A Taste of the Mediterranean Through Lebanese Cuisine

In a darkened theater the crowd sits listless. Sure the credits are already rolling but still we must wait. It was the end of Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) and though the film’s action and adventure may have been enough to leave us stunned, it was a promise that left us in those seats, minutes after the final scene. The promise of a final credit scene, a coda, if you will, to which all loyal Marvel fans have become accustomed. Finally, after hundreds if not thousands of scrolling names, the blinding white blurs of the under appreciated and under recognized, there it was! The masterpiece we were all waiting for, the hero squad of mutated misfits, Norse gods, and a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist,” chowing down on shawarma in a war-battered shop after a hard day of fighting off an alien force from destroying the whole of Manhattan. All in a day’s work, I suppose.

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Cut to my car ride home and my friends eagerly asking me, their only Lebanese friend, where they, too, could get their hands on some of the tasty shaved meat wrap that they had seen their favorite heroes so readily devouring. It was the first time I had seen my friends and others around me take to something I had previously only experienced within my own family and culture, but it certainly wasn’t the last. Since then, there has been an explosion of Lebanese cuisine and food culture in the United States. From shawarma to mezzahs, the flavors of the Mediterranean coast have moved out west and it’s a beautiful thing.

Whilst strolling down the cobble-stone streets of the nation’s capitol, Beirut, a stop at any of the number of restaurants is hardly ever just a quick stop. As in most countries outside of the United States, food is much more than just a necessity in Lebanon, it is a way of life. So when planning a visit, first and foremost, plan on eating a ton, so pace yourself. There may often be several courses so attempting to eat the entirety of your first meal would leave you hard-pressed to find any room left for the remaining dishes. One of the most common “meals” you may experience, however, and one which is finding its way to the U.S., is what’s called a mezzah. A mezzah can include a variety of different things but it is often a spread of small plates of tabbouleh (a parsley and burghul salad), olives, humous, dates, za’atar, haloumi cheese, labneh (a thick yoghurt), and bread. Like the Middle Eastern version of the Spanish style tapas, a mezzah is meant to be shared and enjoyed by a group of people as they eat, smoke the nargilé (hookah), and discuss the day’s events. They pass around the food, the pipe, and even a maté gourd, an Argentinian tradition brought to the Middle East, it’s a culture of sharing, of community, one which permeates every crevice of their society and a tradition we are happily embracing in our own.

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Where to Go

You don’t have to book a trip to the Middle East, however, just like the heroes of the Marvel universe, you, too, can indulge in classic Lebanese flavors right at home.

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Zéytoon Café

412 North Coast Hwy – Laguna Beach, CA 92651 | www.zeytooncafe.com

Zétoon Café is a Mediterranean bistro which carries a wide range of Lebanese classics. Manaeesh, a typical Lebanese street food, is a great choice for classic pizza lovers as it’s a flatbread with a za’atar (oregano and thyme) and olive oil spread on top. The stuffed grape leaves are also a staple of the Lebanese mountain region and is a delicious option for vegetarians and as an appetizer.

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Open Sesame

5215 E 2nd St – Long Beach, CA 90803 | www.opensesamecafe.com

Hey, if it was good enough for Thor, God of Thunder, then it must be good enough for us right? Open Sesame has a choice of chicken or beef shawarma so that you can experience the flavors of the Middle East like an Avenger. As an “Authentic Lebanese” cuisine, Open Sesame has all of the dishes to take you to the salt-filled air and cobble-stoned streets of Beirut.

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Super King Market

10500 Magnolia Ave – Anaheim, CA 92804 | www.superkingmarkets.com

If you want to get all of the ingredients to make your own mezzah, take a visit to Super King Market in Anaheim. From haloumi cheese, to grape leaves, to hookahs, Super King Market has everything you need to host your own Lebanese-inspired gathering.

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