Lebanese cuisine has carved out a niche in most major North American cities, making it pretty easy for the average diner to get their hands on some outstanding Middle Eastern flavours. However, if you’re headed to Lebanon, you will want to check out this trusty guide to the country’s most famous dishes and mealtime customs so you’ll be ready to eat your way through the Arabian night.
There appears to be some amount of agreement that kibbeh is the national dish of Lebanon. It is a lamb and bulgur wheat paste, similar to a pate. The traditional kibbeh making process, with its incessant pounding and grinding of spices into the paste, has been described as frightening. These days many people use food processors to achieve the emulsified, paste texture. Kibbeh is traditionally served raw, similar to a tartar, but can also be baked or fried and served with a yogurt sauce. Enjoy it on special occasions and Sunday dinners.
Tabouleh is a popular Lebanese export that is now sold in grocery stores and restaurants world-wide. This parsley and bulgur wheat salad is well-loved for its refreshing herb flavours and healthy, low-cal nutrient composition. It is usually made simply with chopped parsley, bulgur wheat, minced tomatoes, garlic, mint and onion then seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Enjoy this salad to experience the taste of Lebanon, but keep your immune system healthy and your diet on track.
A style of dining called mezze is popular in Lebanon and can consist of up to forty small dishes, served as appetizers or as a main course. You can expect to see hummus, rice, meat wrapped in grape leaves, salads, pickles, beans, and grilled meats. This variety of hot and cold Lebanese food is a perfect way to experience Lebanese cuisine.
To cap off your meal, how about some ripe local produce? Grapes, persimmons, figs and melons are all common desserts and may be served with arak, a white liquor made with anise. Also, Baklava is not just for the Greek! The Lebanese have been perfecting this dish for centuries with pistachios and rose-water syrup.
The code of hospitality that exists in Lebanon requires that guests be fed, so you can expect any gatherings to be an occasion for eating. Lunch is the largest meal of the day, usually eaten mezze-style at 2 pm. And don’t expect your meals to come in courses, in Lebanon all dishes are presented at once. Most adults enjoy beer, wine or local liquors with their meals, while children have juices or jellab, a drink made from raisins and pine nuts.