Tristan Rutherford is an award-winning travel journalist whose work appears in The Times and The Daily Telegraph. His favourite foods are gravadlax and crisps.
Lebanon boasts a legendary clash of contradictions. In the Bekaa Valley warlords grow opium and hashish. Yes the region also hosts the Baalbeck International Festival where Jewish rocker Ben Harper sings into the night sky. During the Lebanese Civil War, vineyard Chateau Musar didn’t miss a single vintage even though rockets rained down. Jancis rates the chateau’s 1982 as superb.
But Lebanese unite to ignore all pathogen warnings when it comes to eating raw meat. I guess there’s a lot worse things that can kill you.
Lebanon’s national dish is kibbeh nayyeh, an uncooked lamb, mint and bulgar mezze. As with most raw meat dishes, its deliciousness dovetails with its simplicity. Add some green onions, a dash of oil, then stuff inside a pitta. Dinner is served.
When eating raw meat freshness is all. For this reason kibbeh was generally eaten on a Sunday directly after a lamb was slaughtered. When expatriate Lebanese buy from butchers they insist on freshly ground steak with not a blob of fat or gristle showing. Parsons Nose can dice something similar. Only a suicidal maniac in a Middle East war zone would ingest a polystyrene tray of supermarket mince.
With travel the dish has evolved. The kibbeh nayyeh served across London from Comptoir Libanais to Maroush might be spiced, sauced or even cooked. When actress Salma Hayek retraced her Lebanese roots she made her own kibbeh creation alongside Jamie Oliver. Her lamb balls contain pine nuts and medjool dates, and are shallow-fried like falafel. Pickles, pomegranate molasses and fresh herbs accompany.
Do other nationalities eat raw meats? Curiously, countries with a recent history of violent bloodshed lap them up. I’ll say it again, there’s worse things that can kill you right?
Both warring factions in Ethiopia and Eritrea agree that gored gored (raw beef hunks mixed with clarified butter) is boss. Turks, Armenians and Kurds disagree on many fronts, but çiğ köfte (raw lamb patties in red pepper paste) brings them together at lunchtime. In Vietnam bo tai chanh reads like Italian carpaccio - with lime juice, shallots and roasted peanuts on top.
That’s raw meat for you. Bringing love and compassion to all.
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