Lebanon’s cuisine is a mixture of homegrown recipes and influences from Turkey, France, Syria, Palestine and Armenia. Steeped in tradition, the county is known for tasty and super-healthy food. For a great introduction to the country’s classic dishes, add these restaurants, shops and neighbourhoods to your itinerary.
This bakery delivers some of the best Armenian staples in the city to appreciative locals. Established by Armenian Yeghia Ichkhanian from the city of Aintab, everything is made from generations-old recipes. Among other things, you can get lahmajun (a flatbread with different toppings) and sou borek (a cheese-filled pastry). Wander inside and watch as the freshly rolled dough is shovelled into clay ovens using long paddles, a process unchanged in the last 70 years.
Al Falamanki is a treasure trove of Lebanese mouneh (food which is preserved at harvest time to sustain the family for the rest of the year). There is so much pickled, stuffed and dried produce here it will leave any foodie giddy with delight. Take home some za’atar pickles or awarma (confit made from the fat-tail sheep).
You know you’re in Bourj Hammoud when signs start appearing in Armenian and the air is filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. This labyrinthine neighbourhood is packed full of tiny bakeries, restaurants and shops. You can find all kinds of delicacies here, from ka’ak (a round sesame seed bread with a hole in the middle), to fawaregh (sausages made from sheep’s guts).
The best food experiences are often found in the most unassuming places. Such is the case at this restaurant, where you can order a feast of classic Armenian and Lebanese dishes, including manti (dumplings) and siyyadiyeh (Lebanese-style fish) made by the mother of a third-generation Armenian baker. Wash it down with a glass of arak spirit, and you’ll be thankful for the long walk along Armenia Street back into town.
A good beer can be hard to find in Beirut. Luckily, Colonel Beer is just up the coast. This location brews a variety of beers as well as distilling its own gin and vodka and has a large outdoor space where bands play in the summer. The real gem is the beach bar, tucked away on a private corner of Barracuda Beach. Grab a drink, order octopus, shrimp or the daily catch and watch waves break gently over a rocky reef.
Lemon orchards are dotted all over north Lebanon and fresh lemonade is a speciality of the region. Hilmi’s House of Lemonade shines like a ray of sunshine among the faded buildings in the Batroun District. Choose from 13 different flavours or sample the lemonade ice cream, with the choice to add a splash of vodka or tequila.
Knafeh (a dessert of pastry stuffed with cheese) is one of Lebanon’s most moreish treats. You can find it everywhere, but for one of the best, visit the lively café of the Tripolitan sweet maker Abdul Rahman Hallab and sons. Some Lebanese people will travel from Beirut to visit this place. There is a vast array of sweets to choose from, including specialities like Halawet El-Jeben (a dessert with sweet cheese and whipped cream). Making these intricate sweets is a real art, and no one in Lebanon does it better.
The quality of mezze (small plates) in Beirut’s restaurants can vary a lot. You can always be sure of a great spread at Tawlet’s eco-restaurant however, which overlooks the farmed fields of the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon’s agricultural heartland. As well as mezze, you’ll find little-known local dishes like keshkek akhdar (made with Keshkek, a fermented labneh cheese and yoghurt that has been dried in the sun for four days). Go hungry and order a table full of food.
A jug of arak (a Levantine unsweetened distilled spirit) is the perfect accompaniment to Lebanese mezze and many local vineyards make their own. Chateau Ksara, Lebanon’s oldest vineyard, makes arak with the indigenous Obeidy grape and aniseed from Mount Hermon. Book in advance at the vineyard to learn all about the process at an arak tasting event. While you’re there, you can also explore ancient Roman caves on the vineyard, where they store all their wine.