Marhaba! Kifkun? Recently I took a two-week vacation to Lebanon and I can tell you this was the best thing I have ever done! The trip made good sense since fellow Taste-Bud (and good friend) Viviane is one of the Lebanese natives. I had the chance to have a Taste-Bud-guided trip to an exotic place where many foods saw their beginning and where history is everywhere, so I thought why not?
I really had a great time from the moment my plane left San Francisco. Although in the airplane meals there was not much culinary genius going on, I did strike up a few conversations about foods in the Middle East and Mediterranean with some of the locals on the flight to Beirut. I was really getting excited about what lied ahead of me. I realized early on that the people in the area often discuss politics and religion as the Saudi man next to me on the plane kept wanting to have more drinks with me in the hopes of getting some opinions out of me on these subjects. In the end he was buying jewelry from the plane catalogues for his wife and daughter and could barely stand up. I guess college was good for something after all?
I arrived to my Hostel in the middle of the night and met up with Viviane the following day. The culinary adventure began from there. I don’t think I had the same thing to eat for any given meal during my whole two weeks in Lebanon! Most of my meals were homemade by Viviane and/or her mother, but we went on 3 day-long bus tours, each of which included Lebanese meals. We also went out to eat at a restaurant in Bhamdoun that some of Viviane’s family has a stake in. Thanks to her brother, I was able to have a sampling from the menu of my choice on the house! I did visit some recommended pastry shops and local grocery stores as well. I was pretty much eating all the time! I wondered how all the people stay so thin here with so much revolving around food?
The answer to this question is that the food is very natural and light. The Lebanese cuisine can be described as Eastern Mediterranean with some similarities to Turkish and Greek cuisines, but it does have its own identity. For you fitness fanatics out there, mediterranean diets such as these are usually what are recommended for good heart health and for keeping off the body fat. Some common items found in Lebanese foods are: olives, olive oil, lemon juice, chick peas, fava beans, mint, parsley (Italian parsley for you Americans out there), garlic, tomatoes, Armenian cucumbers, nuts, yogurt, zaatar (thyme), lebanese breads, cheeses, and wheat bulgur. After eating like this during my short time there, I lost about 3 pounds as a testament to the diet.
The food was delicious! I think what makes much of it so good is that there are no preservatives and fillers added to most things. I really began looking at labels when I returned home to the USA. They put extras in just about everything here! In Lebanon people rarely eat prepackaged foods and fresh fruits and vegetables could be found in small stores on nearly every street in Beirut. There was one right at the bottom of the stairs going to Viviane’s place which was very convenient when prepping dinners, about a 45 second trip!
I have to give thanks to Viviane’s mother for making so many delicious and traditional Lebanese dishes from scratch during my visit there. I had the best tabbouleh, falafel, and hummus I have ever had the pleasure of eating! I also enjoyed the Lebanese barbeque she helped introduce me to with the kababs, fire-roasted tomatoes and potatoes, and Lebanese flat bread.
Viviane also had quite a bit more cooking talent than I expected. During my visit I had the privilege of trying her Antipasto Salad, Bruschetta, Tortellini Prosciutto e Formaggio with Mushrooms and Tomato Cream, Asparagus Tagliatelle, and Pesto Risotto. These dishes were to die for! Nice work Taste-Buddy! I have never had a better pesto to be honest, and I have certainly had my share of it!
I had a fantastic time during my two weeks in Lebanon! I would recommend this vacation to anyone looking for something a little off the beaten tourist path. The people are very friendly and gladly offer help to tourists in need. It is fairly easy to get by if you speak English, but even easier if you speak Arabic or French. The food was wonderful of course and in most of the country safety is not of any concern (unless you decide to drive there!).