You know food has a special place in a society and culture when it is the perennial centrepiece of gatherings, be it among family or friends. In Lebanon, it is an intrinsic part of a distinctive culture, as a means of preserving past influences, and a steady, reliable source of comfort regardless of circumstance.
Lebanese food is renowned for its transformative use of spices and herbs, and grilling methods with fresh olive oil. With simple, rustic presentation, Lebanese cuisine is packed with flavoursome charisma. Relying upon the organic charms of its ingredients to do the talking; it is nuanced yet inviting, reflective of the personality of its people.
Across the globe, many are declaring themselves fans of this cuisine for various reasons. There’s its health benefits, serially advocated by influencers the world over. There’s the expansive journey of taste one experiences through the course of a full meal. Spilling over into a passionate restaurant culture, fueled by competition among chefs and restauranteurs, the standards continue to rise, even as the heart of Lebanese food and its traditions remain constant.
But don’t rely on the hype, experience it for yourself. Here are some Lebanese dishes that justify Lebanon’s status as a bona fide culinary champion.
Immediately distinctive for its lack of lettuce, this salad consists instead of parsley, bulgur wheat, mint leaves and other vegetables. Finely chopped and topped with lemon juice, the bulgur absorbs the water to create a light, zesty and aromatic dish that provide refreshingly bright interludes to any Lebanese meal.
The Middle East’s culinary style introduced the world to the wondrous accompaniment of dips with a meal, and this creamy blend of chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil leads the charge. Rich, yet light on the palate, it can be eaten with anything from pita bread to grilled eggplant and vegetable sticks, enjoyable as an appetizer or even as a quick snack.
A ground mix of chickpeas, beans, onions, herbs and spices is deep-fried in olive oil, making this scrumptious concoction perfect for vegans and the gluten-averse. Found all over the Middle East, each country boasts of making the best one, but Lebanon’s iteration holds its ground with confidence. It also goes really well with hummus.
Lebanon’s national dish is a tantalizing mix of lean ground meat, herbs and spices. You can enjoy it as a stuffing encased in a crispy fried dough shell, as meatballs in a broth, and even raw (prepared under strict rules and guidelines). Such is this dish’s versatility.
Whichever way you try it, the combination of flavours makes it stand apart in the congested world of ground meat dishes, perhaps even above the rest.
A humble salad, in the hands of the Lebanese, becomes a flavourful experience for any appetite. Fattoush incorporates the use of sumac spice, made from berries of the same name, with lemon juice and pomegranate molasses. This brings a tartness and tang that livens up the already vivid combination of fresh greens and chunks of crispy pita bread.
A quintessential element of Middle Eastern cuisine, this flatbread, cooked with herbs like thyme and za’atar, and ground meat, is topped with labneh or feta cheese. Despite looking like a humble, plainer version of pizza, it’s an explosion of flavour and not too heavy — a lovely treat for any meal of the day, even breakfast.
Another dish that has won hearts the world over consists of marinated pieces of meat that are roasted or grilled to perfection. You can enjoy the minced meat patties of kofta, sheesh’s cubed pieces of meat or doner’s sliced sandwiches.The different versions have their characteristics but are all delicious. Whether on a skewer or served with rice, mint sauce and yes, even french fries, this is a hearty, tender feat of gastronomy that is genuinely satisfying.
Rice is another staple partner to Lebanese meals. Pilaf takes it to another level by combining vermicelli noodles, butter or olive oil, and nuts. With the added crunch from the crispy noodles and nuts, this is plenty tasty on its own but usually accompanies the mezze’s spread of dishes. It can also be prepared with caramelized onions and chunks of meat for a more wholesome meal. Don’t forget to use your hands for an authentic Lebanese dining experience.
Lighter than its Greek counterpart, the added use of rose and orange blossom water suring its preparation gives the Lebanese version of this pastry an enchanting aroma. Its flaky, buttery crust layers melt in your mouth, intertwining with the nutty and sweet layers within. Baklava’s sticky, warm pleasures will leave you in sugar-coated reverie.
Wash down your meal with a refreshing rosewater and mint lemonade or jallab-based drink. For the alcohol-inclined, Lebanon boasts an array of delectable local wines, sustained through a centuries-old tradition of wine production. If you’re game for something stronger, try arak, a local spirit made from aniseed. An effective palate cleanser and digestive aid, a few glasses of these will surely get the party started.
From mezzes to street foods, Lebanon has incredible cuisine for any meal. There’s so much more to Lebanese cuisine, waiting for you to discover. Check out your local Lebanese restaurant and taste the goodness for yourself. But, if you really want to savour Lebanese cuisine at its best, take a trip to the Pearl of the Middle East. From Beirut to Tripoli, enjoy all the lip-smacking goodness at its source.