Hilmi’s: An ancient lemonade shop with a story

The mindset that sanctifies the art of lemonade-making has marked the Hilmi family as one of the most ancient and renowned names in the area for their traditional expertise in the matter.
by Perla Kantarjian

21 February 2020 | 12:53

Source: by Annahar

  • by Perla Kantarjian
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 21 February 2020 | 12:53

Representational photo of a client holding a lemonade cup in front of the shop. (Courtesy of Hilmi’s)

BEIRUT: In the ancient Northern town of Batroun, a family who has, decades ago, developed a sacred relationship with lemons, continues to bless the palates of locals and visitors alike with its distinctive fresh lemonade recipe.

The Phoenician coastal town of Batroun boasts of native citrus groves, and the art of lemonade-making has been appointed as one of its artful local specialties.

The authenticity of the bond citizens of Batroun have with lemonades stirred them to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest cup of lemonade (5,534 liters) in 2012.

However, “making a flawless cup of laymounada (lemonade) isn’t about the amount of sugar, water or lemons you use,” a Batroun resident says, “it’s about the way you approach and treat the lemons.”

The elderly man, who was seen lounging in his family backyard full of native Batrouni fruits and vegetables told Annahar that “the lemonade-maker must remember that it is not the lemons that need them, but the other way around.”

The mindset that sanctifies the art of lemonade-making has marked the Hilmi family as one of the most ancient and renowned names in the area for their traditional expertise in the matter.

In the late 19th century, the ancestors of the Hilmi family were the first to make and sell lemonades in Batroun. Namely, the father of Hilmi himself. However, their endeavor did not have a specific enterprise-name because “people used to not name their shops back then,” as the current owners told Annahar.

Years later, Hilmi (1919-1990), founded an ongoing legacy of his family’s specialty by opening his own lemonade and Arabic pastry shop under the name “Chez Hilmi” in the 1960s.

Hilmi, aside from being the owner of the traditional shop, was the vice president of the Batroun municipality from 1974 until 1981 when he became the president of the municipality until 1985.

The current rendition of the lemonade shop that was rebranded from “Chez Hilmi” to “Hilmi’s” a few years ago incorporates not only lemonade-making machines, but also a lemonade museum, souvenir shop, and a wall-of-memories that takes all its viewers on a visual time machine of the history of the ancient lemonade shop.

Among the numerous historical pictures on the wall-of-memories, the most striking remains a black-and-white Polaroid of his highness King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia, smiling while entering the lemonade shop with Hilmi and his brother Adel themselves.

Another noticeable photograph is that of the Knight Grade Medal of the National Order of the Cedar which was awarded to Hilmi in 1974 in honor of the success of his project, “Chez Hilmi”, which became one of the most momentous places of interest in Lebanon.

Currently, Hilmi’s three granddaughters, Rana, Farah, and Nour, are carrying on their ancestors’ legacy by ensuring that the lemonade shop that has become a culinary and cultural asset in the area remains so.

“Lemons are a special fruit for us,” Rana told Annahar, “Since we were teenagers, we used to help our family in making lemonade. We inherited the knowledge, love, and passion for lemons and lemonades from them,” she continued.

Nour added that they “learned everything from their family: the special recipe, the know-how, and the fundamentals of lemonade-making.”

“We ensure that our legacy of lemonade-making will continue to live because we dare to keep the heritage that has been passed onto us,” she continued.

The lemons used at “Hilmi’s” are grown with special care in their family orchard that is based in Batroun, as the sisters told Annahar.

“The new concept of ‘Hilmi’s: House of Lemonade, museum, and gift shop’, was created a few years ago,” Farah said.

The sisters decided to rebrand the shop to “take lemonades to a new level by introducing different flavors of lemonade and establishing a lemonade museum that displays all the equipment and utensils used by our family to make and sell lemonade.”

Among their plentiful menu, the sisters consider the Hilmi’s Lemonade, Strawberry Lemonade, Minted Lemonade, Lemonis, and Wondermix, their most sought-after drinks.

The welcoming aesthetics of the lemonade shop that focus on the stimulating lemonade color within a traditional Lebanese architecture have become distinctive features of “Hilmi’s”.

“Once in front of or inside ‘Hilmi’s’,” Nour said, “you immediately feel the freshness and the invigorating vibe of lemons,” she continued.

As one of its customers told Annahar while sipping on his “Red Moon Lemonade”, “‘Hilmi’s’ continues to be a favorite spot for beach-goers and Batroun visitors, locals, and passersby not only because of its delicious products but because of the story behind them.”

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