Lebanese Food Makes A Splash in Tapas-Loving Madrid

Having spent a fair chunk of my college years far from the family nest, I was deprived of my mother’s heartwarming Lebanese cooking. For those residing in Lebanon, that hardly qualifies as a debacle—you’re smothered with options for Lebanese cuisine, be it the mezza or home variety. In fact, plats du jour have become all the rage, and you can order them anywhere.

But for the expatriate population that spends time away from mother and the motherland, decent Lebanese restaurants are few and far between. When I first moved to Boston, I recall getting inordinately ecstatic when a Lebanese food truck parked right outside the university, curbside. I rushed out to scan the menu and finally settled on a kafta sandwich. It came doused in laban, totally devoid of seasoning, and strangely garnished with…no, not parsley, onions and tomatoes as one might expect, but…falafel. Revolting. 

In Paris, too, things weren’t much better. The famous Lebanese chain Noura is rank-and-file meh, and it’s rather pricey. I once stumbled upon a Lebanese fast-food hole-in-the-wall near the quartier Latin, and, desperately craving a taouk wrap, I nearly cried when I discovered the chicken was boiled, bland and slippery—djeij maslou2—not even remotely related to the hulking marinated cubes we all love and adore. I tossed the sandwich in the poubelle, cursing my misfortune.

Kebbe, or "minced meat balls," at Madrid's newest Lebanese bistro Shukran

A new and expanding chain in Spain, however, may finally be doing our cuisine justice to foreigners. Having been born nearly two years ago in Madrid by half-Lebanese owner Bill Saad, Shukran proposes Lebanese cuisine in a very un-Arab ambiance meant to camouflage with the local culture. The atmosphere is decidedly hipster, targeting primarily Europeans and, indirectly, Arabs living in the city. The approach is discreet, in that besides traditional Lebanese grub, Spanish fusion cuisine is also on order. It seems the best way to an uninitiated belly is blending in with the familiar, and that could explain why Shukran has really taken off.

There are three distinct concepts at Shukran. The first is Shukran Street, a joint serving food supplied by a central kitchen and heated on site. The average fare per person is €8. Shukran City outlets are 120 sq. m. in area and feature a more extensive menu, with half the dishes prepared on-premises. Take-away and delivery exist, and the typical bill is €18 per guest. The largest of the trio, Shukran Gourmet, is spread across 200 sq. m. and offers diners a comprehensive menu, with an expected cost per head of €25-30.

Outdoor terrace of Shukran Gourmet

You won’t find clichéd Arabesque décor inside a Shukran space. In fact, the restaurant shuns camels, tarboosh, and carpets in favor of a modern Lebanese reality that embraces the West. Health-conscious eating is on the rise in Europe, and Lebanese cuisine fits that niche, together with Peruvian and Japanese. Thus, demand for our Levantine cuisine is high.

Thanks to folks like Saad and his partner in the concept, Salim Mallat Lopez--also half-Lebanese, half-Spanish--Lebanese culture and cuisine are finally gaining exposure in countries like Spain, where heretofore little was known of them. It’s intriguing to see that the management team behind Shukran is a mix of Spaniards, Argentinians, Venezuelans, Frenchmen, and other nationalities. Curiously, there are no Lebanese besides Saad and Lopez! Perhaps those from foreign shores are better poised to appreciate and promote that which is novel to them, and this dons them a certain credibility a born-and-bred Libano could never hope to pull off abroad.

It goes without saying that if you’re in Madrid or planning a trip there soon, give Shukran a try and let me know what you think. The photos below have me salivating! 

Hommos: "ambassador of the Lebanese cuisine, par excellence"

Moussaka: roasted eggplants, chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, and garlic

Mujaddara: "a semolina with lentils and fried onions"

Mutabal: "eggplant caviar"

Pastela Libanesa: rice pastry filled with beef, chicken, pine nuts, peas and raisins.
I imagine this to be one of the fusion dishes.

Sirloin skewer: kebab of beef tenderloin

Twitter: @shukran_madrid
Instagram: @shukran_restaurante


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