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Marhaba Lebanon: How Zizo Is Keeping a Legacy Alive In Delhi

5 May , 2016  

For scores of people in India, the idea of Lebanese food is restricted to shawarma, hummus and the occasional salad abundant with greens for a refreshing taste. Where then, can one find the real taste of Lebanese food in India? The answers may vary where you live, but move towards the Capital and ask this question; Delhiites are most likely to direct you towards Zizo at Connaught Place.

With white and pastel tones, this eatery is home to Lebanese cuisine in the heart of Delhi, and it’s as authentic as it can get! This is because Zizo’s food philosophy hinges on one simple idea – a bite of a simple life. “In the old days in Lebanon, everything was organic and healthy, as it came from the gardens and fields. We wanted to have that concept of farm to plate at Zizo,” says Fouad Abdel Malak, CEO-Partner, Zizo. Abdel Malak says using organic produce helps replicate the taste of the food in the village, the kind he remembers from his childhood in the mountains of Lebanon. “It’s simple, authentic food. It’s healthy, and it’s wholesome,” adds Abdel Malak.

And they’ve gone to great lengths to ensure that the taste of Lebanese cuisine remains intact, by shipping ingredients all the way from Lebanon’s Grade A organic farms. Key ingredients like Lebanese zaatar and sumac, tahini, organic pomegranate molasses, and mulberry syrup, orange blossom water, and rose water used in a majority of the dishes come all the way from Lebanon, says Chef Danny Elsoury, Executive Chef, Zizo. He adds that while there are similarities in Indian and Lebanese cuisine are plenty (garlic, coriander, cumin, cardamom, nutmegs and chick peas), Zizo’s menu is “based on fresh ingredients, vegetables and herbs, cooked with olive oil. We follow the authenticity when it comes to ingredients and spices,” adds Chef Danny. The Fattoush Salad is a perfect testimony – composed of mint leaves, lettuce and fresh herbs, it also has organic sumac and organic pomegranate molasses. These two elements with lemon make it very sour. “You are supposed to scrunch your face when you eat it! This is the kind of food I grew up eating in the mountains as a child, and that’s the kind of food I wanted to serve,” explains Abdel Malak.

The Cold Mezze wit small Fattoush salad, Labneh and Zaatar, etc. - an ideal way to start a meal with friends

The Cold Mezze wit small Fattoush salad, Labneh and Zaatar, etc. – an ideal way to start a meal with friends

 

A lot of planning has gone into creating the menu, conceptualised by Abdel Malak, along with Chef Danny. The team was clear to exclude Beirut recipes from the menu as they are too clean and minimalistic. Instead, they turned to the mountains and rustic locales, where the food has a bit more flavour and kick, as they felt it would work better with Indian audiences. “We spent about 6 months curating the menu to see what would work in India. We wanted to balance between dishes that are typical Lebanese and also spiced up a few varieties to suit the Indian palate,” says Abdel Malak. Chef Danny, who has been at the helm since the last two years at the Zizo kitchen, has updated the eclectic menu to include several classics and crowd-pleasers. The Chicken Minty Burger made from the choicest produce is served with potato wedges, fresh herbs, mint garlic dip and pickles, gives an authentic Lebanese twist to a fast-food option. In line with demands from diners for popular foods, the Falafel Burger, says Chef Danny, was introduced a year post Zizo’s opening. “Falafel is stuffed with cheese, served with spicy hummus and tahini, along with pickles and sesame bun.” A dish that offers the best of both worlds, it is little wonder that it remains one of the favourites.

The Chicken Minty Burger with fresh herbs , sumac, onion, spicy hummus

The Chicken Minty Burger with fresh herbs , sumac, onion, spicy hummus

 

Speaking of favourites, Chef Danny has hand-picked dishes as a part of the set menu for WowTables that is available at Zizo. The 5 Course Middle-Eastern Extravaganza at Zizo features dishes that are a delightful mix of classic Lebanese fare and those that would please Indian diners. “We have tried to ensure that diners get an interesting selection to choose from. It is also important that they can experiment as much as much they can in a single visit, right from the salad, starters, mains to dessert. The ultimate aim is to give them a trip to Lebanon without a ticket!” says Chef Danny. The Provencale chicken wings – chicken lollipop with lemon and coriander sauce, Mutton Kibbi – Lebanese twisted chicken balls filled with mutton and choice spices, Zaatar Man’oushe – fresh flatbread topped with organic thyme and olive oil are just a few of the dishes from the WowTables experience here. The Batata Harra, which looks like an Indian-Lebanese mix, is actually a classic! “It is one of the most popular dishes in Lebanese hot mezzes. The apparent similarity is because of the chilli paste, garlic and fresh coriander (which is also used a lot in Indian food),” clarifies Chef Danny.

With chilli paste, garlic and fresh coriander, the Batata Harra makes for flavoursome bites

With chilli paste, garlic and fresh coriander, the Batata Harra makes for flavoursome bites

 

Keeping in line with the concept of simple, comfort food, the décor too has a cozy, homey vibe. Abdel Malak informs us that the chairs at the restaurant have been customized to resemble the designs from the old times in Lebanon and the same pattern was replicated on the walls. The walls have alcoves with wooden trunks, reminiscent of rustic Lebanese décor. A library filled with Lebanese books lines the wall, while Arabic music by legends like Umm Kulthum, Abdel Wahab as well as up and coming modern Lebanese jazz artists creates a lively yet relaxing vibe. “It feels like you’re sitting at a friend’s house in Lebanon. We’ve had Charles Aouad, one the best architects in Lebanon design the space, without making any compromises or cutting any corners. It’s very important for us to add elements of authenticity and playfulness. We aim to be a hub for Lebanese culture in Delhi, give diners a wonderful experience – one that makes them want to go and explore Lebanon,” says Abdel Malak, visibly proud of his heritage and culture.

The cosy interiors at Zizo, giving off a comely, warm vibe

The cosy interiors at Zizo, giving off a comely, warm vibe

 

It is perhaps this attention to detail that has made Zizo synonymous with Lebanese dining in Delhi today. There are plans for another lounge property at Cyber Hub, Gurgoan. “There will be space reserved for performances to give diners something interesting,” adds Abdel Malak. In fact, there’s another outlet opening soon at Mall of India, Noida. “The idea is to keep the interiors a little more casual – more glass, more open space, a juice and alcohol bar and desserts displayed like Lebanese coffee shops,” adds a clearly excited Abdel Malak. I am told the ceiling will have colourful strings that the CEO and his friends would tie their pet beetles to as kids (also the Zizo logo) and wooden accents to give the whole space a playful, casual, vibe and I can’t help but break into a smile at the simplicity of it all!


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Nagwa enjoys long walks on the beach. When she isn't busy gorging on food, she writes about it, painting a picture with her words. Her Zen comes from making chocolate cookies at odd hours in the night and buying (and sniffing) way more books than she can manage to read.

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