We’re in the midst of the holiday season, and it’s time to talk about food (since it’s all I’m thinking about these days….)
Food was one of the things I most heard about when I told friends that I was moving to Lebanon. “Oh, the food!…” “Let me recommend a restaurant to you!…” “The food is amazing!….” Frankly, it got me pretty excited about Beirut. (Whoever says the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach obviously hasn’t met me yet.)
In fact, the very first evening we arrived, after twenty hours of travel, we got to the hotel around 9pm, and decided to step out for dinner: mezze along the sea.
Clockwise from top right: sautéed dandelion greens, fried calamari (although you can hardly see it behind the bowl of aioli sauce in this picture), garlic octopus, grilled eggplant puree (similar to baba ghanoush, but with a distinct smoky flavor). Oh, and French fries for the kids – which I’ve since discovered are a staple on mezze menus (can we attribute this to Lebanon’s former colonization by the French?…). Fantastic.
Of course tabbouleh and hummus are on every mezze menu, and they are infinitely superior to the versions sold in tiny plastic tubs in U.S. supermarkets. Lebanese tabbouleh is made with the freshest parsley, local olive oil, a few tomatoes, and only a small sprinkling of bulgur.
This picture of Lebanese-style tabbouleh comes from the blog of Fair Trade Lebanon – and they have a recipe for it too. I was eating it happily with pita until my Arabic tutor came to find out. She was scandalized. Apparently here in Lebanon it’s eaten with lettuce or cabbage leaves. I tried it afterwards. It’s good that way too.
Hummus here is always exceptionally creamy, and comes in variations like spicy, or “Beiruti” – studded with pine nuts and chopped beef. There’s even a hummus rivalry between archenemies Lebanon and Israel, over whose is bigger. No, it’s nothing crass — it’s about the biggest plate of hummus. The world record is being fought over between the two countries, with Lebanon currently the title-holder, after doubling Israel’s previous record back in 2010, with a 10,452-kilo plate of hummus . (That’s nearly 23,000 pounds.) I just hope someone ate it and all that food didn’t go to waste. Maybe next time the competition shouldn’t be for the biggest, but for the best-tasting. I volunteer as judge!