“Lebanese cuisine has two different faces – public and private,” explains Kamal Mouzawak, founder of Tawlet, a restaurant specialising in regional Lebanese food. The public face follows the standard restaurant format: salads and cold mezze, followed by hot mezze and finally, when you’re almost too full to move, platters of grilled lamb, kofte and spicy chicken shish taouk dipped in garlic sauce.
The private face of Lebanon’s cuisine is different; family recipes vary widely. Over the centuries Beirut has fallen prey to foreign occupiers and welcomed refugees, who have left their mark on its culinary landscape. Influences from Armenia, Syria, Turkey and Iran have helped to infuse its cuisine with the tastes of the Middle East, which meld with the French flavours of its colonial past.
Croissants come with a filling of za’atar, a blend of dried thyme and sesame; dishes like sayadieh – tender fish served on a base of rice and garnished with caramelised onions and pine nuts – are coming out of the kitchen and into restaurants. Times are changing; just as each Lebanese household prepares traditional dishes slightly differently, these days Beirut’s chefs play with their food.