3.337 P31bO/Lebanon(37): Manouche Kafta

-Cycle 3, Item 337-
7 (Fri) December 2012

P31bO/Lebanon(37): Manouche Kafta


at Beirut Fast Food

-Itaewon, Seoul-

with Jang HJ and his girlfriend

Lebanon is the 37th consecutive country to be featured in the on-going Project 31 By Origin (see previously 3.336 P31bO/China(36): Lo Mein Noodle Soup with Shrimp Wontons).

Manouche is a Lebanese bread dish.  It consists of a flatbread that's baked in an oven, topped with various meats/vegetables/cheeses/herbs, then folded into a sandwich or served whole/sliced like a pizza (see Wikipedia on manakish).  The term--as well as variations of the term, including "manakish" or "manaeesh"--derives from the Arabic "manqushah" ("to sculpt") in reference to the act of rolling the dough out and making indentations across the surface to better hold the toppings.  It's a popular/common dish for breakfast/lunch/snack in Lebanon (see Wikipedia on Lebanese cuisine).

Beirut Fast Food is a Lebanese restaurant specializing in quick-fix fare.  Located in Itaewon, it's probably the only such place in Korea.  In addition to many variations on manouche, the rest of the menu seemed to align generally with what I know about Middle Eastern eats--what I know being limited to my first official Middle Eastern meal just a few days ago (see 3.333 Bamiya)--items like falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, and french fries.  From the street, frankly, the establishment doesn't look like much; within, there's barely any room to move around, especially if customers are already present (max capacity = 4 customers).  If not for (see The Alien Bank's listing for Beirut Restaurant), I probably never would've known about the restaurant.  And if not for P31bO, I probably never would've considered trying it.

As a confluence of those 2 factors, however, I had the fortune of discovering Beirut Fast Food's manouche.  When I walked in, I asked the owner/chef: "What's your best Lebanese dish?"  Without hesitation, he replied: "lamb sandwich" (during a subsequent conversation, he'd tell me about calling it "manouche").  He proceeded to make the flatbread base on the spot, weighing a ball of dough on the scale, rolling it out by hand, sliding the pie into the oven.  After a few minutes, he removed the cooked bread, added the toppings down the middle--minced lamb ("kafta"), tomato, onion, some kind of pickled radish, combination of yogurt/herb/chili sauces--folded in the sides, wrapped the bundle in paper, and proudly handed it to me.  I took a bite.  The remainer went down in a frenzied blur.  From what I can recall, it was similar in essence to other Mid-East-style sandwiches, like a kebab wrap (see most recently 3.319 Lamb Doner Kebab Wrap), but the difference here was in the bread.  The bread was exquisite--slightly crisp on the outside, soft inside, chewy throughout, nutty/buttery in flavor--reminding me of a perfect pizza crust or tandoori naan.  I ordered another one, even before finishing the first.  I can't wait to go back for more.  If nothing else, this project will have been worth it just for P31bO/Lebanon.

Address: Seoul Yongsan-Gu Itaewon-Dong 137-14 (서울시 용산구 이태원동 137-14)
Phone: (02) 790-9865

The magic oven.

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