Must-Have Lebanese Food Dishes to Savor When in Lebanon

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A Visit To Lebanon is Often Incomplete without These Scrumptious Middle-Eastern Dishes

They say if you want to understand the history, culture, societal structure, and every nuance of a country, you must try their food.

And this can’t be truer for Lebanon, a country that’s food defines its people. Lebanon’s culinary tradition has been shaped over centuries by the intermingling of different empires, rulers, cultures, traditions, and long-lasting local legacies.

The country has witnessed a long list of rulers influencing its food habits. From Egyptians, Persians, Romans, and French, their history is an amalgamation of all these ancient cultures. And what we see today is an evolution of a country that has never ceased to embrace newness.

It is believed that a Lebanese table is not just a display of their amazing hospitality, but also a tell-all tale of its rich history. While the Ottomans introduced Lebanon to lamb, the French brought the patisserie culture to Lebanon’s diverse culinary experience.

Meanwhile, their signature dishes like Shawarma, Pita Bread, and Tabbouleh evolved over a period of time and added that much-needed Lebanese flavor to their table.

Lebanon might be a small country, but it’s huge on diversity. While much of the country resides on the Mediterranean coast making seafood a favorite, its mountainous regions offer a lot to its uber-popular Mediterranean cuisine!

The southern part of Lebanon enjoys a handsome offering of unique a dish made of beef, bulgur wheat, pine nuts, and mint leaves, the northern side of the country is known for its sweets, and meat patisserie is western Lebanon’s poison.

Lebanon, once known as the Paris of the Middle East, has had a long association with various countries across the world. In ancient times, several nomadic tribes went across Lebanon leaving spices, and dry fruits behind. And over centuries, these diverse food items slowly became a part of the Lebanese culinary culture.

Even though just like ancient times, Lebanese culture has embraced several contemporary food habits, it has never let go of its rich roots. This is why the Lebanese table is delightfully traditional and pleasingly contemporary.

With such a diverse landscape of food in a country that is just as big as Connecticut, there are bound to be dishes that you must have when you visit this culturally rich, culinary diverse country.

Here are ten Lebanese dishes that should make it to your bucket list when traveling to Lebanon!!

Mezze

Captured by Filipp Romanovski

Its culinary magic is served on a plate. As visually appealing as mezze is, it is delightfully delicious as well. Mezze or meze is often a meal in itself that can comprise as many as fifty dishes. You can find cross-cultural references to this dish similar to Spanish Tapas and Italian Aperitivo. Mezze is a combination of different items cooked with different techniques. They are baked, lightly cooked in olive oil, and even raw fruits, vegetables, and parsley that add freshness and crunch to the palate.

Mezze Serving Style

Mezze is mostly served in rounds with different groups of dishes served one after the other. As food is enjoyed in Lebanon, which is more like a celebration of togetherness, mezze is also enjoyed over lovely conversations spread over long hours.

These different dishes are accompanied by Maneesh, a type of flatbread, which is also baked as pita bread sometimes. In fact, bread is such an important part of Lebanese food, that it is often referred to as esh, meaning ‘Life’ in Arabic.

But the fun in enjoying mezze is that items are served in a certain order. First light items like olives, tahini, and yogurt are served first, followed by cold dishes accompanied by veggies and eggs. Next in the line are small portions of meat and fish along with some special accompaniments.

Finally, wholesome portions of fish and other non-vegetarian items are served as the main course. Mezze might be an assortment of several dishes, but the entire menu is curated with a lot of thought where every dish compliments the other making it a perfect concoction of taste, texture, colors, and aromas.

Mezze – Interesting Fact

Some of the most common dishes served in a mezze are baba ghanoush, yogurt, tabbouleh, muhammara, varieties of bread, fruits and vegetables, dry fruits, pickled vegetables, dried herbs, grilled items, meat, and fish.

Kibbeh

Fried kibbeh raas (nabulsi kibbeh)
Fried kibbeh raas (nabulsi kibbeh) by Basel

Kibbeh is just as significant in the Lebanese culture as it is delicious. Food lovers say that it is not a dish, it is a tradition that takes years to master. Without the right combination of spices, the timing of putting one thing after the other, application of the right technique, and of course the love to make this delicious dish should all be equally mastered! After all, this is the single most loved dish that is capable of making every Lebanese drool a little.

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Kibbeh Serving Style

Masterful meaty heaven, it’s a combination of brown bulgur along with ground beef/lamb, stuffed with ground meat and onions, mint with sumac, marjoram, cumin, sea salt, and olives – kibbeh is baked, fried, and even raw as tartare.

Kibbeh – Interesting Facts

Since Lebanon’s history is so rich and ancient there is significant documentation of how this recipe came into being. However, most natives believe that it was one of the first Lebanese recipes cooked by Prophet Abraham and his wife cooked, which then caught the attention of one and all!

Such is the significance of this amazing dish, that women cook kibbeh if they want to flaunt their cooking skills. In some regions, a younger woman must master the kibbeh-making skill to find a rightful groom.

Hummus

Hummus with chickpeas, tahini and garlic sauce
Picture by Christopher Alvarenga

In all likelihood, Hummus is one of the most popular Lebanese recipes that has now found a special place in global kitchens! Frankly speaking, it’s a simple dish, but when made with perfection, it can add a lot of taste to the meal. While this Lebanese recipe is most commonly made with chickpeas, tahini, garlic sauce, and lemon juice there are several variations available according to the nation, culture, and even how people want to serve it. It could be heavy on chickpeas or tahini, could be smooth or lumpy, added with fava beans, pine nuts, or ground beef. It is served in a variety of ways as well. It could either be served with chips, pickles, hot sauce, or falafel.

Hummus Serving Style

When you visit Lebanon, this is how you will get it. Simply made with chickpeas, tahini, sesame paste, garlic sauce, and lemon juice, hummus is sprinkled with olive oil just before serving. Spices like cumin and paprika are added to enhance the flavor and are served with pita bread.

One of the best things about hummus is that it can be garnished with anything you prefer. From tomatoes, fresh herbs like thyme or basil, hard-boiled eggs, olives, nuts to name a few.

Hummus – Interesting Facts

The beauty of hummus lies in the fact that the entire Middle East claims they invented it, but nobody can actually own it. Be it the Egyptians, Turks, Syrians, or Lebanese, all of them want to label this middle-eastern dish as their own, but the world has now embraced it and has become a global dish. While we cannot possibly decipher who invented it, but we can do one thing for sure i.e. strongly recommend that you have hummus whenever you visit Lebanon.

Fatteh

Fatteh is a bread based crunchy lebanese dish

The Lebanese food is heavy on bread, that there had to be a dish that used up the leftover bread, and this is what fatteh is. Fatteh roughly means ‘to crumble’ that very aptly describes its crunchy bottom layer that is either toasted or fried (in olive oil). The rest of fatteh is made in layers with sauces making the initial ones, followed by slightly cooked vegetables.

The final layers consist of meaty items that make the portions tummy filling. While most popularly minced lamb and chicken are used in the meaty portions, other options like beef are also used at times. In the vegetarian variations, eggplant or spinach is used.

And in the traditional, signature Lebanese style, the entire dish is then topped with nuts, and a pinch of cumin and cardamom are added in the end.

Fatteh Serving Style

Owing to its ease of preparation, Fatteh is usually eaten for breakfast or big gatherings. It is also a popular iftar delicacy that is eaten as the first dish to break the fast.

Fatteh Interesting Facts

Fatteh is believed to have originated from Damascus, and its name in Arabic means ‘breaking bread.’ As for several other Lebanese dishes that have gone through various makeovers through time, there are different variations of this dish are easily available as well.

Variations from Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine are the most famous amongst them all. One of the most popular varieties of this middle-east favorite is the hummus Fatteh, an original from Beirut. It is typically a mixture of chickpeas, tahini and ground meat (optional) served on a flatbread, finally converted into yogurt.

Manoush or Manoosh

Manoush Lebanese Pizza
Manoush Lebanese Pizza

Also referred to as Lebanese pizzas in popular culture, manoush is like a pizza spread that has three different toppings – minced lamb, cheese, and a mixture of olive oil and za’atar. While minced lamb and cheese are used in most varieties of pizzas across the world, it is the mixture of olive oil and za’atar that makes manoush so profusely Lebanese.

It is a simple, but delicious mixture of dried herbs like oregano, thyme, and sumac in addition to roasted sesame seeds and salt.

Manoush Serving Style

Manoush is easy to make and can be really rich and filling. Hence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is mostly served hot and eaten for breakfast along with a variety of cheese to counter the slightly bitter taste of za’atar. Alongside the main dish, cucumbers, garden tomatoes, radish, and olives are also served.

Manoush Interesting Facts

Manoush is believed to have originated from the need to use leftover dough and with minute changes and variations, has become the much-beloved dish it is today.

Dishes made from Kishk(healthy powder)

Kishk powder also known as Asparagus powder
Kishk powder also known as Asparagus powder

Kishk makes the age-old saying true that food brings people together. Traditionally, kishk making was more like a community activity than anything else.

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Kishk Preparation Style

Kishk is mainly of bulgur – a type of cracked and parboiled wheat, then it is mixed and left to ferment with either goat’s milk or yogurt. The preparation takes its own sweet time, and it can take days before kishk is ready to be consumed.

The process starts in the summer when the sun is ideal to dry the ingredients and make the fermentation process quicker. After drying, fermenting, and mixing, the resultant paste is then rolled into small balls and conserved in olive oil. Once this much is done, the community comes together.

As it would happen in the good old days, the dough is spread out on large sheets and left on the rooftops on each and every household of the villages to dry. The powdered form of this dry dough is then scraped off the rooftops by the women in the village. The powder then collected is called kishk, which can be consumed for days to come.

If you thought that process of cooking and consuming the kishk is over, wait a moment. The dried powder is then mixed with cold water to create sourdough. The sourer the dough, the better it is considered. Finely chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, radishes, mint, and garlic are then added to the dough along with olive oil.

So, it is quite clear how deeply food is ingrained in the Lebanese culture. Some of the dishes are made with the entire community coming together. And this is how the Lebanese celebrate their food. It is not only a means of survival but also a means of bringing people together.

Kishk Interesting Facts

The better part of its importance can, however, be sensed in the people residing in some of the remotest areas of Lebanon, who mostly survive on kishk when the weather doesn’t allow them to cook some of the other, more significant dishes. And just as vital kishk has proven to be for these villagers, equally elaborate is the preparation of the dish.

Falafel

Lebanese Falafel from the best Restaurant in Lebanon
Lebanese Falafel from the best Restaurant in Lebanon. Looks yummy?

In the Lebanese variation, falafel is made with fava beans instead of chickpeas. Coriander, parsley, cumin, and onions are added to flavor the mixture. In some regions of Lebanon, cloves are peeled and finely chopped before adding them to the mixture. This gives yet another layer of taste to the dish.

Falafel Serving Style

The Lebanese version of falafel is made into small patties and fried, making them really crunchy and tasty. Falafel has now become a popular item across the globe, but in the Middle East, it still remains a much-preferred street food item that is enjoyed with some exciting variations. Falafel is usually served with Pita bread.

Falafel Interesting Facts

Falafel, just like hummus has several origins, or at least that’s what the theorists believe. Although falafel is Israel’s national dish, Lebanese believe that they have mastered the dish and nobody makes it better than them. And knowing their history and rich culinary vibrancy, we would not want to contest that claim.

Lebanese food is so vast that it is rather difficult to include all the dishes in one article. While we have listed the most popular ones, some of the other dishes like Mujadara, Shawarma, kafta, warak, tabbouleh, Fattoush, baklava, and kanafeh are some of the other popular Lebanese recipes that are thoroughly enjoyed by locals as well as tourists.

From varying tastes, textures, colors, flavors, and aromas, Lebanese cuisine will leave you wanting more. These recipes are not only signature Lebanese, but they also define the people of Lebanon – diverse, warm, full of life, and vibrant. So, if you happen to go to Lebanon, don’t miss these mouth-watering dishes to get a taste of Lebanon on a platter.

Food is so much more than tummy filler. It is an example of evolution, an amalgamation of cultures, a perfect example of creativity, and how need can give shape to something everlasting. This is what Lebanese food is all about too. With so many globally popular dishes, a trip to Lebanon would mean you going for an absolutely wonderful culinary journey.

All Your Lebanese Food Questions – Answered!

What is traditional Lebanese food?

Lebanon has been ruled by so many empires, that it has become a mix of several cultures. From the Ottoman Empire to the French, all left their influence on their food and what we see today is an evolution over centuries. But most commonly, lamb meat and vegetables are staples here. Stuffing minced meat is also one of the most important features of Lebanese food.

What kind of meat is eaten in Lebanon? Do they eat pork?

Pork is eaten in select communities in Lebanon, but since a majority of the population is Muslim, pork is considered haram. It is forbidden to eat pork in the Muslim community and that is why most popularly, beef, chicken, and lamb are the preferred meat forms in most Lebanese dishes.

Is Lebanese cuisine healthy?

Traditional Lebanese cuisine is considered quite healthy because of the use of fresh ingredients and uncomplicated methods of cooking. Fresh vegetables are handsomely used in this cuisine and the use of chickpeas, sesame seeds, olive oil, and garlic makes it really healthy.

Even the meat is not overcooked or overtly drizzled with olive oil, which is the case in many other cuisines. So, the meat retains much of its nutritious properties.

Moreover, Lebanese cuisine isn’t heavily dependent on deep-fried foods, which further enhances its nutritious value

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