Whenever Lebanon is mentioned in the news, it’s usually about a few things: terror attacks, an unstable government and the Syrian refugee crisis.

But that’s only half the story.

It’s also filled with picturesque beaches, religious history, mouthwatering cuisine and a wild nightlife that brings in more than a million tourists each year, according to Databank.

I came here to report on the refugee crisis, but I’ve also been soaking in the beauty of this country — which I’m going to share in a series of blog posts, starting today! Today’s blog is about two things Lebanese people love: food and fireworks (just ask the kids in my village, who set off fireworks every night).

On Saturday night, my friends and I went to Jounieh, a city on the coast of Lebanon, for a huge fireworks display over the Mediterranean Sea. The 11-minute show, with more than 50,000 fireworks, kicks off the week-long Jounieh Summer Festival.

We booked a table at Amor, a restaurant with outdoor seating and a stunning view of the Jounieh Bay. For $50 a person, each table got a bottle of alcohol, a traditional Lebanese four-course meal and impeccable service (when I tried to pour a glass of sparkling water, the waiter ran over, intercepted the bottle and continued pouring for me). The series of dishes are known as “mezza,” which means appetizer in Arabic.

The first course was a variety of vegetarian dishes — fattoush, tabouleh, basil-pine-nut hummus, labne, classic hummus, mozzarella cheese over smoked eggplant and stuffed grape leaves. The second course included some meat: fried sausage, grilled potatoes, kibbe, sambousek, and a Lebanese-style mozzarella stick (phyllo dough stuffed with cheese). The third course is known as “mashawi,” which means barbecue. There were three meats: kafta (ground beef with parsley and spices), beef kabobs and chicken kabobs. The fourth course was dessert: ashta, a homemade cream, topped with strawberry jam, as well as fresh watermelon and cantaloupe. 

By 10 p.m., everyone at the restaurant got up from their tables and watched the show together. People from across Lebanon — of all religions — were there to watch. In a way, during a time of tension and turmoil in the Middle East, the fireworks brought everyone together.