30 Best Lebanese Foods (with Pictures!)
If there is one thing everyone should know about the Lebanese, it is that they like to party, and eat!
Lebanese people are family oriented and value every meal as time spent together. No table is complete without Grandpa sitting at one end of the table and the eldest son or daughter sitting at the other. Every meal is a whole dining experience with its own set of entrees, main course, and dessert.
There is a recurring theme of garlic, lemon, fresh herbs, and high-quality olive oil in most foods, which will be looked at throughout this article.
Lebanese cooks make use of the quality ingredients that are grown in the Middle East to give every dish its own Lebanese twist. Some of these distinguishable flavors are za’atar, pine seeds (or snawbar), black olives, sumac, pomegranate molasses (debes alrumman), and many others.
The main meat is lamb, which is used in many different forms, and the distinguishable taste of its fat gives any dish the Middle Eastern twist it needs.
The freshness and quality of ingredients is highly valued. Most Lebanese people can chase their roots to a certain village in Lebanon, and many foods and ingredients they eat originate from these villages.
The beautiful villages in Lebanon are still well preserved, and you might see many houses with typical Lebanese architecture with easy access to the roof since villagers spend a lot of time in the sunny summer days drying fruits, herbs, and leaves to prepare what we call a “mounet” for the coming season. The mounet consists of pickled vegetables, olive oil, jams, preserved lamb (kawarma), dried herbs and fruits to maintain the flavors all year round.
Many of these foods are vegan since back in the old days people could not afford to buy meat. They employed their creativity, applying it to widely accessed beans and wheat, and came up with a whole culture packed with flavor.
Typical Lebanese Breakfast
As mentioned before, Lebanese people eat spread of food that can be shared with the family rather than one specific item. I will take you through the experience of a typical Lebanese breakfast spread from start to finish:
Manakish is the staple and most popular Lebanese breakfast for when you are on the go. It is a piece of dough rolled out into a circle and stuffed with cheese, za’atar, meat, keshek (fermented yogurt with tomato paste and sesame seedss), and many other ingredients in endless combinations. It is then wrapped as a sandwich and either stuffed with veggies, eaten on the side, or, if really late for work, on its own. Manakish can also be prepared in miniature bite-sized pieces for buffets and children’s birthday parties, providing a delicious and satisfying bite. When the dough is rolled out thin, it is now called “Sajj”, a crispy and more delicate version of manakish.
2. Foul Mdammas
Foul mdammas and balila are the main course of the Lebanese breakfast spread. Foul is cooked fava beans with lemon, cumin, and olive oil as the main flavors. It is usually eaten with traditional pita bread, red radish, mint leaves, tomatoes, and cucumbers on the side.
Balila is similar to foul but prepared with steamed chickpeas instead. It is served with the same sides as foul. Some people even mix both foul and balila. It is delicious either way. Both dishes are delicious filling vegan breakfasts that will not disappoint.
You go to the local grocery store and buy labneh, milk, and eggs. It is an ingredient that is always in stock in any home.
It is a form of strained yogurt that is served as a dip or spread, which is part of a typical Lebanese breakfast. Labneh is drizzled with olive oil and is mainly served with vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and olives. It is commonly eaten in bites or sandwiches. Labneh can also be part of lunch, where it is mixed with minced garlic, dried mint leaves, and some salt. This mix makes a delicious palette cleanser with a garlic twist.
These are not your typical eggs. Lebanese spreads include a variety of eggs served with the Lebanese touch. These eggs are usually served sunny side up in a fokhar (clay) frying pan fried with olive oil and seasoned with salt, pepper, and sumac.
Sumac provides the eggs with the iconic sour and flavorful kick. The fokhar frying pan gives the perfect level of heat that leaves the eggs with perfectly crispy edges and a runny yolk.
Traditional eggs are also made with kawarma, which is preserved lamb meat in its fat. In the fokhar frying pan, the meat is scooped out when the fat has melted from it. Eggs are then added and can be left sunny side up or scrambled. A fatty and filling meal accompanied with labneh to cleanse the palette afterwards.
Knafe is usually prepared in large trays layered with Akkawi cheese on the bottom and topped with semolina dough or phyllo dough. It is then soaked with kater (syrup flavored with rose water). It is served on bread (kaak) and soaked with even more kater. It is a sweeter (definitely not healthier) Lebanese breakfast. It is eaten as a dessert as well after lunch. It has a great combination of textures from the cheese, semolina dough, and kaak as well as a great flavor profile due to the combination of the sweet syrup and salty cheese.
Breakfast is usually finished off with a few bites of jam, starting the day on a sweet note.
Lebanese Lunch Dishes
8. Grill Mix
Also known as “mashewe”, this is the star of every Sunday family lunch. It consists of kebabs made from chicken (taouk) and kafta kebab. It is usually prepared on a charcoal grill, where some also add vegetables such as zucchini and eggplants. It is served with “mezza”, also known as Lebanese appetizers, that are served to compliment the cooked meats. The mezza consists of salads, dips, and finger foods.
9. Lebanese Hummus
The most famous Lebanese mezza is the hummus dip that is made from pureed chickpeas mixed with lemon juice and tahini. This delicious dip is topped with olive oil, roasted pine nuts, and sometimes meat cooked with pomegranate molasses. It is highly versatile and perfectly compliments the meat in the grilled mix.
Fattouch is a Lebanese salad that has a base of lettuce, radish, thyme leaves, green pepper, tomatoes, and cucumbers. What makes it special is the sauce that is made with lemon, oil, sumac, and pomegranate molasses. It is served with fried pita bread on top or toasted pita bread for a healthier option.
Tabbouleh is a finely chopped salad with a base of parsley and finely chopped tomatoes and onions and is another staple served next to hummus in a Lebanese spread. Its lemon-oil sauce seeps through and adds flavor to the rest of the items in your plate.
12. Kibbeh Nayye
Kibbeh nayye is not for the faint of heart. It is a dish consisting of minced raw lamb meat mixed with burgul and garnished with mint, olive oil, and green onions. Scooped with pita bread followed by a sip of Arak, kibbeh nayyeh is sure to make your taste buds do the dabke.
A bite sized, deep fried, crescent shaped pastry that packs a punch. Sambousek is constructed by stuffing a rich dough with ground meat, tomatoes, and onions. This Lebanese gem barely hits the table before the entire family has eaten every crumb.
Like the people of Lebanon, kebbe comes in all shapes and forms, but at heart it is made out of a combination of ground meat, onions, and grains. Whether in a pan or shaped as small balls, kebbe will always be the chef’s go to dish to feed a hungry family.
15. Batata Harra
Lebanese “French fries”, batata harra is cut into cubes and fried then seasoned with cilantro, garlic, lemon, and chilli flakes. This spicy dish has a more kid-friendly version that is not spicy, so as to satisfy everyone at the table
Shanklish is a fermented ball of cheese that has the same feel as blue cheese, but milder. It is crumbled apart and topped with fresh minced onions and tomatoes. It is then drizzled with olive oil and dried herbs. Shanklish is a refreshing appetizer that you can eat on its own with a piece of freshly baked pita bread.
Aside from the appetizers of the Middle East, there are many popular main course items that retain a Middle Eastern hint.
The popular falafel is a vegan patty made from different beans. It is traditionally fried in oil and served in a pita bread with tartar sauce, tomatoes, radish, and parsley. These golden nuggets are a go to if you’re stuck in traffic and craving a filling, delicious sandwich.
So simple yet so much more than the sum of its parts, mjaddara is based on lentils and rice, and topped with fried crispy onions. Mjaddara is the most convenient dish to make given its few and inexpensive ingredients, yet it is modified and served with a simple salad, making it also very versatile. Some people even eat it as a sandwich in pita bread.
19. Kousa Mehshe
The perfect meal for a cold winter day, kousa squashes richness into squash. It is zucchini cored and stuffed with rice, meat, and tomatoes. Kousa is cooked in a tomato-based broth that envelops every bite with depth and true Lebanese flavors.
20. Waraa Eenab
Waraa eenab or vine leaves are a personal favorite of mine, also known as “Lebanese sushi”. It is a filling of rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves. The filling is either prepared with meat or chickpeas for a more vegan friendly option. It is best eaten with a squeeze of lemon juice and a side of laban (yogurt).
21. Fattet Hummus
Fattet hummus is a similar dish to balila but mainly eaten at lunch. It has the balila base but is mixed with yogurt, garlic, some tahini, and mint leaves. It is best served hot with a dousing of pine nuts fried in olive oil. It is also topped with crispy pita bread.
Shawarma is a popular street food that is widely available on almost every corner. It is a quick, cheap, and on the go sandwich that will never disappoint. Its base is either chicken or meat shaved off of a vertical rotisserie into thin crispy strips packed with flavor. It is served on pita bread with a strong garlic paste spread on it. It is then topped with lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, and white onions sprinkled with sumac.
This set of sweets follow every meal along side different jams and seasonal fruits. The unique desserts are a sweet spot for every Middle Eastern abroad. Many of these desserts are also served on special occasions as celebratory delicacies.
Lebanese baklava is truly a labor of love in every single piece. A phyllo dough stuffed with nuts and drenched in a sugar sauce, then cut and formed into tiny different shapes that once baked create a unique experience from presentation to texture. Baklava is usually given as a gift on occasions such as graduations.
Meghle is made up of ground rice cooked and seasoned with coriander, cinnamon, and sugar. This dessert is usually served with shaved coconut flakes on top and different nuts such as pistachios and pine nuts. It is traditional to make meghle to celebrate the birth of a new healthy child and share it with the whole family to wish for health and success.
Both sfouf and namoura have a similar base of a unique sheet of cake cut into diamonds and topped with a halved almond and sesame seeds. Namoura is known for its unique color that is from the turmeric.
Namoura is similar to sfouf but instead of flour, semolina flour is used, and then drenched with hot kater. This sticky cake is a very delicious and very sweet dessert that is definitely a Lebanese favorite.
This delicious Middle Eastern dessert is a base of tahini and sugar that is baked to create this unique crumbly texture. Halva is popularly eaten on its own, with pistachios, walnuts, though recent variations are swirled with chocolate.
Alongside every meal, there are some traditional distilled and syrupy drinks that make the perfect accompaniment.
Arak is a distilled mix of anis and grape juice. It is highly alcoholic and not drunk on its own. Arak is usually drunk in a ratio of 1:1 Arak and water. When mixed, the clear liquid turn into a beautiful white drink that is best served in small portions packed with ice. there is nothing better than eating kebbe nay with Arak on a hot summer day, to supposedly clean out the bacteria in the raw meat. You will usually find Grandpa sneaking some diluted sweet Arak to the children to start to build up their alcoholic tolerance!
29. Sharab el Toor
Sharab el toot, also known as blackberry syrup, is a sweet and refreshing drink traditionally made in Lebanese villages. It is reduced, stored, and sold in bottles and jugs. It is a refreshing summer drink that is perfect in the afternoon with some biscuits and a sunset.
Jallab is also a syrup, this one made of carob, rose water, and dates and is prepared with water, crushed ice, and topped with pine nuts and pistachios. This delicious and sweet drink is also served on fresh snow at the beginning of the winter season. This is a drink you cannot resist, and definitely a unique taste you won’t have tasted before.
Everyone should definitely give some of these foods a shot at least once in their life. You definitely will not regret it. These meals are also perfect for vegans since most of them do not contain any meat or dairy products. Each meal is packed with a punch of flavor that is definitely not for the weak hearted. Happy eating or, as they say in Lebanon, sahten!