What they're eating in Beirut

Topped flatbreads, heritage grains and Armenian cuisine are all on the menu in the Lebanese capital.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019,
By Joel Porter
A whole head of cauliflower roasted in a Josper oven and topped with spiced butter, yoghurt-tahini ...
A whole head of cauliflower roasted in a Josper oven and topped with spiced butter, yoghurt-tahini sauce, walnut, pomegranate and rose petals.

Roasted cauliflower at Baron
Opened in 2016, Baron sits among the bars of Mar Mikhael, Beirut’s party neighbourhood. The menu of eclectic small plates draws on various international cuisines, but the bestseller is distinctly Middle Eastern: a whole head of cauliflower roasted in a Josper oven and topped with spiced butter, yoghurt-tahini sauce, walnut, pomegranate and rose petals. 

Mante at Mayrig
Thanks to Lebanon’s sizeable Armenian population, that nation’s food has become a firm favourite in Beirut. Mayrig set a high benchmark when it opened in 2003 and it still draws the crowds to its pretty outdoor courtyard, where the specialities are sujuk (spicy sausage) and beef kebabs with sour cherries. The standout, though, is mante — tiny beef dumplings encased in crisp pastry, artfully arranged in neat rows in a shallow dish and served doused in tomato sauce and yoghurt. 

Manakish at Souk El Tayeb
Founded in 2004 by former TV chef Kamal Mouzawak, open-air Souk el Tayeb has been instrumental in Beirut’s culinary revival. Twice a week, the market brings together producers from across Lebanon who sell organic vegetables, spices, pickles and more. Try staples such as manakish: soft, thinly rolled flatbreads topped with za’atar or cheese and baked. 

Kebbe Meekly at Liza
Set on the second floor of a refurbished 19th-century mansion, Liza is a glimmering jewel box of a restaurant, complete with white marble, gold fixtures, palm wallpaper and patterned tiles. And the food — contemporary spins on Lebanese classics — is as much of a draw as the decor. Among the highlights from the superb selection of mezze is one of Lebanon’s national dishes, kebbe: beef meatballs mixed with bulgur wheat, onion and spices, served here with a yoghurt, beetroot and dried mint dip. 

Freekeh Djaj at Tawlet
A cafe from the same team behind Souk el Tayeb, Tawlet hosts female guest chefs from all around Lebanon, who cook specialities from their corners of the country. At lunchtime, the counter overflows with fresh salads, mezze, and at least one hot dish. One of the most popular is freekeh djaj — slow-cooked green freekeh wheat mixed with tender chicken, pine nuts and almonds.

Published in the December 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller Food

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