British Columbia

Love Middle Eastern cuisine? Here are 3 restaurants to check out

The Middle East is a big, diverse place, and the same is true of its culinary styles. Here are three restaurants in the Lower Mainland with great Middle Eastern food.

We look at restaurants in Vancouver, Burnaby and Chilliwack

A sampling of food from Aleph Middle Eastern Eatery, one of three restaurants highlighted by On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson this week. (@alepheatery/Instagram)

Diverse flavours from the Middle East are becoming increasingly prevalent in the Lower Mainland, says On The Coast food columnist Gail Johnson.

Here are three places she recommends:

Aleph Middle Eastern Eatery, Vancouver

"The menu is inspired by the kind of food that [co-owner Haitham] El Khatib grew up with, but he and the other chefs put their own spin on things.

"Let's take saj as an example. Saj is a Lebanese flatbread. What makes the saj here a little different from the traditional version is that it's brushed with chimichurri — that garlicky Argentinian sauce that's usually served with grilled meat. So you'll find all sorts of little twists and tweaks like that. I wouldn't call it fusion food, but it is border-less.

"All of the food is vegetarian. I love the Silk Road, which has hummus, eggplant, and labneh, which is a kind of yogurt cheese, topped with honey, pomegranate seeds, and zaatar, a Middle Eastern mixture of herbs and spices such as thyme and oregano along with sumac, sesame seeds. It's a colourful and comforting dish to share. One thing I haven't tried yet but need to go back for is a grilled-halloumi sandwich with fig jam."

Chilliwack Kabab, Chilliwack

"Chilliwack Kabab is run by Wael Jomaah. He and his family fled Syria several years ago, living for a while in a refugee camp, then in Jordan. They flew to Montreal before coming to Vancouver two years ago. They stayed in a hotel until they found suitable rental housing in Chilliwack.

"Back in Syria, Jomaah was a chef at a few different high-end restaurants. The food here is traditional and unfussy. 

"So, yes, of course there are kababs and kabab wraps, as well as falafel, fattoush, and shawarma, which is chicken roasted on a rotating spit."

"Then there's a kibbeh labania platter. Kibbeh are deep-fried dumplings; here they're stuffed with bulgur wheat; minced, seasoned beef; and onions. Jomaah serves them in a bowl with cooked yogurt and rice.

"And he makes a beautiful baklava — I like it because it's not overly sweet."

Anatolia's Gate, Burnaby

"Anatolia's Gate is the real deal. Father-and-son team Hakki and Selman Cakal make traditional dishes like Turkish olives mixed with grape tomatoes and feta cheese; carrot and pickled-red-cabbage salads; baba ganoush; and lavash, a crisp, unleavened flatbread baked in its wood-fired oven.

"That hot stone oven is also used to make guvech. The name means earthenware dish or casseroles cooked in it. So these are all different types of stew, from kofte, which are grilled-meat balls, to kuru, which consists of giant lima beans with a choice of lamb or sujuk sausage, all in a rich tomato sauce and served with lavash. Savoury deliciousness."

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast