As an international hi-tech hub, Seattle’s flourishing ethnic population proves a fertile ground for Middle Eastern fare. Some culinary professionals use the terms ‘Middle Eastern’ and ‘Mediterranean’ interchangeably. What’s the difference?
Middle Eastern food originated in the ‘Crescent Valley,’ an ancient, fertile region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Staples included wheat, barley, pistachios, dates, figs, olives, citrus and pomegranates, with bread the foundation of any meal.
Over centuries, as trade routes and empires expanded, foodstuffs have grown to include vibrant spices like cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, chili peppers, garlic, mint, parsley, rose, sumac, thyme, and a thyme blend called za’atar. Olive oil and samna, or clarified butter, provide additional flavoring. Vegetables such as eggplant, tomatoes, squash, and onions anchor most meals, often mixed with grains, cereals, nuts, beans and pulses (edible seeds) like rice, couscous, bulgar, chickpeas, walnuts, lentils, and peas.
In a region comprising as many ethnicities as seasonings, Muslim and Jewish populations predominate, and with them, certain dietary restrictions. Both Muslim and Jewish cultures prohibit eating pork, so most Middle Eastern menus feature lamb, goat, camel and some beef, often grilled or baked. Pungent goat and sheep dairy products punctuate Middle Eastern provender as well. And because the Muslim culture eschews the use of alcohol, aromatic mint teas, floral and citrus infusions, and deeply concentrated Turkish coffee offer refreshment. Limited wine production centers primarily around Christian-dominated Lebanon.
Here, FoodableTV sneaks a peak at the top three exotic Middle Eastern eateries spicing up Seattle’s colorful culinary scene.
Mamnoon | Capitol Hill
Foodable Top 25 veteran Mamnoon offers consumers a seamless confluence between modern and traditional Levantine cuisine. The restaurant reflects the shared sensibilities of Lebanese and Syrian owners Racha and Wassaf, and Armenian Executive Chef Garrett Melkonian. Devoted patrons savor Mamnoon’s passion for preparation, intensity of flavors, and vivid presentation. Three different menus - to-go, lunch, and dinner - each feature twists on the conventional, like quinoa tabbouleh and savory gluten-free mana’eesh flat bread.
In addition to an appreciation for sensory delights, the Middle Eastern culture also stresses generosity and compassion. To that end, a key component of Mamnoon’s business model includes ways to give back. To date, Mamnoon has raised over $25,000 through Khobz for Syria and Muskarat for Syria campaigns. These drives not only fund Syrians in need, but also help build the Mamnoon community through active participation in a good cause.
Café Munir & Whiskey Bar | Ballard
Café Munir offers traditional Lebanese cuisine with intention. Founded in 2012 by owner/chef Rajah Gargour, even local chefs note the veracity of its victuals. “Something about the food feels true,” agrees restaurant superstar Tom Douglas, who lives nearby.
The food of Lebanon stands out from other Middle Eastern cuisine for cultural and geographic reasons. Gargour, who spent part of his childhood in Lebanon, attributes this to its history as a former French possession, resulting in a robust Christian population. During the 1950‘s and 1960‘s, Lebanon enjoyed the title ‘St.Tropez of the East,’ attracting wealthy, international jet-setters with refined tastes and sophisticated palates.
Cafe Munir seeks to emulate this salubrious mélange with a menu full of fresh vegetables, beans, grains, nuts, and grilled meats fit for foodies, vegetarians and vegans alike. Favorites that keep folks coming back include the rich, smokey baba ghanoush, and spicy mudardara, a classic dish of rice, lentils and caramelized onions in tomato sauce and yogurt. Plus the wickedly crafty whisky bar and cocktails, of course.
Mediterranean Kitchen | Bellevue- Kirkland - Lynnwood
Voted “Best Mediterranean Restaurant” by 425 Magazine, Mediterranean Kitchen enjoys consistent consumer contentment, unusual in an industry known for fickleness. Over thirty years ago, Bassam Aboul-Hosn and his family moved from Lebanon to Lynnwood. In Lynnwood, Bassam’s father opened the first Mediterranean Kitchen. There, under his father’s watchful eyes, Bassam developed a passion for life in the kitchen.
Today, Bassam owns three restaurants on the Eastside, reaping hard-earned success by following his father’s tenets to deliver fresh, family-oriented food served up with superlative customer service in a casual atmosphere. Mediterranean Kitchen pays attention to all consumer spectrums, including plenty of tasty vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and child-friendly menu items.
Customers rave over the soulful, home-made lentil soup, marinated chicken shawarma with grilled vegetables, and groaning mezza tray filled with an farrago of hummus, baba kanouj, labnie, tabouley, zahra (roasted cauliflower), olives, tomatoes, and cucumber.
Ultimately, while menus may vary among these three Middle Eastern restaurants, each share the same keys to success: a focus on food as a touchstone for family and social interactions, with hospitality as the cornerstone.