Namliyeh: The Humble Refrigerator from Simpler Times

Namliyeh: The Humble Refrigerator from Simpler Times


The namliyeh remains in the corner of our grandparents’ kitchen as a witness of the past amid the rapid technological evolution.

Photos by: Diane Aftimos

The refrigerator is common in any household nowadays. Refrigerators nowadays have so many different features, sizes, colors and shapes, that it is sometimes difficult to decide which one to buy. From its humble beginnings as a cooling device to store and preserve food, the refrigerator has evolved to become a smart household appliance with many “cool” features, such as a camera giving the ability to check fridge contents from a mobile phone, a screen for notes and calendars, and even the ability to play music!

Well, let’s have a journey back in time, back to some 60 years ago, prior to the extensive implementation of this familiar item in the Lebanon. So how did our ancestors store food and leftovers? How did they keep insects away?

Namliyeh; a word that makes us directly think of ants – namel. Well, yes, the namliyeh was used to keep food away from ants and insects, while allowing fresh air to constantly cool it, and thus avoid food spoiling due to heat and humidity.

A namliyeh is a cabinet made of wood and mesh. Its dimensions can vary according to the owner’s preference and the quantity of goods to be stored within.

The smallest namliyeh looks more like a cupboard and consists of only one compartment. The cabinet namliyeh is designed with two compartments: the upper one, made of light wood and mesh, was dedicated for cooked food, while the lower compartment, made of strong wood, could hold large, heavy containers storing olives, olive oil, yogurt, honey, molasses and other provisions (mooneh) out of sunlight. Part of the bridal trousseau, the namliyeh was a common household item back then, found in all houses and kitchens.

“We first bought it for around 2 ‘Liras’ back then and we used to place yogurt, olive oil and thyme in the namliyeh.

Today, due to refrigerators, the namliyeh sits lonely in a corner of our HOME,” said Nouhad Azzam, an 83-year-old woman from the Mount Lebanon region.

“The namliyeh was so important in our day; this generation wouldn’t understand the hassle of killing ants and keeping food away from them. Today my grandchildren put their books and toys in my namliyeh, but I keep it as a reminder of the old golden days,” says 79-year-old Randa.

Today, the refrigerator has become an ordinary item, part of every kitchen. Come to think of it, we couldn’t do without it!

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