Ancient monuments, beautiful beaches and impressive mountains – Lebanon has a lot to offer visitors. However, the most important reason to go there is the cuisine.
Lebanon has beautiful beaches and impressive mountains where you can ski in winter. There are also monuments from the times of the Romans, which are in better condition than many of their European counterparts. In the remnants of ancient forests there are cedars dating back to the times of ancient Egypt . In addition, there is one of the greatest caves in the world – Jeita , which will delight not only speleologists. Beirut’s starry squares and wide avenues evoke Paris, and the imposing Mohammed Amin Mosque evokes Istanbul. However, the most important reason to visit Lebanon is the cuisine, one of the tastiest in this region of the world. In addition, there are very nice people behind it.
The uniqueness of Lebanese cuisine is due to the richness of fresh vegetables, which the country owes to its fertile soils and Mediterranean climate – explains Maroun, chopping parsley for tabbouleh , which is a symbol of Levantine cuisine and a vitamin bomb. – Simplicity is very important. The flavors in our kitchen come from the ingredients themselves, not complicated processing or the addition of strong spices , adds Maroun during a cooking class at his Maroun Chedid Cooking Academy. To emphasize the taste of the dishes, salt, lemon juice and fresh olive oil are added to them which gives the dishes a balsamic flavor. Other spices include black pepper, allspice and cinnamon, which form the Lebanese “trinity” – all of them, however, are used discreetly and quite rarely.
Endless feast Mezze
There is one distinguishing feature of Lebanese, or more broadly, Levantine cuisine – the meal consists of a variety of mezze , i.e. salads, spreads and other delicacies. Each of them is taken with thin slices of bread , without which it is hard to imagine local cuisine. It is usually bought in a nearby bakery, although it is not easy to find in Beirut itself. During shared meals, grilled meats with pickles and hummus , falafels, yoghurts, cheeses and even halva are wrapped in it. Also a national dessert, baked sweet nabulsi cheese, is served in bread (although in this case it is rather a soft hamburger bun). It is hardly surprising that in some Arabic dialects bread is called life.
So it should come as no surprise that Lebanese people tend to be chubby. A slim figure is not particularly valued here. The inhabitants live from day to day and eagerly use every opportunity to experience pleasure. The wealthier, of whom there are quite a few, are alien to northern European restraint and thrift . If it’s a car, it’s from the top shelf, clothes – from the best designers. Many European capitals can envy architectural gems. Therefore, food must also be a real feast – as if tomorrow does not exist. After all, no one knows how long peace and prosperity will last.
When visiting Lebanese, be prepared for an endless feast of mezze and meat or fish dishes straight from the grill . It’s the same in a restaurant where the appetizers alone would be enough for a whole meal. In practice, however, they are only an introduction to the feast, accompanied by good local wine .
A cultural melting pot– diversity of cuisines
The unique mix of cultures and the variety of products resulting from the fertile soil make Lebanon’s dishes delight with taste. Here on one table you will find Arabic bread with Turkish yogurt and roasted almonds, next to Armenian dumplings or a salad with pomegranate, pine nuts with the addition of dates. There is even a French flan for dessert. Taste the aromatic taouk chicken skewers and ground kafta skewers.
In the end, however, let’s leave the fashionable part of the city to visit legendary places. A native resident of Beirut, takes us on an extraordinary journey. We start the trip with the most famous falafel – at Falafel Freiha . The local vegetable meatballs bear little resemblance to those we know from European restaurants.
The taste of small balls, definitely more subtle, is contemplated by wrapping them in bread with the addition of tahini sauce, mint leaves and cucumber pickles. We would like to come back for another portion, but the guide’s eyes remind us that this is only the beginning of the trip. On the opposite side of the street, the elegant window of Douaihy’s patisserie catches the eye . We order kunafa cheese sandwiches ( knefe ), which Lebanese like to start the day with. Unlike crispy pistachio biscuits, cheese sandwiches seem heavy to us and are unlikely to become our breakfast delicacy. After breakfast, we continue following the footsteps of Beirut’s favorite places. After a short walk, we reach Lala Chicken .Here we are delighted with pieces of juicy grilled chicken breast, wrapped in bread and served with fresh garlic sauce and pickles.
After a longer walk through the colorful streets of the city, where bicycles and tattered dates and Peugeots ride right next to Lamborghinis and Maclarens, we reach another iconic place. Boulangerie Ghattas offers a local version of pizza – crispy thin manoushe is served here with za’atar, a spice mix popular in Arab countries . Like other fast food options in the city, Lebanese pizza served with refreshing labneh yoghurt leaves us in awe.
After crossing Beirut’s most important restaurant street, we reach the Armenian Quarter , located on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, the most famous Armenian restaurant, Varouje , is packed to the brim with diners. That’s why we only glance at the interior that evokes associations with “The Godfather” and move on. A little further we drop into one of the few traditional bakeries in the city. A laughing baker offers us delicious markouk bread with nigella . Right next to it, a daughter with a fisherman father serve bread filled with freshly fried anchovies , which also taste great. At the end of our Armenian adventure, we cycle through the meticulously rebuilt center of Beirut to the inconspicuous Ichkhanian Bakery . Here, for over 70 years, excellent lahmajun pie and meat manti dumplings have been served , served on trays, topped with thick yoghurt and sprinkled with spicy olive oil.
“ If that’s not enough for you, I suggest you leave Beirut. Outside the capital, you can catch a real feast with mezze and grilled meat – adds our guide. For another meal, we go to Pépé Abed in Byblos, and leave the picturesque towns, reminiscent of Greek seaside towns, for another weekend. However, we already know that the reputation of Lebanese cuisine is fully deserved, and Lebanon is the best place to taste the delicious cuisine of the Levant .
El Denye Hek
Armenia Road in Gemmayzeh restaurant area, same entrance as FABRK club, first floor.
The restaurant offers one of the richest menus in the city. Everything here tastes good and the prices are reasonable. In addition, the restaurant has a roof terrace from which you can admire the city.
Phoenician Street, opposite Radisson Blue.
The Bistro offers Lebanese classics at very reasonable prices (no alcohol).
Onno is Armenian restaurant with a rich and interesting menu. It operates in several locations in Beirut.
Pasteur Street, in the back of the passage leading from the main street.
Em Nazih is perfect for party people (open until four in the morning). Decent Lebanese food for every budget.
Le Chef offers home cooked food and a daily changing menu with reasonable prices.
282 Pasteur Street
Mayrig offers exquisite Lebanese-Armenian cuisine. Perfect for romantic evenings. The restaurant has a garden patio.
Bourj Hammoud Alley
Varaouj is a legendary Armenian restaurant in a district that evokes memories of pre-war Beirut with its atmosphere. The restaurant serves dishes at the discretion of the chef. Reservation by phone is recommended: +961 3 882 933. Closed on Sundays.
Bakeries, patisseries and fast food:
Hussein Beyhum Street
An Armenian bakery famous for its delicious lahmajun pancakes . Open until three o’clock.
Gouraud Street, opposite St Anthony’s Church
Boulangerie Ghattas serves great manoushes and other quick bites. During the week, the place is open until 15:00, on weekends – until 12:00. Best to be at least 30 minutes before closing time.
A well-stocked patisserie and cafe, open until midnight.
Al Salam Street, near Sassine Square
Falafel Freiha offers excellent falafel sandwiches.
Mar Louis Street
Lala Chicken offers delicious sandwiches with chicken and tahini sauce.