Friday, July 6, 2007

Beirut in Bangkok

Baba ghanouj… tabouleh...arais… fatouche… exotic names of everyday ethnic dishes from a city referred as the “Paris of the East”, Beirut in its glory days. Lebanon stirs up images of snow-capped mountains and vibrant sunny beaches and a mixture of cultures being at the gateway to the east. Situated at the eastern most side of the Mediterranean, it sits as a melting pot of European, Asian and Northern African influences. Similarities between most of the Middle Eastern countries to Greece and Italy, down to Egypt and Morocco cannot be denied. Lebanese food takes all the delicateness and sophistication of the West and the rich and simple flavors of the East.

Lebanese cuisine has been tagged since the biblical times as a staple food from nature’s garden. The fertile land provided fresh produce to each household and the changing seasons have dictated what food is served on the table. Its cookery has evolved through generations but remained to be the quintessence of the “Mediterranean Diet”. It has the abundance of vegetables, herbs & spices, poultry and hefty amounts of olive oil. Red meat is used sparingly, and usually lamb is the choice. Most often foods are grilled, baked or sautéed in olive oil. Mezze, a selection of appetizers of olives, cheeses, pickles and vegetables in season, starts the healthy and balanced meal.

Beirut Restaurant (Ploenchit Center B/Fl Sukhumvit Soi 2, Tel: 02 6567377) has been serving an assortment of dishes as true as it can to its origin. The setting is simple, typical of Mediterranean seaside place with beige brick tone. Owner and chef, Hussein Eydie, says “…our food should not only be delicious but healthy”. Bulgur (crushed wheat) is one of the base ingredients he uses aside from spices like sumack, dry thyme and shawarma spices from Lebanon, and of course garlic and onion. Nine years in the business, only his restaurant and neighbor Villa Market remains constant in the complex.

“Bread is a main component of a meal, that’s why we make our own pita bread fresh daily”. Served warm it can also double as a utensil to scoop up mezze such as; hummus, a blend of chickpeas, tahina (sesame pureè), olive oil and garlic topped with pine nuts (90B); rolled vine leaves from Lebanon stuffed with rice, vegetable and olive oil, simmered slowly for 3 hours in its own juices, eaten warm or cold (180B); falafel, deep fried vegetable patties of chickpeas, fava beans, onion, garlic, parsley, coriander with tahina sauce (140B); tabouleh, parsley salad with burgul, diced tomato, mint and olive oil (90B); and motabel, baked eggplant pureé with sesame paste and lemon juice (90B).

Kebbeh, being the national dish of Lebanon can be served in many forms, grilled, fried, stuffed and like a steak tartar. It is an emulsified paste of the freshest lamb and burgul wheat similar to a paté. In the past, it is made by pounding and kneading the meat, but now it can be done easier with a food processor. Try their grilled kebbeh with mushroom, onion and sweet green pepper (160B), a very flavorful dish. Shawarma of grilled chicken or beef is a popular choice. The ample-sized kitchen has rotisseries, and pieces of meat are carved out and served either rolled in pita bread (60-70B) or separately on a plate of mixed grills with fried potatoes and bread (220B). Special dishes that constantly change are in the menu and a varied choice of vegetarian dishes.

Traditionally in the Gulf and Mediterranean area, the late morning starts with mezze & chai (tea with mint leaves or milk) or coffee; while lunch time is around 2-4 pm, so Hussein opens his place from 10 am-10pm. Guests drop all throughout the day, maybe for a serving of arais, 2 pita breads stuffed and grilled with cheese or meat (140B). It is their pizza version that is great for a snack or a light meal. Each meal always has a complimentary plate of pickles, fresh cucumber, spring onions, chili and mint; with 3 different dips of tahina, garlic mousse (my favorite!) and chili.

A meal always ends with a nice cup of strong Lebanese coffee flavored with cardamom (50B). To complement the thick black coffee is a qatayef, puff pastry stuffed with crushed pistachio nuts and laced with honey (90B). The menu also has an array of fresh dessert, usually milk based like custard crèmes.

Arak, a clear aniseed-flavored liqueur similar to the French pastis, is the favored drink in Lebanon. Served in a demi-glass, a swig is poured and 2/3 water is added as it turns to an opaque color. The taste is a potent herbal spice and does take out the garlic breath. Hussein adds, “I recommend arak to accompany dinner since it is quite strong, then after they enjoy the meal with arak, I send them home!” With that said, I can see happy faces of diners walking away.

June Sauer


Lag said...

Very good food. Nice Houmous.

Anonymous said...

Hi June,
You should try this new place in BAngkok: HomeMade-Cheese Co.

It is a Boutique cheese factory in Bangkok making premium quality products, like cottage cheese, feta cheese, quark cheese, yogurt, Hummus and more.

just contact them to order and they do home delivery.


Beirut Bkk said...

It was AWESOME! ate there last night!