The most important tip I can give you on Lebanon local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Lebanon, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in
Lebanon fosters exquisite cuisine ranging from a mezza of vegetarian dishes such as tabouleh, fattoush, and warak anab to delicious dips like hommos and moutabal. Must haves include Lebanese barbeque such as shish tawouk (barbequed chicken) – usually consumed with garlic, lahm mishwe (barbequed meat), and kafta (barbequed seasoned minced meat).
A full meal at an Arabic restaurant can cost as little as 15 us dollars (22500 LL) depending on where you go, though more expensive options can also be found. Lebanese “fast food” is also available as sandwiches offered in roadside shops, such as shawarma sandwiches (known in other countries as doner – or gyros in Greece). Shawarma, as opposed to doner is seasoned with tarator sauce based on sesame oil, vegetables and is rolled in lebanese thin bread. One popular place to eat Lebanese “fast food” is at BarBar Restaurant in Hamra . Various barbequed meat sandwiches are also available, and even things such as lamb or chicken spleen, brains, lamb bone marrow or lamb testicles can be served as sandwiches. Breakfast usually consists of manaeesh which looks like a folded pizza, most common toppings are zaatar (a mixture of thyme, olive oil sesame seeds), jebneh (cheese) and lahm bi ajin (minced meat).
Some new trendy places such as “zaatar w zeit” and “Leil nhar” experiment with new toppings, such as “halloum and bacon”. Both places stay open 24 hours a day and partygoers often go there for a bite at 4 in the morning. Another traditional breakfast food is knefeh, a special kind of breaded cheese that is served with a simple syrup in a sesame seed bread. It is also served as dessert. Lebanon is also very famous for its Arabic sweets which can be found at leading restaurants.
The city of Tripoli, however, is THE city for Lebanese sweets. Many critics refer to it as the “Sweet Capital” of Lebanon, the Hallab Sweets Palace (Abdul Rahman Hallab – Kaser El Helou 1881) is the place to visit when making a trip to Tripoli. If taking a trip to the Bekaa, the restuarants known as the El-Wadi restaurants in Zahle serve exquisite Lebanese food.
In Beirut, Abd el-Wahab in the “Monot” area also serves excellent Lebanese food in a traditional setting. International food chains such as KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Burger King or Domino’s pizza and many other are widely spread and easily found across the country. French Patisseries, Chinese, Italian, American and Japanese cuisine are also widely spread and are found in virtually all of the country’s malls. Foreign restaurants are concentrated mostly in Beirut, although they can be found in some of the other larger cities like Tripoli and in some of the more tourist friendly smaller cities like Byblos.
Cafes also exist virtually everywhere and as with foreign restaurants, foreign chains like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Costa, etc, are also concentrated more in Beirut. Restaurant are very generous in supplying free extras. You get salted nuts, fresh pistachios, olives, carrots etc with your drink, and if you eat them all they are replaced even if you do not order more drinks. There is plenty of bread, often with delicious spreads. At the end of the meal many places give you a great selection of fresh fruits and cakes.
What to Drink in Lebanon
Lebanon’s wines have an international reputation. Grapes have been grown since antiquity, and the vineyards, largely in the Bekaa Valley, produce the base wine for distillation into the national spirit Arak, which, like Ouzo, is flavoured with aniseed and becomes cloudy when diluted with water. Arak is the traditional accompniment to Meze. But the grapes have also historically been used to make wine.
This used to be predominantly white and sweet, but the soliders and administrators that came to administer the French mandate after World War One created a demand for red wine, and large acreages were planted especially with the Cinsault grape. Over the last 20 years these have been supplemented with the most popular international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Wineries often offer wine tasting and are very welcoming.
The highly individual, old fashioned, Chateau Musar, is based at Ghazir, 15 miles north of Beirut, and trucks in the grapes from Bekaa. In Bekaa itself, wineries include the large Kefraya, Ksara, the oldest winery of all, Massaya, a fashionable new producer in Tanail, and Nakad in Jdeita, which like Musar has stuck with an idiosyncratic old fashioned approach. Kefraya, in the West Bekaa region, also has a nice restaurant attached and the region itself is beautiful to pass through.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.