From roadside kiosks and small eateries to fancy restaurants and lounge bars, Lebanese cuisine is tingling taste buds across the capital. The number of those in love with spicy shawarma, melt-in-the mouth hummus and crispy falafel keeps rising.
One of the most popular Lebanese food joints is Al Bake in the posh New Friends Colony market. The small eatery is thronged by college students wanting to gorge on the shawarma here, which costs only Rs.25.
Served with a tangy sauce, the shawarma consists of finely chopped grilled chicken rolled in Lebanese pita bread. Two such rolls are enough to satiate anyone's hunger.
"After working for more that 20 years in Saudi Arabia as a kitchen supervisor in a restaurant, I returned and opened this joint with just one table eight years ago. Today, people from across the city come here. I really don't know how the popularity has intensified like this," M.Z. Beg, owner of Al Bake, told IANS.
Rosy Ibram, a student of the nearby Jamia Millia University, said: "This is a very suitable place for us as it is pocket friendly and the taste is incredible. I have been coming here regularly for the past four years, mainly for the shawarma."
Another small eatery serving Lebanese fare that regularly attracts food lovers is Arabian Nites in the Basant Lok market in south Delhi. However, the delicacies here cost a little more.
The shawarma at Rs.75 is on the top of visitors' wishlists but also popular are the felafel for Rs.60 and hummus - a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas - for Rs.35.
"We come here to eat Lebanese food very often and my favourite is the shawarma. I guess it is healthy as the chicken stays on the grill for a long time and all fats are burnt," said Prabal, an executive with Accenture India.
At Lebanese Point in the PVR Saket complex, the shawarma costs Rs.70 per piece while the felafel is for Rs.50.
"I have been here for over five years and the number of people coming here keeps increasing. The food is popular among all sections of society, even celebrities," said Bhagwan Das, owner of Lebanese Point.
Lebanese Point was first started in Mumbai and its whopping success inspired Bhagwan Das to open a branch in New Delhi.
"A lot of the stuff that we eat in India has originated in the Middle East. For example, kebabs came from Lebanon. Most of the spices and ingredients of Lebanese food are the same as what we use here, except for olive oil. Hence, Indian have a sense of familiarity with the cuisine," Rahul Varma, a food writer, told IANS.
For a chic and elaborate Lebanese experience, the well-heeled in the capital head to Shalom Lounge Bar in Greater Kailash Part-I, where a typical meal in the special setting can set you back by Rs.700 per head.
Kebab Krazy, a restaurant in Sector 18 of Noida, offers those in the suburbs the chance to indulge in Lebanese mezzeh.
"The most popular dish is felafel, which costs Rs.185 per portion. Two rolls of shawarma cost Rs.285, while hummus is complimentary on the purchase of shawarma and felafel. The main reason for the rising popularity of Lebanese food is that it's less oily, less spicy and very healthy," Joseph Gomes, chef at Kebab Krazzy, told IANS.
Aditya Uppal, a TV channel anchor, said: "Initially I didn't know anything about Lebanese food but once I tried it I became a big fan. I just look for a reason to treat myself to a shawarma."
"With a lot of Indians travelling abroad, they have become adventurous and are willing to try various cuisines. Even vegetarians can handle Lebanese, Greek and other mediterranean food," said Varma.
In fact, Curves, a restaurant in Pune, is famous for serving only vegetarian Lebanese food. In the national capital region, The Deck at the India Habitat Centre and Oz in the suburb of Guragaon are well-known for their variety of Lebanese vegetarian options.
While there are various joints that sell Lebanese food across India, Raffi Aslanian, a Syrian national who resides here, claims to have been the first to introduce the cuisine in the country 20 years ago.
"We provided food and catering to embassies, top five star hotels, caterers, corporates and individuals of all categories. Now I have launched the Mosaic Club restaurant in Vasant Kunj, where I am the principal chef," said Aslanian.
At Mosaic Club, one shawarma costs Rs.75, felafel Rs.50 and one plate of hummus Rs.70.
A perfect ending to the tongue-tingling food is the traditional Mediterranean dessert baklawa, which is made with filo pastry, nuts, butter and sugar, and melts in the mouth.