Lebanon fosters exquisite cuisine ranging from a mezza of vegetarian dishes such as tabouleh, fattoush, and waraq ainab to delicious dips like hommos and moutabal.
Must haves include Lebanese barbeque such as shish tawouq (barbequed chicken) – usually consumed with garlic, lahm mashwiye (barbequed meat), and kafta (barbequed seasoned minced meat).
A full meal at a local restaurant can cost as little as LL22,500 depending on where you go, though more expensive options can also be found.
Lebanese “fast food” is also available as sandwiches offered in roadside shops, such as shawarma sandwiches (known in other countries as doner – or gyros in Greece). Shawarma is rolled in Lebanese thin bread. Various barbequed meat sandwiches are also available, and even things such as lamb or chicken spleen, brains, lamb bone marrow or lamb testicles can be served as sandwiches.
Breakfast usually consists of manaeesh which looks like a folded pizza, most common toppings being zaatar (a mixture of thyme, olive oil, sesame seeds), jebneh (cheese), or minced meat (this version is more properly referred to as lahm bi ajin).
Another traditional breakfast food is knefeh, a special kind of breaded cheese that is served with a dense syrup in a sesame seed bread. It is also served as dessert.
Lebanon is also very famous for its Arabic sweets which can be found at leading restaurants. The city of Tripoli, however, is considered to be “the” city for Lebanese sweets, and is sometimes even referred to as the “Sweet Capital” of Lebanon.
International food chains are widely spread across the country. Italian, French, Chinese, and Japanese cuisines, as well as cafe chains (such as Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc.), are particularly popular across the country, with a higher concentration in Beirut and the urban sprawl north of the capital.
Lebanon’s wines have an international reputation. Grapes have been grown since antiquity, and the vineyards, largely in the Bekaa Valley, produce the base wine for distillation into the national spirit Arak, which, like Ouzo, is flavoured with aniseed and becomes cloudy when diluted with water. Arak is the traditional accompaniment to Meze.
But the grapes have also historically been used to make wine. This used to be predominantly white and sweet, but the soldiers and administrators that came to administer the French mandate after World War I created a demand for red wine, and large acreages were planted especially with the Cinsault grape. Over the last 20 years these have been supplemented with the most popular international varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay.
Wineries often offer wine tasting and are very welcoming. The highly individual, old fashioned, Chateau Musar, is based at Ghazir, 25 km (15 miles) north of Beirut, and trucks in the grapes from Bekaa. In Bekaa itself, wineries include the large Kefraya, Ksara, the oldest winery of all, Massaya, a fashionable new producer in Tanail, and Nakad in Jdeita, which like Musar has stuck with an idiosyncratic old fashioned approach. Kefraya, in the West Bekaa region, also has a nice restaurant attached and the region is beautiful to pass through.