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Mezze memories in Lebanon

I love the Mezze style of meal where you can try a little of what you fancy instead of wishing you had ordered your friend’s meal. I like the congeniality of sharing food, passing it around, letting the conversation flow, taking your time over the meal. There’s the smooth hummus paste of chickpeas, garlic and tahini, the Moutabal creamy aubergine puree, the tabbouleh salad of bulgar wheat, speckled green with parsley and fragrant with lemon. Then the little hot sausages of spicy minced meat, or the miniature flaky pastry fingers enclosing salty cheese, or the Labbneh yoghurt dip with lemon and mint. All these I enjoyed during my travels in Lebanon.

But after a while, the mezze started to get a little repetitive. Let me explain. If you eat in a Lebanese home, you’ll get a totally different eating experience with a wide range of dishes and flavours. But in a typical local reaturant in Lebanon, the main foods on offer are a range of Mezze followed by different types of grilled meats, fresh fish cooked simply over the grill and fruit to follow. Grills can be nice and the fish was delicious but usually quite pricey, so for a light lunch we inevitably ended up with Mezze. Every day. I realised that it didn’t actually matter whether you payed top prices for your Mezze in a city restaurant or went cheap and cheerful in a backstreet cafe. The Mezze is almost always good and fresh because it’s such a staple.

Let me share a couple of Mezze memories with you. After visiting Chateau Musar in the hills above Jounieh, we asked the winemaker Tarek for a restaurant recommendation and he kindly drove us to a restaurant set on the hill and overlooking the sea. We had a fantastic view from the table by the window, only slightly marred by the building site nearby and the fact that the windows had to be closed when the noise of the bulldosers got too much. We joked that in typical Lebabnese style, next time we came back there would be a glitzy appartment block blocking the sea view. After we had the usual range of Mezze and some freshly grilled fish, the waiter brought us a huge selection of fresh fruit to try for desert, a sort of fruit Mezze which was wonderful.

Mezze in the souk at Sidon in Lebanon

Mezze in the souk at Sidon in Lebanon

My second and fondest Mezze moment was when we wandered into the Souk at the coastal town of Sidon, with narrow streets and old buildings. There were many small shops selling groceries and street stands with delicious sweet pastries, but then we spotted a small open cafe on the corner opposite the mosque. It had just a couple of formica tables, so we sat down, guestured and pointed to the steaming vat of chickpeas that were ready to be served. We got our bowl of chickpeas with the hummus on top and a swish of olive oil and sat down to enjoy our light lunch. But then the owner started to bring us lots of other small dishies to accompany our chick peas, some black glistening olives, some fresh green salad, some magenta pick strips of vegetable and flatbread to scoop it all up with. Suddenly our bowl of chick peas had turned into a feast. And all of this with a prime view of Lebanese life passing by our table, chattering groups of headscarfed girls, teenage boys playing with their mobiles and finally the men streamed out of Friday prayers in the mosque opposite. And when the bill came, I think we may have paid a couple of dollars each. I finished off with some cakes from the vendor outside the mosque – read about my free cakes outside the mosque here.

When we got back to Beirut after our mini tour of the country, my friend and I headed to the buzzing Downtown area for a meal out with half of Beirut. By that time we were all Mezze’d out,  so it was a smart Italian restaurant for us, complete with giant pepper grinders. At the time I felt I’d had just too many Mezzes, but now, after writing this post, I’d be quite happy to have just one more Mezze, wouldn’t you?

This is posted as part of Wanderfood Wednesday – read about Thali and Bollywood musc as well as all the other foodie posts over at Wanderlust and Lipstick.


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13 Comments

  • Reply
    Wandering Educators
    September 30, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    WOW – those photos are incredible. that hummous looks fantastic! LUCKY YOU!!

  • Reply
    Myscha Theriault
    September 30, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    Isn’t Lebanon AMAZING? The food is fantastic, the scenery phenomenal and the people just too hospitable for words. Looks like you had a phenomenal time there as well.

  • Reply
    Keith
    September 30, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    Excellent!

    I can speak for Jordanian, Greek and Turkish mezzes … and I suppose the Spanish tapas may be a distant relation?

    We sometimes adhere to the principle at home, too, especially when we eat Chinese or Indian.

  • Reply
    marina k. villatoro
    September 30, 2009 at 10:19 pm

    Ok, besides the given of how much I love this food, is that the size of the bread on the table!!!!!

  • Reply
    Heather Cowper
    September 30, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    @Myscha I loved Lebanon – I see you’ve been to Israel & Jordan just wondered how they compared. I’d love to go to some other countries in this part of the world.

    @Marina You get flatbread like this at practically every meal – no knives and forks in this place, so we used it to scoop up the dips.

  • Reply
    Myscha Theriault
    September 30, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Hi Heather,

    They are similar in many ways, although Jordan doesn’t have quite the coastline Lebanon does, in my humble opinion. But it’s still a great country with friendly people and lots to see. Israel has great things to see and do as well. I love the entire region to tell you the truth, but Lebanon has always continued to call to me.

  • Reply
    Wanderluster
    October 1, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    These are scrumptious looking photos! What gets me most is how fresh everything looks!

  • Reply
    Xander
    October 2, 2009 at 7:25 am

    Mmm, the food in Lebanon is some of the best in the world. I can always go for a plate of hummus, but I also loved the labneh, and the flat bread with za-atar. Yum. -X

  • Reply
    Anil
    October 3, 2009 at 6:36 pm

    I’m very spoiled by eating like this my entire life. Turkish cuisine is similar and if there aren’t 10 varieties at a table it’s not a complete meal. Now I do the same whether I cook or am eating out, I need lots of options!

  • Reply
    My travelling year in 2009 | Heather on her travels
    January 8, 2010 at 8:27 am

    […]   My week in Lebanon, touring the country with a friend who works there was a real highlight. I didn’t know what to expect of Lebanon but was blown away by the variety and accessibility of what was on offer for those who want a taste of the Arab World at it’s most cosmopolitan and sophisticated. We didn’t spend too long in the glitzy building site that is Beirut, but got out of the capital to walk the mountain trails, eat mezze in the souks of Sidon, see some amazing archaeological and historic sites and taste our way through some world class wines. For stories from Lebanon read; St Anthony’s Monastery of Qozhaya in Lebanon – video The Cedars of Lebanon – Tannourine Cedars Reserve – Video Mezze Memories in Lebanon […]

  • Reply
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    […] Meet the winemakers at Chateau Musar in Lebanon The Cedars of Lebanon – Tannourine Cedars Reserve – video Mezze Memories in Lebanon […]

  • Reply
    Wine tasting at Chateau Ksara in Lebanon | Heather on her travels
    January 21, 2010 at 8:22 am

    […] Meet the winemakers at Chateau Musar in Lebanon Wine tasting in the Bekaa valley in Lebanon Mezze memories in Lebanon […]

  • Reply
    Sea Castles, Souqs and Soap in Sidon - in Lebanon | Heather on her travels
    May 2, 2011 at 7:52 am

    […] Mezze memories in Lebanon The Cedars of Lebanon – Tannourine Cedars Reserve Video Meet the wine makers at Chateau musar in Lebanon […]

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