Lebanese cuisine is one of the world’s best-kept secrets. Although you can find Lebanese restaurants across the United States, the delicious dishes of this Middle Eastern country don’t get nearly as much attention as they deserve.
Sharing similarities with the culinary traditions of Greece, Turkey, and the surrounding Middle Eastern nations, Lebanese cuisine is satisfying and colorful. With many barbecued meat and vegetable dishes, it can also be quite healthy. Don’t get us wrong, though—there are some comfort foods in there if you’re looking to indulge.
Keep reading to find out 10 Lebanese dishes you'll fall in love with.
10 The Lebanese Answer To Gyros: Shawarma
Lebanese food shares many similarities with Greek cuisine and Turkish cuisine. Where Turkey has the kebab and Greece has gyros, Lebanon has shawarma. This marinated meat is slow-roasted on a spit for hours and hours until it is juicy and tender.
When it’s ready, the meat is carved and served inside a flatbread. The bread is then stuffed with a variety of fresh vegetables to balance out the flavors. Just like in gyros, you may get lettuce, onion, tomato, cucumber, or parsley. Shawarma is also served with sauces such as garlic yogurt and dips such as hummus.
9 Filled Pastries: Sambousik
The Lebanese mezze spread often contains finger food that you eat to entice the appetite before the main meal. One of the most typical mezze dishes is sambousik: a pastry that can be filled with meat, cheese, or both. The type of cheese that usually fills these pastries might be halloumi or something similar.
You will mostly find lamb inside these pastries in Lebanon, but elsewhere other meats can be used. The pastries are baked or fried to crispy perfection and are flavored with onions, herbs, spices, and pine nuts.
8 Creamy Dips: Hummus And Baba Ghanoush
Hummus needs no introduction. This chickpea-based dip is a staple in Lebanese cuisine and is often served as an accompaniment to meats and flatbreads. Often, hummus will come served drizzled with oil for an extra layer of flavor and a silky texture.
The lesser-known cousin of hummus is baba ghanoush, a dip that is similarly made from tahini. The difference between these two is that while hummus is made from chickpeas, baba ghanoush is an eggplant-based dip that might be topped with pomegranate. Both of these need to be on your must-try list during any trip to Lebanon.
7 Lebanese Pizza: Manakish
And you thought pizza was Italian. Well, traditional pizza might be Italian, but the Lebanese have their own variation that is pretty darn delicious. Allow us to introduce you to manakish, the breakfast pizza that you’ll be obsessed with.
This dish features flatbread that’s topped with spices such as thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac. The combination of these spices, along with oregano and marjoram, is known as za’atar. The pizza is also flavored with olive oil and is a popular breakfast dish to have on the go while on vacation in Lebanon.
6 Fresh Salad: Tabbouleh
The Lebanese are very skilled at creating meat dishes that melt in your mouth but they are also fantastic at salads. One of the most famous Lebanese salads is tabbouleh. The main ingredient is parsley, though it also features diced tomatoes, mint, onion, and bulgur wheat. It is seasoned with olive oil, lemon, and salt.
The other salad that you’ll fall in love with in Lebanon, as well as in countries such as Syria, is fattoush. This salad contains mixed greens and tomatoes but the star of the show is the fried bread that acts as croutons. Delicious!
5 Barbecued Skewers: Kafta
One of the more famous dishes that is found readily in Lebanon is kafta (or kofta). These meatballs or meat patties are either made from lamb, beef, or chicken. They are packed with spices that make them super tasty, as well as herbs such as parsley. Typically, they also contain breadcrumbs to balance out the strong flavor of the meat.
Kafta are traditionally barbecued, giving them a distinct flavor. More often than not, they will be served on skewers along with some kind of salad and flatbread. No Lebanese barbecue is complete without them.
4 A Middle Eastern Classic: Rice Pilaf
A lot of the dishes that you’ll find in Lebanon can also be found right across the Middle East. One of the most beloved dishes from the Middle East that acts as a staple in many culinary traditions is rice pilaf. The rice is cooked in a stock or broth and is then combined with vegetables and sometimes meat.
In Lebanon, rice pilaf is often served as an accompaniment to Lebanese meat dishes. It may also contain fried vermicelli noodles to give an extra crunch that becomes very addictive after a while.
3 Raw Beef: Kibbeh Nayeh
Don’t knock this one until you’ve tried it. The beef tartare of Lebanon, kibbeh nayeh is essentially raw meat that is blended with other tasty ingredients to make it delicious. Often, you’ll find that it comes with pureed onion and other spices as well as bulgur wheat, which is also popular in other Lebanese dishes.
Traditionally, kibbeh nayeh isn’t eaten with a knife and fork, but with flatbread and your fingers. It is also sometimes served with fresh vegetables. Although that doesn’t sound appealing to a lot of people, it really is quite tasty.
2 Yogurt Drink: Ayran
Yogurt serves as a staple ingredient in Lebanese cuisine and often goes into many of the country’s classic dishes. It is also the main ingredient in a refreshing drink known as Ayran. While this drink is readily found across the Middle East, you won’t be able to miss it in Lebanon.
The drink is made by combining milk and fresh curd. For flavor, chopped garlic and salt are added. Typically, this drink is served with ice and is often sought after on a hot summer’s day. It is sugar-free and deliciously creamy.
1 Lebanese, Not Greek: Baklava
Baklava may be one of the most misunderstood desserts on the planet. Although this sweet is often credited to the Greeks, it’s actually a Lebanese invention, according to Spoon University. If you like your sugar, then you’ll love this one.
Filo pastry is layered with assorted nuts, such as pistachios and walnuts, butter, and either honey or syrup. It is then baked until it's crunchy and golden.
Today you can find baklava all over the world, but nobody makes it quite like the Lebanese do. Sometimes served in cylindrical shapes that resemble a cigar, Baklava can also be served in triangular slabs.