Guest post: the food of Syria and Lebanon part 2

Following on from my previous post I wanted to share a few of the more weird and wonderful culinary experiences we enjoyed whilst we were in the Middle East. As before some photos follow (click and you get a slide show), but first a few notes:

Beirut

The sad truth is that we were priced out of most of the food in Beirut. However, as an ambitiously modern and cosmopolitan city, it’s actually quite hard to find typical Lebanese food amongst the Sushi bars, Pizza restaurants and familiar western fastfood chains. And even if you avoid these places you were never far away from a billboard advertising McDonald’s latest creation - The McArabia

There was, though, one Beirut establishment we were advised could not possibly be missed and fortunately fell within our price range.  Le Chef is billed (in the LonelyPlanet, at least) as a traditional workers’ café and feels a bit like an East End greasy spoon complete with a loquacious proprietor. This proprietor, though, only knows one word – “Welcome” – which he hollers at everyone; both patron and passerby. We essentially ordered blind and reaped/suffered the rewards. What we suspected might be deep fried cauliflower, was fried cauliflower, only it was most certainly fried some hours (days?) before and left to shrivel and cool. The main came in kit form, and involved carving a chicken thigh, sprinkling over some crisps, covering in a green algae like mixture and finally dressing in a strong vinegar. Peculiar experiences aside the food at Le Chef was certainly tasty and at last a true taste of Lebanon.

Refreshments

We were pretty addicted to two drinks whilst we were away: fresh lemon juice and fresh lemon juice with mint. Neither particularly rare I suppose, but both consistently available and very refreshing (although if you let the lemon and mint get too warm it tasted a bit like something you’d serve with your roast lamb).

Syrian/Allepo Sweets

Basically Baklava. A delicious end to any meal. I’m not sure of the technical difference to the Baklava we are accustomed to, but the Syrian version seemed to be more shortbready than the filo-pastry texture I’ve experienced before.

Naranj, Damascus

We very nearly didn’t eat here at all. But thanks to a minor cock-up with the airline we were gifted an extra day away and, therefore, the opportunity to eat amongst the hoi polloi in Damascus’ finest restaurant. This really was some of the best food we had on our trip and I’d recommend the restaurant to anyone visiting the area. It’s expensive by local standards but not more than you’d pay at Pizza Express.  We were introduced to Muhammara, a red pepper based dip with walnut and pomegranate mollasses – this is sure to  be a regular on our home menu and we’ve already made it twice since we got back. I also finally managed to try an Aleppo Kebab (I’d missed out on this in Aleppo due to suffering from a bout of, erm, let’s call it travellers’ sickness), which was basically a ground Lamb kebab in a rich, but subtle cherry sauce. As with a lot of Syrian food, your best bet is to order multiple dishes so that you can try a bit of each; sadly, travelling as a pair, I could never quite order as much as I wanted …

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