You may hear the distinct sound of a kaak vendor’s horn interrupt Beirut’s morning traffic “beeps”. Attached to his bicycle or laid out on his cart are rows of delicious, sesame-dotted bread rings, fresh and ready to be eaten. Complementing these sounds is the “klak klak” of small porcelain cups that a nearby coffee vendor plays against each other like castanets; even more captivating than this unique cacophony is the aroma that accompanies it.
The smell of coffee wafts into the fuel-heavy morning air, attracting construction workers and passers-by alike. You are also likely to find people gathering at the hummus and ful shops around the corner, or outside the mana’eesh bakeries down the street, where the smell of earthy zaatar awakens the appetite. For those whose palates crave sweeter delicacies, their feet can steer them in the direction of the knefeh makers.
In Beirut and all across Lebanon, families gather together for a delicious selection of breakfast foods. In the L’HOTE LIBANAIS Family, breakfast is about more than the dishes enjoyed; it is the time of the day when host/s and guest/s talk, laugh, and discuss the previous evening’s endeavors or plan out the day ahead. It is also a meal rooted in tradition, history, and fond memories for our hosts.
Take Mirna, for example. She welcomes guests in her house in Beirut (Difla), where lucky guests staying for more than one night taste their way through a variety of the dishes Mirna’s mother used to prepare. Markouk (type of unleavened Arabic flat bread), tannour (Lebanese flat bread), olives, labneh, fresh cheese, pickles, seasonal vegetables (usually cucumber and tomatoes) served with sumac and olive oil dot the breakfast table accompanied by tea, coffee, lemonade or juice to drink.
For those who prefer a heartier breakfast, Mirna also prepares mana’eesh, fatayer (meat pie, which can also be vegetarian with spinach filling), cheese rolls, yogurt fatteh with chickpeas, pine nuts and butter, shanklish (a goat’s cheese that gets fried up with onion and tomato), ful moudammas, and a variety of egg dishes.
The secret to her bright, inviting sufra (table) are the freshly sourced ingredients coming from her father’s village in the south. The colorful selection varies seasonally, with citrus, orange, and pomelo in winter, pomegranate and banana in autumn, loquat and strawberry in spring, and raisins and figs during summer. Mirna’s home offers but a small sampling of the fresh produce that you can find all over Lebanon, whether in carts at a busy roundabout or a makeshift store at the corner of the street.
The importance of street food in Lebanese breakfast culture cannot be missed, and is one that can be enjoyed in every season. When summertime rolls around, head to Tripoli, the capital of North Lebanon, and have yourself one of the city’s infamous fresh orange juices from a street vendor. For guests staying at Beit el Nessim in Al Mina (Tripoli’s port district), then the breakfast options abound : from baladi (artisanal) halloumi to warm, fragrant mana’eesh.
Discovering what Lebanon has to offer for breakfast is as diverse as the country’s beautiful topography. Perched on top of the Qadisha Valley and 1400 meters above sea level is where you’ll find another member of the L’HOTE LIBANAIS Family. Jacqueline welcomes guests to Dar Qadisha, where she promises breathtaking views, many laughs, and delicious breakfast. She is the undisputed mouneh expert, where she preserves various food in autumn to last through the winter and until the next harvest. Jacqueline keeps up this age-old tradition of gathering certain berries, nuts and roots in the mountains, of growing her own trees, fruits and vegetables ; of reviving the beauty of Lebanese heritage through food.
Her mouneh includes pickled vegetables, awarma (lamb meat conserved in lamb fat), arak and a selection of fine jams that includes fig, apricot, quince, apple, pear, and many more.
If your tastes are more cosmopolitan and you’re looking for a melange of different cultures, then head to Baffa House back in Beirut, where Diva—Samer’s mother—mixes the family’s Lebanese and Italian heritages in her delicious cakes.
From the sweet to the savory, Lebanese breakfast options are an absolute delight to experience. Their allure is immersive and can be explored with all the senses, consequently forming an important part of the unique fabric that is Lebanese culture.
Whether you find yourself having a kaak on the go whilst exploring Beirut, or you prefer Jacqueline’s freshly made jams and the crisp mountain air, there is a breakfast dish for every mood and taste palette in the streets of Lebanon and across L’HOTE LIBANAIS’s Family Members’ kitchens.
L’HOTE LIBANAIS would also like to thank Reem Joudi for her involvement on this piece.