams as well as its natural ports perched along the Mediterranean sea.

I was lucky enough to pay the food market a sweaty visit. Yes. I said sweaty. It was around 35C, crowded and looking very disheveled, struggling against the heat, I managed to come out the other end albeit looking like a drenched boxer…

Below video is a short walk-through of the souk of Tripoli offering a glimpse into its vibrant soul.

Some trivia for ya- The name Tripoli or translated to “Tri-City” comes from the fact that once, it was not one city but “three cities” in one.

The people in Tripoli are extremely friendly and to only describe them as extremely helpful would be a serious understatement.

When we arrived into Tripoli, we got lost! Road signs, for the most part, do not exist. So, we stopped and asked for directions. Two tremendously nice gentlemen, got in their car and led us to the souks, which turned out to be a 10-minute drive away. They proceeded to find us parking and pointed out the best path to the souks. I don’t know many places where people are so comfortable to liberally accommodate another stranger. I for one, would be sincerely afraid of looking completely wacko with no life, or just too consumed with my own busy life to be bothered.

Anyway, it was refreshing, to say the least.

To finish off a marvelous day, my brother Eli took me to visit the king of spicy fish for a good revitalizing sandwich.

As I mentioned earlier, Tripoli is enown for the Samkeh Harra Traboulseeyeh or Spicy Fish of Tripoli. This little hole in the wall has essentially made the fish into a sandwich by pureeing the it with the sauce to make a pate. He then spreads the pate on some Arabic bread and tops it with tomatoes, lettuce and spring onions. I tried to find out more about the ingredients and recipe but as you can imagine, he was in no mood to give up the throne.

Below is a short collage of the people of Tripoli and their surroundings. (All pictures are the property of Dirty Kitchen Secrets unless otherwise stated)

Malak El Samkeh El Hara- King of Spicy Fish

The following day my father made Samkeh Harra and was kind enough to share his special recipe.

Dad’s Samkeh Harra

Serves 4
Prep time: 15 mn
Cook time: 30 mn

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The cast of characters:

  • 500g of cooked white fish, flaked
  • 40g of pine nuts
  • 1 large onion, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rings
  • 1 hot pepper, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rings- seeds kept for more intensity
  • 4 tomatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rings
  • 1 bell pepper, sliced into 1/2-inch thick rings
  • 25g fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 gloves of garlic, pounded
  • 2 teaspoon hot chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 tablespoons of tahini, mixed with juice of 1 lemon and about 50ml water to thin it down
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • about 45ml olive oil, more or less to taste

The Nitty Gritty

Generously drizzle olive oil into a sautee pan and heat. Add the onion rings.

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Add the pine nuts this early on, only if they have been rinsed prior, otherwise they will burn. We soak our pine nuts just before using them to remove the tar left on them after harvesting and processing. These are pretty much as fresh pine nuts you can get. They are straight from the pine trees in our back yard. For many of you, I suggest you toast them in a pan for about 30-40 seconds and add them to the dish at the end.

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Cook the onions till transluscent. Then add the bell pepper and hot pepper rings.

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cook for a further 5 minutes or so, then add the hot chilli pepper, hot pepper and ground allspice.

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Add the chopped corinader to the pounded garlic and pound together till all incorporated.

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Now, add the corinander and garlic mixture

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And mix well

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Then add the tomato rings and a bay leaf

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let this cook for about 5-10 minutes or until the tomatoes disintegrate and a sauce forms

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In the mean time, mix together all the ingredients for the tarator sauce; tahini, lemon and water (neglect the garlic in this case)

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mix well and then add it to the sauce right before serving. Also, this is where you would add the toasted pine nuts.

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There you have it.

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Serve over warm, flaked white fish of your choice.

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Facebook Comments:

23 Responses to “Tripoli, The Old Souk & Dad’s Samkeh Harra…”
  1. Rony 9 September 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    Loved the market video it actually made me feel as if i was there. You never cease to amaze us!

  2. Helen @ World Foodie Guide 9 September 2009 at 6:39 pm #

    Been looking forward to reading (and watching videos!) your Lebanon posts. I added Lebanon to my latest post: 25 Food & Travel Destinations to visit in the next five years!

  3. Chris Bourne 9 September 2009 at 7:18 pm #

    The descriptive writing takes you to the heart and soul of Tripoli.

    Fantastic post.


  4. ALINA 9 September 2009 at 7:34 pm #


  5. Melanie 9 September 2009 at 9:51 pm #

    Beautiful. Thanks for photo tour. I love to travel.

  6. Dixie 9 September 2009 at 10:30 pm #

    Love your recipies and the video.

  7. Sylvia 10 September 2009 at 10:29 am #

    One of my best mother is from Tripoli, but she is based a long time in Sao Paulo (Brazil) and she cooks like Gods.
    The dish sounds very fresh and summery ,,,,delicious. Thanks for share

  8. 3abboud 10 September 2009 at 12:35 pm #

    “At first I was a bit weary of taking photos, knowing that Isalmic law forbids pictures of living beings. ”

    Being a muslim and having lived all my life in an Islamic country, tI was definitely not aware of this!

    The other thing: You have so many different cuisines listed in your poll… Why omit Indian?

    Otherwise good post on a great dish.

  9. Bethany 10 September 2009 at 12:52 pm #


    As far as I’ve been told and from experience it is against Islam to take any images of live human beings. The following ( article reiterates and it also mentions that there is now more lenient towards it, depending on the purpose of the photography. It was also the case when I went into the Hezbollah quarters in 2006 after the war with Israel. I was asked to only take images of the destruction and not the people as it is against their religion. So perhaps it’s only a Shia law? In any case, this is what I’ve been told by my muslim friends and associates. And, some follow it (many did not wish their photos taken and I asked before taking an image, Some were happy to remain in the picture and some were not.) I have many muslim friends and we have loads of pictures together. so, maybe it is a matter of choice?

    Also, thank you very much for bringing to my attention that I did indeed omit a very important cuisine. Indian. Not sure how I overlooked that. I’ll update it now.

    Thank you 🙂

  10. Tripoli 10 September 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    …and you are the queen of the kitchen secrets,
    thanks for the awesome report!


  11. Akila 10 September 2009 at 4:48 pm #

    Bethany, I found you through Helen’s site and am so excited to find another food lover who travels. One of my very favorite restaurants in Atlanta is a Lebanese restaurant and now that I see how amazing the markets are, I definitely want to go there. I was amused by your comment on Helen’s post of 25 food + travel destinations because that is exactly what we are doing! My husband and I are taking the year off to travel around the world and cook and eat local cuisine. We leave in just one week! I’m looking forward to more posts from you about Lebanon. We might have to squeeze it into our itinerary. 🙂

  12. Global Patriot 11 September 2009 at 7:17 am #

    Amazing videos! Is this your new career, the DKS Channel! Such incredible flavors of both the food and the culture.

  13. jocy 11 September 2009 at 6:53 pm #

    I Love your cooking. DKS is amazing. Thanks for sharing your intriguing and delicious kitchen secrets with great photography and video.

  14. Caitlin 14 September 2009 at 5:08 pm #

    So far as I’ve read and been told, Islamic law does not prohibit pictures of living beings. Only some interpretations of it and that’s mostly historical. I have travelled in Muslim countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia and never met a Muslim person who was not happy to have their photograph taken. Of course, it’s good that you were respectful of the fact that this might not have been the case.

  15. Bethany 14 September 2009 at 5:31 pm #

    My experience comes after trying to take a picture and then being told I must ask first if one is ok with being photographed as it is considered haram and against sharee3ah law. this was the explanation given to me by the muslim person giving the tour. The majority do not mind but some still do. Neway I always ask before taking a picture. here is more info on the subject; and also here. I am obviously no authority on this subject, I only relay my experiences and what other fellow muslims have told me) Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂

  16. Caitlin 14 September 2009 at 5:41 pm #

    Hi Bethany, I’m not saying that you’re wrong, only that my own experience has been different! Certainly historically there was a big Iconclastic movement that defaced (literally) a lot of artwork that depicted people. But I don’t have the impression that this is a big thing in modern Islam. Of course, it probably depends on the type of Islam, the local culture and the individuals themselves.

  17. Bethany 14 September 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    I know your not. I think you misunderstood me as saying they all do. Which is not true. I have friends who are muslims and take loads of pictures. So, yes as you said it depends on many factors but as far as i’ve read and been told the law is there.

    By the way I could not visit your website, it gave me an error message.

  18. Amin 20 September 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    i luv evrthg goin on in this website im lebanese from north lebanon and i know that samke harrah place it s the best

  19. Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf 16 June 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    oh yet another fabulous post ! if only i could roam those markets with you one day… we’d fill our baskets to the brim and go back and cook and laugh and eat galore ! one day perhaps… so fun to see you and eli in action.

    just love the videos, as usual. hello fabulous track in that first one – *totally* want that music by setrak [note to chris: please send me !], i loooove percussion. fabulous ! and love that your dad shared a recipe here, i’d just cut out a few of the spices for my wimpy palate ! 😉

    bon voyage, enjoy nice… and your niece, the famous baker ! xo

  20. Pamela 11 August 2011 at 6:15 am #

    I have tried many versions of this dish, this one was especially delicious thanks


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