5 Must-Haves From Beirut's Booming Vegan Street Food Scene
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because plant-based dishes are actually the bedrock of Lebanese cuisine.
By Danielle Issa
Every tourist will readily admit that the most memorable — and adventurous — meals are the ones you come by in the street. That’s no exception in Beirut: No matter what city alley or seaside corniche you explore, you’re bound to be greeted with wafting aromas of good food. Beyond meat shawarma wraps and chicken taouk sandwiches, there’s actually a plethora of delicious and satisfying grub to whet every vegan appetite. Heck, even if you’re not vegan, you’ll want in on these savory meatless munchies.
Every neighborhood boasts a furn baking quintessential Lebanese pizzas, served in either folded or rolled-up format. According to owner Toni Beaino at Furn Beaino, a bakery that’s thrived for over four decades in Greater Beirut, the two criteria for excellent manakish are high-quality flour and zaatar, a Levantine blend of dried thyme, sumac and sesame seeds. Zaatar is mixed with oil and spread across the dough before being fired into the oven. It’s then topped with mint leaves, olives, tomato and cucumber for a burst of freshness. Manakish zaatar sell for around LBP 1,500 ($1).
Soaked overnight in water before being boiled to a tender core, broad beans are dressed up with a drizzle of olive oil, ripe tomatoes, fresh parsley and spring onions. Lap it all up with pita and it’ll stick to your ribs, keeping you sated all day. Head to Abou Abdallah in Baouchriye for a piping-hot bowl for LBP 7,000 ($4.70).
There’s nothing comparable to delicious Lebanese seasoned roasted nuts — Aleppan pistachios, roasted chickpeas, smoked almonds and crunchy coated peanuts (kri kri), sometimes powdered with zaatar, chili or curry spices. Numerous shops like Al Andalous in Tripoli and Halabi in Jal el Dib sell them by the gram (about $1.30 for 200g). You can also find commercial varieties sold in individually portioned packages in mini-marts and megastores.
Corn and lupine
Pace the seaside promenade or stop at any major roundabout like Mkalles and Dora and you’re bound to bump into vendors selling boiled ears of corn dusted with cumin. Another option: snacking on pickled lupine beans, taking care to spit out the skins just as the locals do. These snacks will set you back a thousand or two liras (67 cents—$1.33).
Fatayer spenigh or fatayer sele’
Particularly popular during the Lenten season but available year-round at bakeries, these triangular turnovers are stuffed with a mélange of either boiled spinach or Swiss chard, onions, sumac, a squeeze of lemon and olive oil. They often figure into the classic Lebanese meze in bite-size format, but to fill up, you’ll want the jumbo edition sold in bakeries. Chef Hassan Akkary of Pizza Please pizzeria in Jal el Dib claims the perfect fatayer are all about balance: not too acidic of a filling, and not too greasy of a dough.
More Vegan Options
Kibbet laktine: You might recognize kibbeh as the Lebanese national dish. Pumpkin kibbeh is a vegan variation on the original, typically featuring spinach with chickpeas inside a bulgur-based dough.
Falafel: Sometimes stigmatized as the food of paupers, fried falafel balls comprise fava beans, chickpeas and cumin. Line them inside Arabic pita before slathering with tahini and garnishing with pickled horseradish, parsley and tomatoes.
Sandwich batata: Looking to overload on carbs? Here’s a genuinely Lebanese thought: roll a handful of fries inside pita bread. Add creamy coleslaw, generous heaps of aioli, ketchup and pickles.
Sandwich arnabit: Akin to the sandwich batata, this wrap substitutes fried potato spears with cauliflower buds. Dress with tarator, a dip of tahini, lemon juice and garlic.
Cocktail sheqaf: These fresh fruit cocktails contain cubed fruit, fruit puree, fruit coulis and slivered almonds.
- Danielle Issa, OZY Author Contact Danielle Issa