Lebanese cuisine is known in the world. It includes an abundance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood. Poultry is eaten more often than red meat, and when it is still on the table, it is usually lamb and goat. Dishes include heavy amounts of garlic and olive oil, and are often garnished with lemon juice. All these delicious treasures can be tried at the Byblos restaurant in Zagreb.
The hospitality of this restaurant is the testimony of traditional attitude towards guests in the Middle East. The owner Farah Khalili did well in offering of the aromas and flavours of Lebanese food. In the center of Zagreb is her restaurant, which bears the name of her hometown Byblos, known to Croatians mostly from biblical stories. As it speaks to us in our history, we drink a refreshing drink, lemonade with mint leaves that hides a considerable amount of alcohol. At the same time, it is fresh and deceives, just as the wind from the mountain peaks of Lebanon touches the rapturous shores of the Levant.
A rich appetizer is served on the copper tray. Farah tells us that these are parts prepared in her mother and grandmother's way. In the copper plate, the hosewife is reflected, so that part of the household served as a mirror for all housewives in Lebanon and beyond. In Byblos, too, the woman is a master of all four corners of the restaurant, enriched with greenery and a particularly interesting hanging garden.
Beautiful flavours of this eastern Mediterranean country arrive on this copper platter. Interestingly, many Croats do not recognize the closeness of this kitchen because they have a completely different vision of this country on their minds. Lebanon is the home of the Arabs, which calls the pictures of the desert, the camel, and the sheikh. Nothing is close to this image. Quite the opposite! And most of all, one can see the dining room that reflects a lot of tastes known in the Croatian Adriatic.
Many will give preference to rich meat dishes mostly grilled lamb. But that meat is not the main attention of this national cuisine. Often, in the Middle East, the barbecue is made only in restaurants. The real magic of the Lebanese cuisine can be found in the auspices of the family, and that is exactly what Farah wants to portray at the single Lebanese restaurant in Croatia. Mostly this is seen in the starters and rich mezzes that bring together not only the diversity of the climate but also the joy of guests of family and friends, which is actually the main reason for gathering around food.
The most iconic Lebanese appetizer is certainly hummus, a chickpea based dip with olive oil and garlic. Chickpea is a legume grown in the whole Mediterranean, and contains many nutrients that are useful for the human body, including proteins, fibers, carbohydrates and many others. There is a Syrian, Egyptian and Palestinian method, and Byblos is proud of the Lebanese way. Its main ingredients - chickpeas, sesame, lemon and garlic - have been eaten in the Levant for centuries. Although the chickpeas are eaten widely among regional populations, often cooked with stews and other warm dishes, cold chickpeas with Tahini did not appear before the Abbasid period on the Levant. The oldest well -known written recipes for chickpeas with Tahini were recorded in cookbooks written in Cairo in the thirteenth century.
The chickpeas are cooked and then kneaded with a wooden tool or specialized electric machine. A slightly squeezed garlic (if desired), lemon juice, salt and some tahini (sesame juice) is added to the cooked chickpea. The materials are mixed well, then placed in a plate with a light layer of olive oil. In Byblos, they serve it with a thin pitta bread, and those who try it for the first time can immediately fall in love with that great taste! We also tasted the Beirut Hummus, which is prepared with spices, and Byblos also serves hummus with ground beef.
Baba Ghannouj stands out. The popular tradition shows that the origin of the name is the consequence of the story of a priest who lived in the first century of our era, and was a favourite among his students and parishioners on Levant. This Christian priest was known for his goodness and generosity, and they called him "Ghannouj." People wanted to give him gifts, but they only had some food. They deided to connect what they had and offer to the priest. Since then, the dish has been called Baba Ghannouj. It is prepared so that the eggplant is grated and mixed with Tahini, spices and various other ingredients, including garlic. The eggplant is usually baked on a grill on an open fire before peeling, until it gets a smokey taste, and what is a specialty in Byblos is to add a couple of grains of pomegranate to this dish.
In addition, we tasted excellent Lebanese ajvar, also with small flavored differences, and the short relief of all these wonderful aromas is achieved by generous Lebanese cream with olive oil, dried mint and garlic (Labneh). Freshness is found in thefattous salad, which consists of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, young onions, green peppers, radishes, parsley, mint, olive oil, lemon juice and Lebanese bread. As noted, everything in Byblos is fresh, with foods and spices often purchased in neighboring countries where the larger Lebanese population is.
Farah has only recently visited her homeland after a long eight years of breath. She has a family and a restaurant in Croatia, and reveals to us her love for Peka, fish and seafood, sarma and strudel. Often, she does fish and chard with potatoes for her household, and since her husband is a vegetarian, she still leaves lamb snacks for a restaurant. For vegetarians, Falafel, which is so loved in the Levantic countries, is particularly tasty. It is the dough fried in oil, in the form of a ball, wheels or disks, made of chickpeas, beans or both, and is a traditional food in the Middle East kitchen.
International staff passes the mandatory introduction to Lebanese food to explain to the curious Croats on what is on the table. However, the restaurant is visited by the most regular guests who cannot separate from this beautiful Mediterranean cuisine. In the end, they will often order the baklava of homemade bark, whose sweetness they balance pistachio, and with it we enjoyed it while trying out the Lebanese coffee with cardamom. Lebanon thus became present in the heart of Zagreb, with a special charm of Mrs. Farah!
Nikole Tesle 4, Zagreb
01 7702 096
Photos: Bojan Richter