Lebanese cuisine is one of the most diverse and rich culinary traditions in the world, with influences from various cultures and civilizations that have shaped the history of Lebanon. From the ancient Phoenicians, to the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, and French, Lebanese cuisine has absorbed and adapted different flavors, ingredients, and techniques, creating a unique and distinctive gastronomic identity.
The cuisine is characterized by the use of fresh fruits and vegetables. Cereals, legumes and nuts are a crucial part of most of the dishes prepared, while herbs and spices give the exotic touch we recognize when eating Lebanese food. The fat used for most of the recipes is olive oil, and proteins are often yogurt, cheese, and meat such as chicken and lamb. The variety of mezze, small dishes that are served as appetizers or snacks, often accompanied by bread, such as pita or manakish, are the perfect definition of what Lebanese cuisine can be. Some of the most famous mezze are creamy hummus and baba ghanoush, the fresh tabbouleh with parsley as the main ingredient, the bready fattoush or kibbeh, croquettes made of bulgur and meat, not to mention the worldwide famous falafels.
Lebanese cuisine has also influenced and been influenced by other Mediterranean cuisines, especially those of Syria, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Morocco. Think about olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, onion, mint, parsley, coriander, cumin, sumac, tahini, rice, bulgur, lentils, chickpeas, eggplant, cucumber, yogurt, honey, nuts, dried fruits. How many different cuisines can you find these elements combined differently in? Some of the dishes that have a similar origin or version are dolma, the stuffed grape leaves, shawarma or kebab, the sweet baklava or the iconic couscous with hundreds of different varieties.
The contemporary Lebanese cuisine is a reflection of the dynamic and creative spirit of the Lebanese people. It is constantly evolving and experimenting with new ingredients and methods. It also incorporates influences from other cuisines around the world. For example, some of the popular dishes in modern Lebanon are pizza manakish, a flatbread topped with cheese and tomato sauce, or shish taouk, pieces of chicken kebab marinated in yogurt and spices. Mains like minced meat with parsley and onion called kafta and the delicate sayadieh which is fish with rice and caramelized onion. Finally the desserts and sweets like kanafeh, a cheese pastry soaked in sugar syrup and maamoul made with dates or nuts.
One of the best ways to taste the best of the contemporary Lebanese cuisine when travelling is to join a culinary cooking class in Lebanon. This is a fun and interactive way to learn about the history and culture of Lebanon through its food while getting to experience the hospitality and generosity of the Lebanese people. Imagine starting your class by visiting a local market or farm where you will buy fresh and organic ingredients. Then you will go to a kitchen where you will learn how to prepare a traditional or modern Lebanese menu under the guidance of a professional chef learning everything you can about the spices and herbs and all the other ingredients that are essential for this particular cuisine.
Have you ever taken a cooking class during one of your trips? What do you think a tourist who decides to learn the secrets of the local cuisine is looking for?
Share your thoughs or click here for more information.