International travelers have discovered something that locals have known for ages: Lebanon’s capital is the best city in the world to eat in – at least according to a New York-based travel magazine.
In a survey conducted by Travel and Leisure, readers chose Beirut as the No. 1 destination for the food-oriented traveler.
Beirut was the only Middle Eastern city to make the list of “The Best International Cities for Food” this year.
Other cities mentioned were France’s Bordeaux and Paris; Spain’s Barcelona and San Sebastian; Italy’s Rome, Bologna and Florence; Thailand’s Chiang Mai; and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.
“Lebanon’s capital city, Beirut, is having a bit of a cultural renaissance – and it’s not just new museums like the striking Aïshti Foundation that have attracted international attention,” the magazine wrote, to describe the top listing.
The news didn’t come as much of a surprise to Beirut locals, who are accustomed to leisurely Sunday lunches. Most, if not all, socializing in Lebanon happens around the dining table.
Traditional lunches are seemingly endless, involving a copious amount of arak, an anise-flavored, grape-based spirit. Among non-conservative Lebanese, eating fish without a healthy dose of arak to wash it down is mandatory.
A fashionable food scene has emerged in Beirut, with restaurants catering to every taste.
Every Thursday, Lebanon’s foodies, chefs, restaurateurs and farmers gather in Downtown’s Souk el Akel to taste the latest signature dishes. The market initiative has moved to various venues across the country since starting up in the capital.
“There’s arguably no better way to sense the friendliness and enthusiasm of Beirutis than by enjoying a fresh meal at Tawlet, a fantastic Lebanese restaurant in the hip Mar Mikhael neighborhood [order goat tartare and the unusual mountain speciality h’risset ‘akkub: a lamb porridge with wild thistle],” Travel and Leisure noted.
The magazine also directed readers in search of fatteh to the famous Al-Soussi restaurant in Aisha Bakkar.
This is not the first time Beirut has been acknowledged as a top tourist destination. Last year, Vogue published an article entitled “4 Perfect Days in Beirut,” praising the “stunning juxtapositions” to be found in “this capital city where the Mediterranean meets the Middle East.”
Beirut was also ranked the 20th best city in the world, according to Condé Nast Traveler’s 2013 Readers’ Choice Awards. Not bad for a country marred by systemic political crises, in a region beset by violence.