Lebanese cuisine in Salt Lake City? Yes, this city is getting very cosmopolitan, and you can get a lot more variety than you would expect.
American cuisine – burgers, BBQ, steaks – let’s face it after some time, you want variety. And there can only be so many time you can eat Italian, even there’s a really good pizzeria. So when there’s a chance to try something different, I would jump at it. So far I have tried Thai and Vietnamese. I don’t recommend the Chinese restaurants, though there’s a Sichuan hotpot (mala hotpot) that’s OK if you really have to.
So Lebanese food beckons.
What are cedars of Lebanon
The mountains of Lebanon were once shaded by thick cedar forests and the tree is the symbol of the country. After centuries of persistent deforestation, the extent of these forests has been markedly reduced.
One of the earliest references to cedar in Mesopotamia comes from the reign of Sargon of Akkad, ca. 2334-2279 BC. It was once said that a battle occurred between the demigods and the humans over the beautiful and divine forest of Cedar trees near southern Mesopotamia. This forest, once protected by the Sumerian god Enlil, was completely bared of its trees when humans entered its grounds 4700 years ago, after winning the battle against the guardians of the forest, the demigods. The story also tells that Gilgamesh used cedar wood to build his city.
The cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) was prized throughout the ancient Near East. Over the centuries, cedar wood was exploited by the Phoenicians, Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Israelites and Turks. The Phoenicians used the Cedars for their merchant fleets. They needed timbers for their ships and the Cedar woods made them the “first sea trading nation in the world”.
The Palermo Stone indicates cedar was imported to Egypt in the reign of the 4th dynasty king Sneferu, ca. 2613-2589 BC. One of its primary uses was for boat construction. The Egyptian tale of Wen-Amun, from ca. the 11th century BC, recounts the travels of an Egyptian official to Byblos to negotiate for cedar wood. The Egyptians used cedar resin for the mummification process and the cedar wood for some of “their first hieroglyph bearing rolls of papyrus”. In the Bible, Solomon procured cedar timber to build the Temple in Jerusalem. The emperor Hadrian claimed these forests as an imperial domain, and destruction of the cedar forests was temporarily halted.
The Lebanon Cedar is frequently mentioned in the Bible. Example verses include: … “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon” (Psalm 92:12) “I will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive” (Isaiah 41: 19).
But we digressed.
The four mezzas we got were:
- Baba Gannouj – A smoky puree of toasted eggplant, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. I wasn’t a fan of eggplant until I had baba gannouj. Loved it since. They have used the same seasoning as the hummus, I would loved a bit of variety.
- Sarma – Moist grape leaves stuffed with a mixture of rice, tomatoes, onions and parsley and lemon juice. Surprising, their sarmas were quite tasty compared to the ones I had in Istanbul and Tel Aviv. The leaves used were tender and the stuffing was ample and moist.
- Tabboule – Finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, green onions and bulgar wheat tossed in olive oil and lemon juice. OK, a bit too wet and lemony.
- Hummus – Smooth puree of chickpeas mixed with tahini, garlic, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Not my favourite because it had the texture of chunky peanut butter. But the flavours were alright if only they had blended it more.
Mopped up with warm pita bread. Didn’t think it was made in house.
Every main course came with a serving of house soup, tonight it was lentil soup, which I politely turned down.
A tajine or tagine is a Maghrebi dish which is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. It is also called maraq or marqa. I would usually associate it with Northern Africa like Morocco, but I guessed the Abbasid Caliphate brought it to Middle East during ninth century. The cooking technique behind it was similar to our Chinese claypot. Just throw everything in and let the ingredients cook and influence each other, and let the starch (rice, potato, yam) absorb the goodness that resulted.
Lamb tagline – Succulent morsels of New Zealand lamb, marinated and simmered to perfection in a dark curry sauce – a Moroccan delicacy. They used the tagine as a serving dish and not the utensil to cook in. I was expecting a dum briyani type of lamb tagine with basmati rice. But it was tasty nevertheless. Everyone at the table enjoyed the spices and the fork tender lamb.
Combo kebab platter – Succulent pieces of chicken and lamb, onions, green peppers and onions, spiced and skewered then grilled to perfection. Chunks of chicken breast and lamb cubes grilled with spices and topped with paprika to give them a kick. OK, but the tagine was better. Served with the same basmati rice. Would use with a little yoghurt or mint sauce.
The lovely waitress decided to show us all the desserts available that evening – chocolate cake, baklava, katayef, flan, rice pudding, tiramisu.
We settled for the arabic specialty, the baklava. Baklava is a rich, sweet dessert pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. There’s plenty of pistachio in the one we had, and not overly sweet.
And what else to wash down the super sweet dessert than with a super strong arabic coffee.
I was surprised to find Almaza pilsner, a beer from Beirut, available at this restaurant. But it was a really poor beer. Could not finish it.
The service here was great. Usually on the weekends (Friday and Saturdays), they have belly dancers and music performance. Would try again with the team the next time we are in SLC.
Cedars of Lebanon
152 E 200S, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
Tel : 801-364-4096
Date Visited : Jan 2019