Another Lebanese restaurant today! Well, what can I say, hummus is just one of the main food groups in veganism 🙂 Street Beirut is on the more modern scale of Lebanese restaurants, closer to Homous & Co than to Le Cèdres du Liban. When we visited on a Saturday for lunch it was busy and quite noisy. Part of the room was reserved, so I think with all customers being put in one half of the room this added to the noise.
On the menu you can sandwiches, salads, warm dishes, and platters. It is marked which options are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free! Street Beirut also serves mezze, but it was not clear which of these were vegan. During the week there is a daily menu as well, with different warm dishes every day (from what I spotted, mostly non-vegan stuff..). There are no vegan desserts, unfortunately. There’s also a take-away and delivery option.
We tried the falafel platter; which consists of falafel with tahin sauce, tomatoes and salad. All platters are served with taboulleh, hummus, moutabal, pickled turnips (?) and flatbread. We didn’t get the bread until we asked for it though. The moutabal and falafel were good, nothing interested to report..you cannot really go wrong with these I think! The tabbouleh was a bit disappointing, it was chopped very coarsely. The hummus was good, very soft. The thing that really stood out for me were the picked beets or turnips. The internet tells me they are called ‘Kabees El Lift’, but please correct me if I am wrong 🙂 On the menu it was just ‘cornichon’, which means ‘pickles’. They were a bit salty and sour, I never had them before, and I really enjoyed them!
I got a mint tea with it; it is sweetened with sugar and not with honey. In fact, our server was a bit confused when I asked about it.
Overall the service was okay. The place is more of the hip fast-casual type, not too fancy (except for those magical pickles). I did find it expensive for what we got, especially since the atmosphere was rather casual.
I must confess this post is partially driven by the love for falafel and hummus. These are not specific for the Lebanese cuisine, since they can also be found in e.g. Israeli cuisine, but Lebanese eateries are more common here (in Western Europe) I really enjoy Lebanese food, with its different textures and flavours.
As someone that likes to eat and to travel, I have always been interested in the food eaten in other countries and regions. (Of course, as a vegan there will be many dishes I will not eat, and that is okay) The food in restaurants here has often been “Westernised” to a certain degree. This is partially due to availability of ingredients and adaptation to local tastes, creating a fusion rather than the authentic experience. That is not a bad thing! But that does makes it more difficult to experience the real deal. Especially when it comes to Middle-Eastern food, so often it is just fast-food-type places, serving kebab sandwiches and shawarma with fries. While those are for sure elements of Middle-Eastern cuisine, it is just a part of this amazingly rich cuisines. There are several common elements in Middle-Eastern foods, but all the different countries and regions have their own specialties, ingredients, spices, etc. However, access to authentic food from all these regions here is limited.
I found that Lebanese restaurants do in fact offer actual Lebanese food, and a wide variety of dishes. At a market in my city, a Lebanese family sells authentic, home-made food, and it is actually similar the stuff you get in restaurants like Le Cèdres du Liban and Homous & co. Therefore I decided to focus on Lebanese cuisine. Many of the dishes that are found in Lebanon are also in nearby countries, such as Israel, Syria and even Cyprus. Of course, I haven’t traveled to Lebanon (yet!), so I cannot completely vouch for authenticity.
So that was quite a story! But I find it important to give a bit of background when talking about these things and to acknowledge my Western-European point of view:)
The history of Lebanese cuisine is a rich and ancient; Western civilisation is said to have started here! The roots of some dishes can be traced back thousands of years. Due to its geographical location, it has been influenced by, and influenced the Middle East and the Mediterranean, which can be seen in the overlap with certain Greek dishes.
There have also been some specific influences from occupiers, such as the Ottomans, who occupied Lebanon for 400 years. They brought strong coffee and baklava. After the First World War the French came, and introduced specific pastries such as flan. When the French left after the Second World War, times of turmoil and stability have alternated in Lebanon, but the country is once again rising as a tourist destination.
The ingredients used in Lebanese cuisine are diverse; grains such as rice and bulgur, fresh fruit like melons, grapes and figs, vegetables such as eggplant and cauliflower, lentils, chick peas, onions, and fish. Red meat is not very common, except for lamb (due to the Ottoman influence), poultry is used more often. The national food is kibbeh, a paté of lamb and bulgur wheat.
When it comes to dairy products, cheese and yogurt (labneh) are used often. Butter however, is rarely used, except in desserts. Garlic and olive oil are ubiquitous. (Good to know for vegans, for grilling or sautéing food, olive oil is used rather than butter)
Sauces are not commonly used, for flavour the Lebanese dishes depend on a variety of spices and herbs. A typical spice mix used in Lebanese food is za’atar (thyme, sesame and sumac) Other herbs that are used a lot are parsley, nutmeg, cinnamon and mint.
A very important part of the meal is the bread, or pita, a type of flatbread, which is used to scoop up food instead of cutlery. For dessert baklava or fresh fruit such as melons are served. Baklava in Lebanon often contains pistachio nuts and rose-water syrup, rather than the honey-walnut variety found in Greece.
Food is often served as several small dishes to accompany drinks. This style is called mezze, and is similar to Italian antipasti or Spanish tapas. Mezze can be a meal in its own right. It is such a great way to have a meal if you are a person that cannot choose!
When it comes to beverages, there is of course coffee (strong, and sometimes spiced with cardamom), but also jalab (a fruit syrup with rose water), ayran (a yogurt drink) and wine ( Lebanon is a large exporter of wine). The national liquor is arak, an anise-flavoured distilled drink. This drink apparently came into existence to replace the illegalized absinthe.
Likely vegan dishes
In the places where I have eaten Lebanese food, the following dishes were almost always vegan. (Still it won’t hurt to check, I once saw a place that used milk to prepare their hummus)
Pita – flatbread, served with every meal. The standard version is vegan
Hummus – chickpea and tahini (sesame paste) dip
Baba ganoush – roasted eggplant and tahini dip
Moutabal – similar to baba ganoush, but slightly differently spiced
Tabbouleh – bulgur and parsley salad
Dolmas (can be vegan) – grape leaves stuffed with rice
Fatoush (sometimes) – Bread salad made with pita bread
Falafel – chick pea balls
Foul Mudamas – fava beans (also eaten as breakfast)
Maghmour – eggplant, tomato and chick pea stew (sometimes called musaka)
Fatayer (sometimes) – dough triangles with stuffing, e.g. spinach
Mudardara – lentils with rice, sometimes served with yogurt
Loubiah Bzeit – Green beans with tomatoes
Shakshuka – Bell pepper stew (not to be confused with the egg dish!)
Strong coffee, fresh fruits. Baklava is usually not vegan (butter and/or honey is used) but sometimes there are some vegan ones.
Homous & co is a Lebanese take-out located at two different places in Geneva. It was started by two brothers, who were inspired by their father who wanted to let the world discover the taste of Lebanese cuisine. Unfortunately their father couldn’t open the restaurant of his dreams, but the brothers did so in his honour.
The food is freshly made every morning and packaged. All dishes are displayed, you pick what you want, and pay. Any warm dishes are heated afterwards. The vegan and vegetarian choices are clearly labelled, which is always a plus! We were a bit late for lunch, and there was actually not so much food left. Drink-wise there is coffee, mint tea and soft drinks available, unfortunately the mint tea was gone already!
On the ground floor there is not a lot of space to sit, but there is a larger room upstairs, which was pretty empty when we arrived. The interior is modern, and there was Arabic music playing. The room was not very cosy, but not unpleasant either. Homous & co is clearly more of a take-away/fancy-fast-food place.
There was a lot of choice and we wanted to try everything! For cold mezzes we got: hummus, moutabal, sabanegh (a spinach dish, which was very good) and zaalouk (an aubergine dish). The warm mezzes we got were rice with lentils and falafel (with vegan sauce). And of course we got some flat bread as well. Unfortunately there are no vegan desserts.
The food is good, not exceptional. I really liked to see some other dishes rather than the standard hummus/tabouleh (I do love those too). I had never tried the spinach dish, and I loved the zaalouk!
I really like the concept of Homous & Co, and you get good value for money, which is always a good thing. I do have to say I dislike pre-packaged food like this. I assume it is great for take-out, but if you eat it at the place itself it is not the best for the environment. Another minor complaint: it is difficult to gauge how much flat bread is needed!
The first time I visited Al Boustan, a fast-food place in the middle of Paris, I tried their falafel wrap and some spinach fatayer (triangles of dough with filling) That wrap was one of the best falafel wraps I have ever had, so when I had the chance I went back to sample more of their menu!
Al Boustan does take-away as mentioned, but there are also a few tables. It is a fast-casual place, in the middle of a busy area, so service is fast. On the menu there are some full dishes, but mostly mezzes. There are several mezze menus (so a full meal consisting of small dishes) including a vegetarian version. There is also the possibility to create a custom mezze menu, where you can pick 4 cold and 2 warm mezzes, which happened to be the exact amount of vegan items available!
For cold mezzes we had hummus, moussaka, moutabal (aubergine dip) and tabbouleh. The hummus was very nice and creamy. I also enjoyed the moussaka which consists of aubergine, chick peas and tomato sauce. This is all served with flatbread. The warm mezzes we had were the fatayer, which are filled with spinach and pine nuts, and falafel. Since it was cold outside we had some sweet mint tea with our food.
Most of their desserts are baklava, which is unfortunately not vegan due to butter and honey. However, they do have one vegan dessert: lokum, or Turkish delight, a rose-flavoured sweet.
Al Boustan is a casual place, the service is very fast and the staff are both knowledgeable about their dishes and helpful when it came to finding out which dishes are vegan. I had a great meal there and I would definitely go back!
The Middle-Eastern cuisine is well-known (and loved!) for the vegan staples falafel and hummus. While Geneva boasts already several Lebanese places, with diverse price ranges and qualities, another Lebanese restaurant in Paquis recently opened.
Le Cèdres du Liban is definitively more “up scale” than many of other Lebanese eateries which are more of the kebab fast-food/snackbar type places. The interior is stylish and minimalistic, with Arabic music playing. There is a small terrace outside and several tables inside both on ground level and on the first floor. However, when we visited the first floor was closed.
On the menu a vegan and vegetarian mezze plate are clearly marked. The vegan one has 6 and the vegetarian one 8 small dishes. There are also full-plate options but I like these sampler plates. Also none of the full plates were vegan (or even vegetarian, for that matter)
The vegan plate had two types of dips: hummus and moutabal (baba ghanoush). Their hummus was good, it was not overly oily as some places make their hummus. Additionally there was a small bowl with tabouleh, 3 falafels, some moussaka and 1 warak arise (rice-stuffed leaf). I thought that one was specifically interesting, I hadn’t had one before at a Lebanese place. The plate comes with a small basket of wrapped flatbread.
Drink-wise, apart from the standard juice and soda pop, there are 2 Middle-Eastern drinks: Ayran (yoghurt-based) and Jallab, which is made with rose water and date syrup. I am not sure if they have vegan dessert options. If I go back, which I plan too, I’ll update this post with more info.
The portions were generous and the dishes were good. Unfortunately the bread was very cold, like it had been recently defrosted.
Overall we had some bad timing: the heater in the restaurant was broken. Outside was 10 °C and inside it was quite chilly. The service was friendly but not great. We had to wait a while for our food (and it was not busy) and we never got a chance to order more drinks. We did get some free mint tea to compensate. The price for the food was very reasonable overall.