The Best of Beirut
on Mar 12, 2014 By Danielle Issa
Lebanon has been home to a sizeable Armenian community since the early 1900s, when they were forced to flee the persecution and massacre plaguing their homeland and seek shelter in neighboring countries.
An industrious and hard-working people, the Armenian diaspora in Lebanon also take their food very seriously. Armenian cuisine hosts a huge variety of salads and vegetarian recipes but also finds balance in delicious preparations of soups, meat dishes, and savory pastries. It is the love of a full table in good company, subtle and well-chosen elements, and the strength of the Mediterranean sun baked into each ingredient that truly define Armenian food.
Cultivate your senses and refine your culinary prowess with the wonders to be found at these Armenian gems in and around Beirut. Trust me: you’re in for a real treat.
Photo via Facebook
If you can look past aesthetics and a menu riddled with spelling mistakes in return for a truly outstanding meal, head to Onno in Bourj Hammoud. A very modest, small Armenian diner located under a bridge, Onno dishes up tasty authentic eats in generous portions for wallet-friendly prices. I swoon for their basterma with quail eggs (8,000 LL), which count half a dozen slices of tender, piquant air-dried beef folded gently beneath eggs served sunny-side up. It’s no wonder world-renowned gastronomy critic Anthony Bourdain praised Onno so warmly during his 2011 food adventure in Lebanon.
Aghagabios Street, Bourj Hammoud
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Seza is an adorable Armenian bistro making its home off of Armenia Street in Mar Mikhael, away from the ruckus known to beleaguer this noisy quartier.
Seza’s food, prepared by passionate homemakers, is a feast of traditional Oriental, Mediterranean, and Armenian flavors with a nod to the gourmet palate. Start with the itch, a dense salad of tomato, bulgur and parsley, which pairs nicely with Seza’s cumin-spiced lentil kufta, more familiar to Lebanese as kibbet 3adass.
Make your way to the sou beoreg, a savory millefeuille layered with hot, oozing cheese. To round up your meal, Seza will treat you to a dizzying array of custards like riz bi 7alib, mhallabieh, and meghleh.
Patriarch Arida Street
Mayrig has made a name for itself as an upscale Armenian stronghold which largely helped to popularize the cuisine among Lebanese foodies. Meaning “little mother” in Armenian, Mayrig will do just that to you - nourish your body and soul like a warm and loving matriarch.
The restaurant’s manti is extraordinary: a tray emerges brimming with tiny meat dumplings slathered in tomato sauce and plain yogurt and then dusted with sumac. For dessert, try the apricots stuffed with the clotted cream ashta as well as the Banirov cheese maamoul dipped in orange blossom syrup.
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Mayrig’s sister restaurant Batchig (whose meaning is similar to our Lebanese ba2oussi) opened a little less than a year ago in the Dbayeh area, not far from the Armenian Catholic diocese. The quality, freshness and taste of the cuisine are preserved, but it’s the casual atmosphere set inside a white modern interior as well as the more affordable price tag that distinguishes Batchig from Mayrig.
The fishna - which means cherry in Armenian - is hands down one of the best dishes. Call it the pièce de resistance, or the Armenian fatteh, this combination of kebab balls, crispy pita squares, plain yogurt, and sour cherry coulis is absolutely divine. Even those who are not usually fans of savory and sweet will melt at the delicious intermingling of these tastes.
1275 Kassis Street
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Onno stands Al Mayass, a positively charming and homey restaurant that is decked out in burgundy colors and a low cozy ceiling.
Established in 1996, Al Mayass has since expanded to numerous locations across the Gulf as well as an American bastion in New York. You’d be amiss if you skipped the hummus with soujouk, a creamy chickpea puree topped with fragrant cubes of fried Armenian sausage. The subeurek is a savory feast for your senses, layering warm, gushing cheese between two phyllo dough squares. If you’re thinking of foregoing dessert, don’t. The asmaliyeh is an incredible take on the traditional Lebanese pastry enrobed in ghazel el banet and orange-blossom nectar.
Photo via nogarlicnoonions.com
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista.
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