experience - Culinary Tours, Lebanon
Written by William Dobson
For the Lebanese, it’s said that food is the greatest expression of their traditions. Viewing it through the eyes of a tourist is one thing. To do so through the eyes of a local is quite another.<
Run by Bethany Kehdy, a successful food blogger turned cookbook author, Taste Lebanon is part sightseeing, part learning, and a big part eating, taking you from the bullet-holed backstreet bakeries of Beiruts less-travelled suburbs to the city’s northern shores to see the age-old process of orange-blossom distillation.
Whether walking the streets of Kehdy’s old neighbourhood of Beirut in Achrafieh, searching for some of her favourite childhood haunts, barbecuing a lamb amongst the apple orchards of her ancestral mountain farm, or breakfasting next to the Litani River with Lebanon’s first commercial za‘atar farmer, foreigners have a unique opportunity to see a side of Lebanon to which they are seldom privy.
One-day tours of Beirut take tourists away from the glitz and glamour of roads more heavily trodden. In Mar Mit – a quiet side street in a predominantly residential area, metres from Kehdy’s old kindergarten – Hanna’s generations-old ice-cream shop is a particular highlight. It may look like a nondescript hole-in-the-wall, but it has become a Beiruti institution.
However, longer tours really give you the chance to explore the country. The northern seaside town of Batroun is not only stunningly picturesque but, more importantly, home to some of Lebanon’s most delicious seafood, while their lemonade is, understandably once you’ve tasted it, world-renowned.
Meanwhile, Ba’albek may be famous for its Roman ruins, but seeing the process behind (and eating) local sfiha is worth the trip alone. The lamb for these mini pies is minced and spiced by the butcher, before being taken to the baker next door, stuffed into dough, and cooked in a huge wood-burning stove, a practice which harks back to an age when houses didn’t have ovens.
Whether you spend a day or a week there, a food trek through Lebanon will open your eyes to a side of Lebanese cuisine and hospitality that you won’t find in the guidebooks.
Set against the backdrop of the glistening Mediterranean, an afternoon on Maguy’s ramshackle balcony is one of Lebanon’s true culinary highlights, as a veritable caravan of seafood delights, caught that very day, are prepared right in front of you: From succulent scallops, dressed modestly with a touch of lemon, garlic, and a sprinkling of herbs, to whole white fish, barbecued to juicy perfection. Time will skid to a halt as you sit on the deck, soaking up the rays. In the summer, music from party boats moored in the bay only adds to the experience.