Food is a unifying factor in Beirut’s make-up and with dining options as diverse as its geography and history. British transplant Chef Darren Andow shares his love for the local culinary scene
Introduce us to the food of Beirut
Lebanese cuisine is incredibly varied in terms of its origins, with a mixture of Arabic and international flavours. There is always an abundance of fresh ingredients on the table with olive oil, lemon and garlic a common thread throughout many dishes.
Is there a specific dish that’s served on special occasions?
If there’s one standout dish it would be ouze (slow-braised lamb on spiced rice), which is considered to be very prestigious. There’s also meghle, a sweet that is offered to well wishers at baby showers; and maamoul, a traditional date or nut-stuffed semolina dough sweet eaten at Eid and festive breaks.
What’s the most popular local dish?
The classic mezze trio of tabboule, kebbe and hummus is always popular and Beirutis take immense pride in preparing their own versions. In fact, they are extremely competitive when it comes to debating whose is best. There are also different types of kebbe, including vegetarian, and recipes vary from village to village.
Are there any customs visitors should know about?
Eating is a serious social activity in Beirut and throughout Lebanon. People socialise around food, linger over meals and love to eat late.
Tell us a little about the general culture of eating in Beirut?
Meal times are all about sharing and whether it’s lunch or dinner there’s always a full spread. Seasonality is also very important, and you always find plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables at the table.
What’s a must-try local dish?
The shawarma sandwiches. A street food staple, it’s also a regular main course fixture in local restaurants, and is so popular in fact that we included it in our Gordon’s Cafe menu.
- Where should visitors go for a special meal?
Burgundy on bustling Gouraud Street is one of Beirut’s, if not Lebanon’s, best restaurants. The historic French influence is still strong when it comes to dining and Burgundy’s contemporary approach with an international twist also plays on seasonal ingredients. I also highly recommend Em Sherif in Ashrafieh, a traditional and homely restaurant that is authentic in every way.
- Best place for a quick bite?
A quick bite in the city means street food so falafel sandwiches and lahm bi ajin, which is a Lebanese take on pizza, are very popular. Barbar in Sanayeh and Bedo in Bourj Hammoud are good spots. Head to Abou Joseph in Sin el Fil or Bouboufe in Achrafieh for some of the best shawarma sandwiches.
- Best family-friendly eatery?
Almost all of Beirut’s restaurants are family friendly but for a combination of great food and fun, take a quick trip to the Tawlet Biomass farm outside the city, where you’ll find authentic food made from organic locally grown produce.