Lebanese Food: The Nasty Bits

Lebanese cuisine might strike you as dainty and delicious with its vegan tabbouleh and hummus, but the reality is, it’s got a gut-wrenching side to it. We’re talking about liver; raw meat decked with white cubes of fat; stuffed intestines; snails; frog legs; lamb brains; beef tongue. If you’re Lebanese to the bone, you adore these delicacies and gloat about their purported nutrient and vitamin content. If you’re not Lebanese, you probably want to stop reading right about here.

Still reading? Don’t say you weren’t warned!

 

  1. Let’s start with the basics: liver. Chicken and beef liver are often consumed pan-fried, and in the former case, they’re occasionally served alongside crunchy chicken heart doused in pomegranate molasses. Sheep’s liver, on the other hand, can be enjoyed raw. Gather it in a piece of Lebanese bread, garnish with onion and mint leaves, dunk it in salt and pepper, and sink your canines into that sucker. Raw cubes of meat can be eaten in much the same manner. A glass of arak helps wash down these meaty mouthfuls and kill off any bacteria therein, or so we like to think!

 

Chicken liver presented in a tangy bath of pomegranate molasses (photo source: lebanesekitchenrecipes.blogspot.com)

 

  1. Did your mom ever try to coax you into eating lamb brains (“nkhe3et”) to improve your own intelligence? That may be an old wives’ tale, but one thing’s for certain: these delicacies are ever so soft and supple. Brains are simmered until tender and then tossed with lemon, olive oil, salt, and minced garlic. Sprinkle with parsley and serve with wedges of lemon and pita. Ay, there’s the rub!

 

Fried lamb brains (photo source: eatlittlebird.com)

 

  1. One of the most delicate meats you will ever taste is not in fact filet mignon but tongue! Sheep and beef tongues (“lsenet”) are a fine treat in Lebanon. To prepare, start by soaking them in water, then boil and slow-cook before skinning and slicing for a more aesthetically enticing presentation. The tried and true dressing is a melange of garlic, lemon, olive oil, and salt.

 

Lamb tongue with coriander (photo source: kcet.org)

 

  1. The French translation amourettes d’agneau would have you believe they’re ever so romantic and exquisite. But sheep testicles (“bayd ghanam”) are anything but! To clean it up, the butcher peels and discards the outer membrane. It’s then sliced into wedges before battering and pan-frying, with a squeeze of lemon to taste. You’ll find their flavor is subtle and their texture, ethereal, for truly they are the jewels of Lebanese cuisine!

 

Sheep testicles, or “bayd ghanam” (photo source: alhamrarestaurant.co.uk)

 

  1. Would you ever consider feasting on the very organ where food is broken down and digested? Well, that’s what “fwerigh,” or sheep intestines, is all about, and it isn’t for the faint of heart. The intestines are first thoroughly cleansed with lemon, salt and vinegar before being stuffed with minced meat, rice and spices—a filling common to grape leaves and zucchini. The result? A delicious dish that when prepared correctly is slightly crunchy, aromatic, and tasty. Try to suppress the image that you’re gorging on guts.

 

Goat intestines stuffed with rice, seasoned ground meat, and pine nuts (photo source: zaatarland.blogspot.com)

 

  1. Bec-figue, or fig-eating birds, are a popular Lebanese specialty whose seasonality is anticipated all year long for their fatty little bodies. They’re gutted, plucked, and sometimes decapitated before roasting on the grill or in the pan. Finally, they’re dressed in pomegranate molasses or olive oil and wrapped in “markouk” bread for what can only be described as a crunchy munch.

 

Charcoal-grilled birds (photo source: nogarlicnoonions.com)

 

Contributed by Danielle Issa from Beirutista.co.

About the Author

Danielle Issa

Danielle was born into a Lebanese household in Southern California. Growing up, she constantly found herself living between two realities: outwardly, she was an American girl who loved swinging on the monkey bars and reading The Baby-Sitters Club. Inwardly, she was Lebanese, speaking Arabic at home and forbidden from attending sleepover parties. With age comes awareness and self-confidence, and Danielle learned to embrace these differences. She accepted that she'd forever be suspended between two worlds, and that she'd be like a tapestry, one culture woven into the other. As she grew older and worldlier, Danielle promised herself she would one day settle in Lebanon. And here she is. Three college degrees and a few consulting gigs later, she is now in her parents’ homeland, working in strategy management, fleshing out her blog Beirutista, and contributing to Bitfood. Danielle gets her hair coiffed several times a week, like any proper Lebanese girl, and she loves the traditional mezze. But she still prefers peanut butter to Nutella. And her American accent is unmistakable.