Lebanese treats: Edgware Road
By Andrea Kowalski, Broadcast Journalist, New Media
Lebanon is perhaps more often associated with civil war and Islamic fundamentalism than for its sophisticated cuisine.
In London, a walk in and around Edgware Road west of the city centre takes you to one of the many areas where members of this Middle Eastern community have settled – others are Bayswater, Kensington and Westbourne Grove.
The real growth of the Lebanese community in London started in 1975, with the start of civil war in Lebanon. War drove thousands of people away. They settled all over the world, including in the UK. The exodus was aggravated in 1982 with the Israeli invasion.
Edgware Road is populated by shops selling Arab newspapers, books and music. There's even the odd pharmacy.
In the food shops, you can purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, chicken, fish and lamb as well as other indigenous ingredients, such as rose blossom water and pomegranate molasses.
Large wooden barrels display a colourful selection of dry, scented spices, as well as pickled aubergines, olives and limes. Some sell ready-made starters and labour-intensive meals, which you can just pop into the oven, grill or fry.
Coffee shops abound and on most days, customers – many of them part of the Arabic community who live nearby or are just passing by – can be seen puffing away at the shisha, an ornate pipe for aromatic tobacco.
The restaurants range from smart to quite informal eateries, catering to an eclectic crowd as they are open till late. Some places close at 3am; others are known to close when guests leave.
On Edgware Road you'll find an astounding array of Middle Eastern starters, both hot and cold, known as mezze.
Many feature aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, radishes, okra, onion, chickpeas, lentils, rice, yogurt and herbs - and are accompanied by Lebanese bread. In general, they constitute an ideal meal for vegetarians.
Mezze can be so delicious and fresh, some diners do not move on to the main dishes; instead they just order more starters.
Some of the finest are hoummos, chickpea puree prepared with sesame oil and lemon juice; tabbouleh, a parsley and tomato salad, with crushed wheat, onion, olive oil and lemon juice; and moujaddara, lentils and rice cooked to a creamy texture, topped with fried onions.
Try batinjan makdous, aubergines that have been filled with walnut and garlic; and kibbe, small mouthfulls of minced lamb, cracked wheat and pine kernels, either baked or deep-fried.
Juices, salad and sweet pastries
Fruit juices and hand-made treats from the patisserie counter are a must at all Lebanese restaurants. Order a carrot and orange juice and baklavas – layered pastries in many shapes filled with pistachio nuts and honey.
A favourite salad is fattoush, which brings together lettuce, tomatoes, onion, mint, tiny morsels of deep-fried bread and an aubergine-coloured spice made out of crushed berries called sumak.
Most carnivores gravitate towards the warm shawarma sandwiches. They offer marinated lamb or chicken, roasted on a skewer, combined with tomatoes and lettuce, and wrapped up in Lebanese bread. Kafta is a tasty alternative – grilled minced lamb, combined with parsley and pine kernels.
With Lebanese food there is always an excellent alternative for vegetarians - a falafel sandwich, which features small spheres of crushed chickpeas prepared with sesame oil and garlic. It's flavoured with a light tahini sauce, which is made out of sesame seeds.
Address: Edgware Road, London W1 and W2.
Tube: Marble Arch / Edgware Road
BBC site: LDN on Arabic London
BBC site: LDN on Arabic community links
Food: Arabic recipes
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