A View From Abroad: 7 Ways Lebanon is a Step Ahead of U.S. on Food Trends

Greetings from Lebanon.

I’m here on vacation with my family.  It’s been three years since we’ve made the trip. We’re having a great time with my husband’s family — visiting the sites and eating tremendous food everywhere we go.

One thing that struck me during this year’s visit was how certain food trends in the U.S. are just a part of life here.  You think savory yogurt is big right now?  Well that’s how they’ve been eating lebneh in Lebanon for years.  It’s almost always combined with olives, mint and other savory ingredients than anything sweet.

You know how cauliflower is currently upstaging kale as the “it” vegetable?  Well, cauliflower has been a mainstay on Lebanese tables for many, many years — often fried until crisp and served with a tahini sauce.

Here’s a look at 7 popular food trends and some of the ways they’re translated here in Lebanon:

SAVORY YOGURT


Greek yogurt is all the rage back home, but lebneh is a thick, strained yogurt that you need to get to know.  It’s a staple in Lebanese cuisine, especially at breakfast.  And just like savory yogurt is on trend in the U.S., that’s the only way lebneh is eaten in Lebanon.  It’s often combined with olives, mint, zaatar, olive oil and other savory ingredients (and eaten with bread).  You won’t find it combined with sugary fruits like we tend to eat yogurt in the U.S.  The photo below is the lebneh with olives that was served at a breakfast buffet at our hotel Dar Alma in the ancient southern city Tyre.  You’ll also find yogurt as an ingredient in many main dishes in Lebanon.

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PICKLED VEGETABLES

Pickling and fermentation are high on the list of 2015 U.S. food trends, and finally people are beginning to realize that “pickles” can be made with a lot more vegetables than the classic cucumber. These bright pink pickled turnips (colored by beet juice) have been on trend in Lebanon for hundreds of years.  A table filled with mezze isn’t complete without a plate of  pickled turnips, known as lift.

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PLANT-BASED MEALS

While the U.S. is now fascinated by plant-based meals, and legumes are getting lots of love (except for strict Paleo followers), Lebanon has long enjoyed falafel — perhaps the world’s first veggie burger made with ground chickpeas.  I just can’t get enough falafel here! Here’s a falafel sandwich I enjoyed this week in Byblos (with pickled turnips, parsley and tahini sauce), along with a video I took of falafel being fried in the old souks in the southern city of Saida.

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CAULIFLOWER

We know cauliflower is enjoying its day in the sun in the U.S. — taking over some of the spotlight from kale.  They’ve always eaten a lot of cauliflower here in Lebanon. Here’s a dish of fried cauliflower we had in Saida, along with sliced eggplant.  Both were eaten with a squeeze of lemon or tahini sauce.

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NUTS

We’ve only recently gotten over our fear of fat in the U.S. and nuts are experiencing a renaissance of sorts.  The Lebanese have never feared nuts, which are a classic snack with a drink — along with carrots doused in lemon juice.  Fresh almonds, or loz, are especially popular.  Here’s a bowl we were served at dinner in Tyre, with a bright red nut cracker.  Pictured below is a bowl of the fresh almonds with the puffy green shell removed.

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FRUIT

We are chronically low consumers of fruit in the U.S., although that’s beginning to change and fruit in all its forms are trending up back home.  Here in Lebanon, fruit is practically worshipped.  The picture below is all the fruit grown in my father-in-law’s yard — grapes, figs, passion fruit and pomegranates.  Most meals end with fruit — often watermelon, as pictured below from our dinner in Beit Mery.

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MINI DESSERTS

While mini desserts are a popular restaurant trend in the U.S., that’s what they’ve always done here in Lebanon.  Sweets are a tradition — but the portions are small.  That way you can savor just a bite. Dessert is not an everyday thing, fruit is the more common way to end a meal.  Yet, when they do eat dessert, people are satisfied with a small portion.  The sweets are a work of art — like this arrangement from Al Baba in Saida.

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 Oh, and foraging…a hot, hot trend in the U.S., that’s a way of life here.

I especially love that.  We pick our own wild herbs from the yard, dry the sumac from the bushes and pluck fresh figs, grapes and cactus fruit from the trees.

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