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Making sandwiches at Ichkhanian

Unbelievably, I was able to fit in not just two breakfasts, but two lunches on my first full day in Beirut. After za’atar croissants and puffy khobz, we headed off to Ichkhanian, to watch the bakers rolling out and baking L’ahm b’ajeen.

Ichkhanian sandwich bread dough at Ichkhanian

This family owned bakery was started in 1946 and is still run by a mom and her son. A pretty efficient crew, a mix of strapping young men and some older gents – who were just as agile and strong as their younger co-workers – start every day rolling out ultra-thin dough, no thicker than a few sheets of newspaper. The only dough I’d ever seen that was thinner than what I used to buy from a Middle Eastern baker in San Francisco that make filo dough from scratch (whose bakery is, unfortunately, now closed), which made me sad to have to go back to the filo sold in the freezer case. Actually, I was so taken with the fresh stuff that I don’t use filo anymore. Yes, I hold a grudge.

Lebanese sandwich at Ichkhanian

With their ultrathin dough, the bakers make two kinds of roll-ups; One filled with chopped green peppers, allspice, paprika and parsley which is Armenian/Turkish (called Aintibi), and the other is Syrian (called Halabi), made with meat, tomato, and pomegranate molasses. The whole process of rolling, topping, and baking is swift and impressive: honestly, the way these fellows work together would make a Swiss watch look inefficient.

garlic at Ichkhanian Bakers at work - Ichkhanian

Rounds of dough are tossed on the counter, rolled so thin that you’ll be cursing your (or our) incompetence next time you (or I) tear a sheet of regular pastry or pie dough. A few fingertips of flour dusting over, some quick rolls back and forth, then topping is smeared on before a whole baker’s peel of them is slid into the oven.

Lebanese sandwiches from oven at Ichkhanian

Moments later, out comes thin breads which get rolled up and consumed quickly, often by folks who come in from the neighborhood, who gulp down ayran (a fermented milk drink) along with the hot sandwich, then head out for the day. These kinds of sandwiches are also a popular snack in Beirut, especially late at night – or in the wee hours of the morning – after the bars close and people are in search of something filling…and sobering (from what I hear – I’m in bed by midnight)…to eat.

Baking at Ichkhanian

Both packed a nice wallop of garlic and when the baker asked if I liked mine spicy, I said “Of course!”

Armenian sandwich at Ichkhanian Menu at Ichkhanian

So he dusted my sandwich with a blaze of chile powder, smiled and laughed, and minutes later, my breakfast was nothing but a crinkled up piece of bakery wrap with a few crusty crumbs scattered in the wrinkles.

Lebanese strawberries on cart
Bananas from Lebanon

After reluctantly saying goodbye, then walking it off in the older part of Beirut, we landed at Lala Chicken, an excellent snack bar where there were displays of kebabs, skewered with meat, chilis, and tomatoes, ready to be grilled – although we’d come for the famous chicken shawarma.

lala chicken menu chicken sandwich, toum, pickel

But this just isn’t any chicken sandwich/shawarma.

chicken sandwich with toum

For those who know Zankou Chicken in Los Angeles, you know how addictive toum is, the whipped garlic sauce made by aerating garlic and oil until it’s a light, white spread. More powerful than anything you can imagine, it’s slathered on before the sandwich is rolled up with a few pickles on it, the bracing saltiness of the cukes being a little respite from the slick sauce and warm pieces of chicken meat.

kebabs at LALA in Beirut
beef chawarma at BouBouffe

Then is was a hop across the street to BouBouffe, which I was told was the only shawarma cooked over a charcoal fire in town. I would have checked that statement for accuracy, although I’d rather just keep coming back here.

lala chicken kabobs

Served with tarator, a tahini-garlic sauce (yes, there’s definitely a garlic theme in Lebanon…), it was pretty tasty. And by then, after two breakfasts and two lunches, I was as stuffed as a…

stuffed grape leaves


    • Noreen

    while in Beirut you must head over to Tawlet. It’s a restaurant concept that supports local farmers and brings in a different cook from a different area to tell the story of their region through food

    • OB

    Wow! That’s 2 posts in one day. What a difficult life you lead…

    • Dina

    I remember as a kid going with my parents or grandparents, depending who took me along to the market and we’d stop by the only guy in town making filo pastry from scratch. They’d make thick and thin pastry – the thick one seems to be uknown to this Western world, why?! :( The shop had this really big window, which was open no matter the weather, for some reason, through you could see the enormous clothed tables over which they were spreading and stretching the wispy thin dough… I wanted to go to the market, just so I could go & then watch the thin dough in absolute amazement with my jaw dropping every time. Yes, there is no replica to the freshly made.

    I am salivating here, David & it’s not fair. First Israel, now this. You make us want to go so incredibly really really bad…… and summer time is coming & the sun will soak up all the vegetables and fruits to plump juiciness & it makes me want to go home…. and I can’t… :(

    Looking forward to the next post :)

    • Loulou in France

    It all looks so completely amazing and delicious. Your travels always inspire me!

    • Judith

    That was awesome! I’ll likely never make it to Lebanon, so thanks for sharing your trip!

    • Adri

    I love seeing the process of making the L’ahm b’ajeen. This is a truly tempting post, There is a Zankou chicken a 5 minute drive from my home. Life can be very good indeed.

    • Kay

    What a treat for you, and for me to read. We have a pretty good Lebanese/Syrian restaurant here in Arlington VA but ……not like these!

    • Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

    Yum, all of that looks so good! I haven’t had Lebanese since I was in France last.

    • Claire

    David, you’re making me weep with envy with these beautiful photos of food that looks so delicious I want to catch the next flight to Beirut. The chicken shawarma with toum and pickles is screaming my name! You clearly have the most wonderful job in the world. Lucky us that you’re so generous about sharing the pictures and descriptions of such wonderful edible treats. You always entertain and you frequently educate as well. Thank you.

    • Janice

    What an incredibly wonderful and mouthwatering post(s). I have only recently learned of your blog. I am so impressed with your photographs, storytelling and continuing adventures. Thank you so much. The only problem–now I want to enjoy a real Lebanese breakfast (the za’atar croissants must be amazing) and lunch and can hardly wait to learn about dinner in your next post.

    • Fwei

    Great piece and really love the photos, David. Wow!

    • Caroline

    SHAWARMAAAAAAAA!!!! Oh it cannot be beat! And toum is absolutely essential. Am so envious of your gastronomic tour of Beirut….one day, soon. Until then, these posts just make me hanker for the sights, smells and noise that I’ve heard so much about.

    • Alicia

    Second breakfast is always delicious (and hobbit approved)

    • Leilee

    Thanks for sharing your experience and all the beautiful photos. I absolutely love Middle Eastern food. Being of Iranian decent and seeing you travel throughout Middle East recently makes me wish even more that Iran was a free country so I could show you all the delicious foods it has to offer.

    • Jenn

    I’m guessing the bakery you’re referring to is Scheherazade. Story you might appreciate: my aunt self-published a cookbook of her own recipes in the mid-1980s, and in her recipe for baklava, recommended that the reader purchase fresh phyllo from Scheherazade. Nevermind that most of her readers wouldn’t have known phyllo from a hole in the ground (this was the 1980s), and even if they did, wouldn’t be inclined to make a cross-country trip to get it fresh (her audience was mostly family living on the East coast). On my first trip to San Francisco about 5 years ago, I looked up Scheherazade and was extremely disappointed to learn that it had closed.

    Thanks for your photos and stories from Lebanon. The food looks and sounds just amazing – there is a very good Lebanese restaurant I frequent here in Baltimore, but I imagine it’s even better in its native element.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, that was the place. I remember they were an older couple and he was shaking out this beautiful pastry, as big as a king-size bedsheet. When I tasted it, it tasted like dough, rather than like – well, nothing (like the frozen stuff.) I asked them what was going to happen to the place when they retired and they said their sons weren’t interested in making fresh filo dough so I told them (half-jokingly) that I would take it over… if they’re teach me how to make the dough. He laughed and said “It takes five years!” so I never took him up on it. #regrets

    • Kiki

    Made me smile – and hungry…. (22h20)!
    Made me think of a Lebanese man I met at Alliance Française in Exeter, Devon UK – a very special person, totally different in his appreciation of everything – different to us, the Europeans – interesting, fascinating, irritating and funny…. great posts – Thank You

    • mlle paradis

    haha too funny. just met a zankou family member last nite. also lebanese armenian. he is promising sandwiches for the next meetup. life IS good!

    • kittrasis

    Now I’m longing for Zankou chicken again. I live too far from Glendale so I can’t get any. BooHoo. We need one in Palm Springs, Ca.

    • Imane

    While you are in Beirut, you should go to Mayreg a restaurant near the electri company and it’s the most delicious Armenian food you can eat. In addition go to Sahyoun in Down town( there is two near each others) choose the oldest one whiich is nearer to the corner and taste the yummmyyy Falafel and go to Mandaloun sur mer to eat some wonderful fish and go to Nemr Alwadi in Tarrek el jaddedeh to taste Knefeh bil jiben which is a very yummmy sweet breakfast… I miss Lebanon and our food.

    N.B. If you are courageous enough you can try all kind of raw meats and specially the Frakeh which is a typical southern food and also the Raw liver with some mint, fresh green onion and some wonderful hot bread. These are Lebanese authentic food…

    Wish I’m with you.


      • David
      David Lebovitz

      We had great kibbeh with lamb and spices but not sure I’m up for raw liver. So matter how tasty you make it sound ; )

        • Imane

        Try just one bite and you will get hooked, my husband who is American and never tried it before, tried it when we were there two years ago and believe me reluctantly and he is hooked on it now.. However you need to be sure to have the freshest lamb liver ever. any respectful restaurant like Mijana or burj el hamam are trustworthy. Good luck…

        Love your site..

    • Sara S

    Thank you for this wonderful post. I want to try it all!

    • Aregnaz

    Your posts are really inspiring!!! As soon as I read this I told my husband we needed to organize a trip to Beirut and have at least two breakfasts and 2 lunches, visit all those places you describe so vividly (especially the Ichkhanian bakery, since we are Armenians ourselves). Here in Milan we often go to a Lebanese restaurant where the food is really good, but nothing compared to the photos in this post! Thanks David, for always sharing your experiences and of course your gorgeous recipes!!! By the way this evening we enjoyed your salted butter caramel ice cream.

    • Jimmy

    Oh these chicken shawarma sandwiches with the melting lemony garlicky chicken , oh so good. Actually tomorrow , I’ll get to eat these delicacies as soon as I arrive to Beirut !! It’s a matter of hours.

    • Jodi

    I grew up eating Lebanese food and I never tire of it. Just like I never tire of your blog…the only one I read regularly:)

    • Jasmine

    No video, David, of the strapping and the rolling? :) It’s all good to eat.

    • Stephanie – The Dessert Spoon

    Thank you very much for such a great post!

    I love your vivid descriptions and beautiful photos. A big thank you especially for sharing toum with me. I’ve never heard of it before. I just know I am going to love it!

    • David George

    A fantastic post. Thank you David. My mouth s watering. Love the eye candy too. ;-)

    • Shelly Murphy

    I agree with David George…so tantalizing…food and gorgeous men!

    • vicky t

    It’s actually called Lahmajoun not L’ahm b’ajeen. L’ahm means meat in Arabic, but it is an Armenian flatbread. Visit Falafel Arax in Beirut, for the most authentic and fluffy falafels! And make sure to try their pickled turnips!

    • Chloe

    I am beyond jealous, Beirut is on top of my list at the moment and the food looks amazing – so much flavour. I hope you can feel my jealousy all the way from Perth, Australia x

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    Vicky: My English-speaking Lebanese friends have told me the spelling I used is correct.

      • Carole

      Armenians call it Lahmajoum :) Arabic people call it Lahm b’ajeen – I’m Lebanese/Armenian/American

    • Bethany Kehdy

    Hi Vicky, they are of Armenian origin where they are known as missahatz and by
    Turks as lahmacun and here in Lebanon we call them lahm b’ajeen, essentially made the same way but with some variations in spices etc

    • Laurn

    Oh good grief — now I’m dying to go to Beirut just for the food…

    • Mariam

    Omg this reminds me of my holiday in Egypt last year, the beautiful fresh bread off the oven traditional bread we’d pick up in the morning with street vendor fooul medames and falafel. However Egyptians don’t do manaesh, but luckily for me here in Sydney, we have an amazing array of Leanese bakeries and restaurants which we get zaatar and lahme ba’jeen and delicious charcoal chicken with toum! Amaze!

    • FromJerusalem

    Such a mouthwatering post. I’ll probably never get to Lebanon given the present state of the world, but my dad used to go to Beirut regularly in the 1970s, when it was still the Paris of the Middle East – and he still talks about it 40 years later. Thank you for providing this lovely visual journey to accompany my memories of his culinary tales!

    PS You are going to provide some recipes for all this right? The zatar croissants, the lahm bajeen … please? You can’t really leave your readers drooling over these posts without some hope!

    • Judith Basham

    Hungar, now have I! I lived in Saudi Arabia for eight years and can still recall the wonderful taste of Middle Eastern Food. A shawarma is good at any time of the day or night!

    • Taline Ichkhanian

    Hello david!
    I believe my mother was the lucky one to meet you in person when you visited our bakery in Beirut (Ichkhanian bakery)
    I want to thank you for the post and the beautiful pictures.
    I just want to make one small comment, the two types of lahmajun that we have are the Armenian one, also called Aintabli (from Aintab, a city that was previously in Armenia, but currently in Turkey) and the other type that is with pomegranate sauce is actually “halabi” (from Aleppo, Syria).
    Thanks again from the great post!
    Greetings from Barcelona

    • lifecycle


    • BWL

    This post brought back memories. My dad loves ayren (or ayrani as we called it) but as a kid I was put off by its intense saltiness (though as an adult I think I’d like it, I can’t find it in New York). But the one thing we all loved were lachmajouns (that’s what we called them), made by an Armenian close to where we lived. The little flat breads with the spiced meat needed just a squirt of lemon juice before being rolled up and devoured. I’ve bought some at the market on Bastille in Paris which were similar but not quite the same as the ones from when I was a kid.

    • Rosa

    As Noreen said, it would be wonderful if you could take this opportunity to go to Tawlet restaurant and tell your readers about the wonderful Souk el Tayeb initiative. Food culture at its very best!

    • fishsticksforme

    Thank you for posting these, David! What fun to read them and drool over the amazing photos. I think Lebanon has one of the really beautiful food cultures in the world. Once after a particularly incredible meal in Beirut, the servers brought 1,000 pieces of fruit to the table to end things with a bang. Now there’s a strong concept of hospitality!

    • T Franklin

    Thanks for posting, eye opening watching how you make these dishes. Tanja

    • Bebe

    Here near Pasadena and Glendale (the Armenian capital of Southern California), they call those lahmajoun. Available in many good Armenian and Middle Eastern bakeries, they are wonderful. Heated and cut into wedges, they make a great hors d’oeuvre.

    Although a Persian friend (she would never call herself Iranian) loves Zankhou Chicken, we haven’t tried it yet. But soon!

    • Paula @ Vintage Kitchen

    How weird David that you can´t buy fresh phyllo… we in buenos aires have quite a few armenian bakeries that make it and sell it by the kg. I will be happy for it even more now, and try those roll ups.
    Those shawarmas look amazing, so plump! I´m realizing that we have a few great middle eastern places here where to buy good food.
    Though the za´atar croissant from your last post is my favorite thing so far.

    • depoezenboot

    All I can say is…yum. David, your blog is the only one I open every time I get an email notification. I always know there will be something delicious and beautiful within!

    • David
    David Lebovitz

    depoezenboot: Glad you’re enjoying the site! : )

    Bebe, BWL: There is so much cross over in food in the Middle East, between countries and cultures, so for English translations, I’m using what my English-speaking Lebanese friends are telling me in the Lebanese-English translations. I suppose it’s like grinders in America, which are the same thing as elsewhere, but called something else.

    Rosa and Noreen: I already have plans to go there, trying to make arrangements with Kamal.

    Taline: Thanks for your message and your family has an amazing bakery – so nice to visit. Appreciate your translation – my Lebanese friends were helping with descriptions because I don’t speak Arabic – although I think I should learn!

    • parisbreakfast

    Funny I am eating more Lebanese food in Paris than I ever ate before. I’m addicted to the tabouleh in the marche and the Zatar and the hummos and the pitas
    I should go to Lebanon clearly

    • CatherineFP

    David and other fans of Lebanese cuisine: What are your favorite cookbooks for this lovely food?

    • Cynthia Kukla

    Is there any chance to tease out a recipe and instructions for us non-Middle Easterns? I would love to try to even sort-of replicate the ultra-thin dough you so beautifully picture and describe.

    • Linda

    David, thanks for the posts from the Middle East. Your obvious joy and enthusiasm for the cuisine really enlivens the posts. What a wonderful culture. Must dig out Ottolenghi, Malouff and Roden cook books!

    • Joanie

    David, Thank you for enlightening so many on the wonderful Lebanese cuisine. It makes me proud to be of Lebanese origin.I hope you will delight us with more culinary discoveries on your trip. Visiting my father’s homeland is definitely on my bucket list!

    • Jim Takita

    Always a joy to read your newsletter. Thanks David!

    • J.S. @ Sun Diego Eats

    That looks so much better than any shawarma I’ve ever had! The flat bread with the toppings thats rolled up looks the best though.

    • Lien

    The L’ahm b’ajeen reminds me of the lahmacun in Turkey, makes me hungry!

    • Helen

    Based on the number of comments, I would guess that most towns/cities in North America, Europe, South America, have a few good Lebanese restaurants. Every city I have ever lived in , or visited, had one and I have developed an addiction to Lebanese food. Thanks again for another great post.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, there are many great Middle Eastern places in America – although many of use are not too familiar with all the nuances between the various cultures and countries (Syrian, Egyptian, etc..) which are interesting to explore. You’re right that the food is addictive – za’atar, garlic, pickles the fresh herbs especially!

    • Marc

    For charcoal shawarma, try Marrouche in Hamra (Sidani street). It is a venerable institution that is out of fashion with the young crowd. Their shawarma and chicken sandwiches are absolute classics though.

    • Dana

    Your Beirut culinary travels look amazing! The food in that region of the world has such a wonderful combination of flavors…and those tiny pickles are a MUST on any respectable shawarma.

    • Maureen

    Your posts make us feel like we’re traveling alongside you. Thanks!

    • Liza in Ann Arbor

    I grew up on Lebanese food as we have the second largest population outside of Beirut here in Michigan (so I hear). Now you’ve got me wanting to try the real thing, especially that thin bread roll-up.

    • mabel

    O_o the food!
    You should so extend your paris pastry app (or just make another one!) for foody trails abroad so that one special day we can trot down the same path as you. I want to go on a food tour!!

    Also, that’ll give you more the reason to visit places, eat good things, and tell us all about it. =P

    • Pille @ Nami-Nami

    What a mouthwatering overview, David! Seems that that part of the world knows their breakfasts and also how still fit in more food shortly afterwards :)

    • Betty

    You are bringing a tear to me eye….I miss Lebanon and my family there so much! It’s been 8 years since my last trip. I’m assuming that this is your first trip, and you’re not going to want to leave. I’m so glad that you’re enjoying your time there. Please make sure to visit Jbeil, my hometown. You have so much to explore in such a small country.

    • Maureen Abood

    How beautiful (and mouthwatering) to read about your trip to Lebanon.

    I blog about Lebanese cuisine and growing up Lebanese American on my site, Rose Water & Orange Blossoms. Last year I loved the man’oushe I had in Lebanon and blogged about it, with recipe, here:

    • Julia

    I dream of visiting Lebanon someday. Your trip looks amazing. Enjoy every minute and eat extra food for me. YUM!

    • Chris at Hye Thyme Cafe

    Funny timing – I made Lamejune filling the other day and tried it on a traditional pizza crust to see how that would be. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on that one since there was a power failure fight after it went in the oven. I make them on flour tortillas now and again when I can’t get to the Armenian bakery. I have a hard enough time rolling out pizza dough. I can’t even begin to imagine making my own Lahmejune or Phyllo dough. Wish I was old enough when she was still doing it to have learned from my grandmother. :(

    • Melissa

    I spent 6 months in Syria as a peacekeeper, and this post really brings me back. I’ve never been able to find a shawarma here that’s the same as I had there, and your post is the first I’ve seen with it. And as for the bread filled with salty cheese, we called those cheese boats. They were soooo good.

    We’d go into the shops at Khan Arnabe (a village pretty much set up for the UN and located near the camp). You’d probably spend 2 hours at each shop, and they’d send out for shawarma, cheese boats, and the best fried chicken I’d ever have (with toum as a dipping sauce!). It’s amazing how much taste is intertwined with memories…Writing about this, I am right back there.

    • Aya

    Am sure the Lebanese minstry of tourism will have to thank you because your posts seem to increase the number of people wanting to go to Lebanon. I love that you’re exploring street food as opposed to nifty resturants. Btw, u cant go to Lebanon & not have a sesame ka’ak with picon and/or zaatar! Tell ur friends you want some ka’ak David!

    • Aya @sukarah

    Oh and u must go to Refaat Al Halab and some of their Halawet el jebn حلاوه الجبن. Its to die for.

    • Cassie

    Zankou is one of my favorite places to eat, and their garlic sauce is divine!

    • Cherine

    So happy to read about your adventures in beirut my hometown! Great posts!

    • E. Nassar

    Damn it David! I miss my home city more than ever now. Glad you’re having (had?) a great time and eating amazing food. Thanks for sharing.

    • Salima

    Oh-my-God… you make me hungry and I just had dinner!
    Love your recipes.
    Enjoy your trop!

    • Ahmad

    This is my favorite, Tawok sandwich : chicken pieces, pickle and garlic sauce :)


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