A chef’s guide to Beirut

A chef’s guide to Beirut

Where to find the best food in Lebanon’s capital

Words by Ute Junker

Photo Edgar Castrejon via Unsplash

Tokyo, Paris, Melbourne… Beirut? Yes, the Lebanese capital may have been battered by wars, political strife and disaster over the decades, but it remains a magnificent place for food-lovers, as chef Greg Malouf explains.

I’m incredibly biased because of my Lebanese heritage, but something about this city keeps drawing me back again and again. The food culture is steeped in generosity: it is a very social way of eating that draws people together.

Farmers come down from the mountains to sell their produce in the markets: there are amazingly tiny iceberg lettuce available in season, for instance. There is still a tradition of community cooking, where someone makes a big pot of stuffed vine leaves and takes it to the baker, who puts it in his oven to cook for three or four hours. The war destroyed most of the infrastructure, but it didn’t destroy people’s appetites. Very interesting places have been springing up over the past five years, showcasing regional cooking or twists on tradition. These gems are great to hunt down.

Three dishes to try:

Try a few different types of kibbeh. Traditionally it is made of ground lamb mixed with spices and burghul cracked wheat, eaten raw with a glass of arak, which probably originated to help kill any bacteria. Now you find all different sorts of kibbeh on menus around town: raw or cooked, made into balls or stuffed with pumpkin and potato, cooked in yoghurt or baked on a tray.

During fig season, the little birds that live on the figs [called asafir] can be quite something. They are usually fried or barbecued, drizzled with pomegranate syrup and garlic and eaten whole.

In the morning, I love going to the bakery and picking up some fresh manoush, bread brushed with sumac, dukkah and olive oil.

Three places to go:

Tawlet is a wonderful organic restaurant run by Kamal Mouzawak, a pioneer in bringing regional Lebanese food from the mountains to the city. Each week a different cook presents a serious of regional dishes from their hometown.

Fadel Restaurant in Bikfaya has amazing views overlooking Beirut. It is worth the trip to try the stuffed kibbeh the size of olives.

Em Sherif is a classy restaurant with an endless array of mezze dishes, from meat-stuffed vine leaves cooked on lamb necks to purslane and yoghurt salad with pomegranates.

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