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Fusing spicy Arabic flavors with the colors and textures of Mediterranean cuisine, Lebanese food opens your palette to a world of fascinating flavors that get better with every bite.
Lining the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon’s climate, geography, and surrounding influences have all contributed to a cuisine rife with fresh vegetables, succulent meat, and powerful spices and juices.
Prepare for wide eyes and open jaws, as a native writer gives us unique insight into 17 traditional Lebanese foods you simply need to try.
Lebanese Mains & Appetizers
1 – Tabbouleh – Parsley Bulgur Salad
Tabbouleh is a unique Lebanese salad, made of fresh parsley and mint, a handful of bulgur, finely chopped tomatoes, and onions, with a drizzle lemon juice and olive oil.
It’s traditionally served with Lebanese mezze (a spread of appetizers) and is very popular to eat at all times of the day.
Over time, Lebanese have evolved this traditional dish, experimenting with versions that replace bulgar with quinoa and tomatoes with pomegranate seeds.
Tabbouleh is packed with fresh, delicious ingredients, and it has gained popularity in many other countries.
Fattoush is a rich, delicious salad, and another popular dish that can be served as part of the Lebanese mezze (spread of appetizers).
Traditionally, fattoush is a salad of lettuce, mint, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, and fried pita bread or pita chips.
It’s seasoned with a dash of lemon juice, olive oil, sumac, and pomegranate molasses! This creates a salad that’s fresh, filling, and packs a little punch.
In time, Lebanese people have experimented with fattoush salad, adding a wide range of different ingredients.
This delicious salad is enjoyed at both lunch and dinner, and it is a simple Lebanese food that’s definitely worth trying.
Read more: Fattoush Salad Recipe
Labneh is one of the most popular breakfast items that you can find in Lebanon.
Labneh is a variation of yogurt, made by straining the excess liquid from yogurt until you’re left with a firm, creamy white dip.
Its taste strikes a delicate balance between salty, tangy, and sour. It’s best served cold with olive oil and fresh olives.
Labneh is wildly popular in many Lebanese households. It can be eaten spread on pita bread, baguettes, or toast, finished with a sprinkle of herbs and thyme.
Labneh can also be mixed with garlic paste to make a thick, delicious Lebanese mezze spread, served for lunch.
There’s a variation of Labneh made from goat’s milk. Once strained, it’s dried out and rolled into balls, then stored in olive oil jars for an extra sour taste and a longer shelf life. It’s delicious!
Read more: Labneh Recipe
4 – Hummus – Chickpea Dip
Hummus is one of the most popular and beloved dishes from the Levantine region in the world.
Traditionally, hummus is a dip made of chickpeas, tahini paste, lemon juice, and a sprinkle of garlic.
It’s a delicious savory dish that can be eaten with so many foods. You can eat it as a side dish with grilled meat or chicken platters, dip raw or cooked vegetables in it, or spread it on many types of bread.
While the traditional recipe remains the most well-known, Lebanon is home to a wide range of different hummus varieties.
Some of the most popular hummus dishes include minced meat and onions, and hummus made with basil or beetroot.
Muhammara is a deep, rich roasted red pepper dip, packed with plenty of heat and flavor.
The word ‘muhammara’ is an Arabic expression, meaning to ‘turn red,’ hence the fiery red color of the dip.
It is made from fresh red peppers, which are first cooked and then ground into a paste with walnuts, breadcrumbs, and olive oil.
Garlic, salt, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and sometimes spices like cumin, are also added to add more flavor.
Muhammara is another common mezze dish. It’s eaten as a dip, like Hummus.
Lebanese also enjoy it spread on bread or toast, or as a sauce for kebabs, grilled meats, and fish.
Read more: Muhammara Recipe
6 – Manakish or Man’ouche – Breakfast Dough Topped with Thyme, Cheese, or Ground meat
Manakish or Man’ouche is a famous Lebanese breakfast, found across Lebanon at local bakeries and restaurants.
Man’ouche is similar to an Italian pizza. It’s made from dough, mixed with thyme and olive oil, that’s rolled and spread into an thin, oval shape.
Once the dough base is ready, you can load it with a wide range of toppings. Popular choices include cheese mixes, labneh, kechek (dried yogurt), fresh vegetables, and many more.
Finally, it’s cooked in an open oven at high heat, until the toppings melt and cook, and the dough has a fluffy interior, and crunchy edge.
It can be served sliced or folded, and eaten either for breakfast or for lunch.
You can’t visit Lebanon without trying this wonderfully crunchy snack, loaded with aromatic thyme and plenty of cheese. It’s a Lebanese food for the people.
7 – Lahm Bi Ajin or Sfiha – Lebanese Meat Pizza
There are many forms of Lahm bi Ajin in Lebanon, depending on the region you are in.
Lahm Bi Ajin is very similar to Man’ouche, in that it utilizes a hearty, crunchy dough-base.
Lahm Bi Ajin however are smaller, and circular in shape. It’s topped with a mixture of minced meat, onions, and parsley, then cooked in an open oven until crunchy.
Lahm Bi Ajin can also be cut into squares. This variation is known as “Sfiha”.
Lahm Bi Ajin are best served with yogurt, as it balances out the flavors and it makes for an exceptional and tasty Lebanese dish.
8 – Kaak – Lebanese Purse Bread
Kaak or Kaake is a type of flatbread dough. It’s rolled into oval pieces, and baked at a high heat over an open flame until crispy on the outside.
Once cooked, it’s sprinkled with sesame seeds. This enhances the taste, and it intensifies the crispy texture.
Some call it Lebanese Purse Bread, as it often resembles the shape of a purse, due to the hole formed at the top to hang it while cooling it.
It is a very common street food in Lebanon. Traditionally, it’s enjoyed topped with a generous helping of cheese and thyme.
Perfect to eat on the go, it’s enjoyed at all times of the day. As Lebanese foods go, it’s one of the most popular.
9 – Chanklich, Shanklish or Surke – Aged Cheese
Chanklich is a very common dish part of the Lebanese mezze. Its prime ingredient is cow’s milk or sheep’s milk.
Chaklich is made by drying out the milk, then rolling it into small balls. These balls are covered with herbs, thyme, or hot peppers.
Finally, the dish is left to age and mature, until ready to eat.
Chanklich can be found in many Levantine countries, each with their own way of preparing it.
In Lebanon, chanklich is commonly served with a salad of chopped onions, tomatoes, and a generous helping of olive oil.
It’s a true delicacy, and a delicious mezze dish that’s ideal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
10 – Foul, Balila, Mssabaha – Beans & Chickpeas
Comprising of three core dishes, this Lebanese specialty is served in restaurants and enjoyed at family gatherings and celebrations.
Foul is a form of red bean that can be cooked with or without whole chickpeas.
It’s served with olive oil and vegetables such as onions, radish, mint, and olives. It’s best eaten warm with pita bread.
Balila is a delicious dish of mashed chickpeas mixed with butter and olive oil, then fried with pined nuts, tahini paste, and minced garlic.
Lastly, Mssabaha, meaning “swimming” in English, is a dish of cooked chickpeas, stewing in their own water and juices. It’s eaten with olive oil, lemon juice, and pita bread.
Combined, these three dishes make a decadent and fulfilling authentic Lebanese breakfast.
If you’re lucky enough to try some Lebanese home cooking, you’ll likely see these dishes served in unique signature brown bowls, found in most Lebanese households.
11 – Kebbe or Kibbeh – Spiced Meat Balls
Kibbeh is Lebanon’s national dish. Essentially, Kibbeh is spiced ground meat mixed with bulghur wheat.
Hundreds of variations of Kibbeh exist, with different Lebanese families and regions all having their own take on this spicy dish.
North Lebanon is known for Kebbe Zghertawiye, which sees the spiced meat rolled into a large ball, filled with spices and liquid fat, and cooked at high heat.
Kebbe can also be made into small cone-like shapes, fried or baked. This is the type of Kebbe you’ll typically see served mostly served as Lebanese mezze
In addition, Lebanese are also famous for eating raw Kebbe, meat fresh from the butcher, with white onions, mint leaves, and garlic.
12 – Shawarma – Meat or Chicken Slices
Lebanese Shawarma is very similar to the Turkish Doner and the Greek Gyros. It’s eaten throughout the country, and it is one of Lebanon’s most sought-after street foods.
Shawarma itself refers to the meat, not the sandwich. It consists of thinly cut slices of beef, chicken, lamb, and other meats, stacked in a large cone shape, roasted slowly for overs on a vertical rotisserie.
Once the meat is ready, it’s served in pita bread sandwiches with fries, lettuce, onions, and hummus, tarator (tahini paste), or garlic paste.
Shawarma sandwiches are a must-try Lebanese food. They are perfect to eat as a snack or as a lunch to-go.
13 – Falafel – Deep-Fried Chickpeas or Fava Beans Balls & Patties
One of Lebanon’s most famous street foods, falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both.
Street food vendors throughout Lebanon, particularly in Beirut, serve falafel as a specialty.
Falafel is best served in pita bread sandwiches with vegetables and tarator, which is a tahini paste mixed with lemon juice.
It’s considered by many to be a vegan dish, hence it is a great way for vegetarians and vegans to get various nutrients found in red and white meats.
Falefel is high in protein and very filling. Because of this, it’s commonly eaten during Lent.
14 – Knefe or Kanafeh – Sweet Cheese Semolina Pastry
Knefe is a sweet dessert, made of thin noodle shaped pastry mixed with semolina dough. It’s layered with a type of sweetened white cheese, called Achta cream.
Knefe is made on a large round tray in Lebanese sweet shops. It’s served in in a small Kaake, which is a flatbread dough topped with sugar syrup.
It’s best served piping hot, allowing the sweetness of the dough and the syrup to mix with the melting cheese.
It’s a delicious and very decadent Lebanese dessert that is usually served for breakfast, celebrations, and festivities.
15 – Halewit El Jeben – Sweet Cheese Rolls
Halewit El Jeben means “Sweetness of Cheese” in English; a wonderful name for a truly wonderful dessert.
This famous Lebanese cheese dish is loved throughout the country. You can easily find it at Lebanese dessert shops.
The dish is made of semolina and cheese dough, filled with Ashta cream. It’s either served rolled as small rolls or in small rope-like shapes, covered with Ashta.
Before serving, Halewit El Jeben is decorated with crushed pistachios and a rose petal jam.
It’s commonly eaten with sugar syrup and orange blossom or rose water. It’s a magical, cheesy treat for anyone who loves their desserts both sweet and sour.
16 – Namoura or Basbousa – Semolina Cake
Namoura is a sweet and filling Lebanese dessert, also known as Basbousa in many regions of the Levantine.
The cake base is a mixture of sugar, semolina, and butter. Before baking, it’s spread in a big round tray and topped with almonds.
Once baked, it’s topped with aromatic sugar. Finally, it’s cut out into diamond shape slices, and it’s served by piece with sugar syrup.
Namoura is served all year round. It’s enjoyed throughout many religious festivities, especially during the month of Ramadan.
Some Lebanese like the texture to be crispy, while others prefer it fluffy and soaked in sugar syrup.
Either way, it’s a soothing and wholesome dessert, best eaten with a hot cup of Lebanese coffee.
17 – Maamoul – Sweet Stuffed Cookies
Maamoul is a traditional cookie made from semolina dough, stuffed with different fillings such as dates, nuts, pistachios, or walnuts, and then baked in the oven.
In some modern recipes, Maamoul is filled with fig jam or even Nutella.
This special dessert is often made during major religious holidays in Lebanon such as Easter or Eid Al Fitr as well as for big family gatherings.
It is also made for festive lunches and for big family gatherings, so that family and friends can all enjoy this delicious dessert together.
Lebanese Food Summary
Lebanon is a proud and passionate nation, with traditions dating back centuries. It’s no surprise such care and craft has gone into the food of this beautiful country.
Being within the Mediterranean basin naturally blesses you with warm climates, ideal for growing ripe, juicy fruit, and vegetables.
Many of the foods and flavors that make the Mediterranean diet so iconic are present, including olive oil, lemon, and seafood.
From there, Lebanon’s unique geography means it is surrounded by some of the world’s most beloved cuisines, all influencing the food of this country in some way.
North African, Levant, Middle-Eastern, and Asian influence have all found their way into Lebanese food in a variety of ways.
Hence, you a cuisine that’s alive and exploding with herbs, spices, juices, bringing heat, spice, zest, and warmth to the table in abundance.
Lebanese food is one of the lesser-known gems of Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. From vibrant colors to intense flavors, there’s so much to get excited about.
So, before we leave Lebanon, one last time here’s the full list of all the foods we looked at in this article.
Be sure to keep this list of Lebanese foods in a safe place. That way, when you visit, you can ask to try one or more of these delicious dishes.
- Tabbouleh – Parsley Bulgur Salad
- Fattoush – Pita Salad
- Labne – Creamy Yoghurt Spread
- Hummus – Dip
- Muhammara – Roasted Red Pepper Dip
- Manakish or Man’ouche – Breakfast Dough Topped with Thyme, Cheese, or Ground meat
- Lahm Bi Ajin or Sfiha – Lebanese Meat Pizza
- Kaak – Lebanese Purse Bread
- Chanklich, Shanklish or Surke – Aged Cheese
- Foul, Balila, Mssabaha – Beans & Chickpeas
- Kebbe – Spiced Meat Balls
- Shawarma – Meat or Chicken Slices
- Falafel – Deep-Fried Chickpeas or Fava Beans Balls & Patties
- Knefe – Sweet Cheese Semolina Pastry
- Halewit El Jeben – Sweet Cheese Rolls
- Namoura – Semolina Cake
- Maamoul – Sweet Stuffed Cookies
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Keen to try some of these traditional Lebanese foods in the near future? Keep this article in a safe place by saving it to one of your food or travel Pinterest boards.
Contributor: Maya Ghorayeb is a translator, copywriter, and digital marketer from Beirut. She is passionate about Lebanese culture and cuisine, and shares insight and recipes through her writing.