April 04, 2013 Beirut Lebanon Middle East

Searching for Beirut's Tastiest Man'oushe: The Results

Is it spelled man'oushe, mankouche or manqoushe? Multiple ways of spelling for one great result: spread dough topped with specially mixed thyme, a la Libanaise, baked and served hot. However you decide to spell this piece of Lebanese culture, the end result is the same - a product which is deeply rooted in Lebanon's history, loved and craved by children and adults alike on a daily basis...

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This past weekend, I went on a venture to search for the best man'oushe, or should I say,  one of the best, since  man'oushe bakeries are everywhere in Lebanon, in every corner and in every neighborhood. Tasting all bakeries around Lebanon in a day would be impossible. I had to focus on one region this week (and will do the others in due time). A 12 hour 'man'oushe hunt', which started at 6am on a calm Saturday morning and ended at 6pm.  Together with Chef Marc Abed, my friends Shady and Elie we toured Greater Beirut area, visiting and tasting 16 places. We tried a variety of places - the small artisan bakeries, the more modernized ones, the commercial spots... a bit of each, to help us see and feel the difference...

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The process:

  1. Asking NGNO's readers to suggest their favorite man'oushe bakery
  2. Researching some renowned ones online
  3. Planning a tour that would cover most of Beirut's cities
  4. Creating a table of criteria and gradings
  5. Tasting and comparing only the zaatar (Thyme) man'oushe
  6. Focusing only on the oven baked man'oushe, and not the ones made on Saj
  7. Asking each place to serve us with their specialty preparation

The Grading: The grading was divided into two main categories. 100 points for the taste and another 100 for the overall preparation and details

  • Overall look of the place
  • Hygiene: Place and staff
  • Variety of proposed choices
  • Timing of the order
  • Freshness of the ingredients used and how they look
  • Portion size
  • Oil quantity used
  • Proportionality between dough and zaatar
  • Dough cooking perfection
  • Value for money

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The bakeries visited (Furn Manakeesh)

  1. Na-Geo, Gemayze main street
  2. Ghattas Bakery, Gemmayze main street
  3. Afran Loubnan, Mar Mikhael
  4. Furn el Hayek, Achrafieh
  5. Hamadeh, Hamra
  6. Ghalaiyne, Hamra
  7. Barbar, Hamra
  8. Abdel Aziz, Hamra
  9. Atyab Chi, Mazraa
  10. Al Jazira, Mazraa
  11. Al Balad, Cola
  12. Barbar, Spears
  13. Lourdes, Badaro
  14. Al Charek, Furn El Chebbak
  15. Breakfast 2 Breakfast, Achrafieh Sassine
  16. Zaatar W Zeit, Sodeco Achrafieh

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Na-Geo, Gemayze main street

Na-Geo is located in the heart of Gemmayze, we arrived and met with the owner, who's brother has a bakery with the same name in Canada. A wide choice of preparations displayed on a back-lit box without the prices. Another carton displays the menu with prices. I think they change prices according to the market's flour price.

My Impressions:

  • The place is badly lit
  • It needs cleaning
  • A place upscale and maintenance is required

The Man'oushe:

  • The dough is nice. Soft and tenderly spongy
  • The zaatar is too strong for my taste
  • I didn't feel anything special about this man'oushe, nothing that will make me want to come back again

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Ghattas Bakery, Gemmayze main street

Ghattas Bakery, owned and managed by Mr. Robert Ghattas has been around for some time now. Reach the very end of  Gemmayze street and you will discover a little hole in the wall with a green sign board. Inside, a couple of workers, supervised by the owner himself, are producing fine pieces of bakery. Mr. Robert, a generous and welcoming person, did everything to make our visit memorable. He offered us his signature three cheese man'oushe and a couple of mini fatayers. Telling us the story of the family business, we really enjoyed one of the best man'oushe in Beirut.

My Impressions:

  • The place is very small, just order and leave
  • The owners are very welcoming
  • The choices are good, all printed on a flyer
  • You feel a welcoming spirit in the air
  • Mr. Robert offered us the man'oushes free of charged and insisted we try his signature three cheese

The Man'oushe:

  • The dough is nice. Soft and thin without being crunchy
  • The zaatar is perfectly mixed, not strong and easy to swallow
  • The proportion of zaatar and dough is adequately measures
  • I loved its tender feel, softness and taste
  • Ghattas' man'oushe is one of the top 3 in Beirut

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Afran Loubnan, Mar Mikhael

Afran Loubnan in Mar Mikhael is a new place to open on the strip. Owned and managed by Elie, Afran Loubnan is an average bakery where you go and eat a regular and simple piece of man'oushe. Nothing super special about it. You would have to stand out on the street to order, so preferably stay away from it on windy winter days.

My Impressions:

  • No signboard is installed. It will be hard for you to find Afran Loubnan
  • The place is very small, just order and leave
  • It is dirty as well. Hygiene standards are not respected much
  • The owner keeps on joking. A type of humor not everyone appreciates
  • The menu is cheap looking and full of spelling mistakes, prices are changed with a blue pen

The Man'oushe:

  • The man'oushe is smaller than the competitors and for the same price
  • Its taste is very average
  • We tasted the special tomato and cheese man'oushe that's too spicy for a morning meal

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Furn el Hayek, Achrafieh

A region called after this bakery! Why? Is it that special? We went to taste Furn El Hayek to get the story behind the name, with no luck. Unfortunately I was not impressed at all. Nothing special and their man'oushe is not even tasty.

My Impressions:

  • The place is small and dirty
  • Dirt is stacked in all corners
  • We waited too long for a simple man'oushe
  • I was hoping to meet Mr. Hayek who never showed up

The Man'oushe:

  • The man'oushe is too oily
  • The dough is not fresh and hard to chew
  • Nothing exceptional will make you want to order it again

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Hamadeh, Hamra

Hamadeh, has been around for the past 50 years. One of the first bakeries in Hamra, Hamade offers a "close to perfection" piece of dough. A tasty, crunchy, thick man'oushe which can be described as an oriental pizza with crunchy rolled up sides. Hamadeh, located at the beginning of Hamra street, has survived this long for a reason, don't you think?

My Impressions:

  • Clean kitchen
  • A very welcoming staff
  • A super wide choice for all tastes and moods

The Man'oushe:

  • Perfectly rounded
  • Crunchy on the sides
  • Non oily
  • Premium zaatar is used

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Ghalaiyne, Hamra

Ghalayine, Barbar's main competitor, is one of the places that do mass production serving Hamra's busy streets. A very wide choice of everything imaginable layered on a dough and prepared in industrial quantities. We tasted their man'oushe, the least expensive in town for only 750L.L and a chicken fajita mix.

My Impressions:

  • Even though it's produced in large quantities, the place is clean
  • The staff is professional and working like a bee colony

The Man'oushe:

  • The zaatar is premium and the dough is very tasty
  • Their special fajita is really unique
  • Good quality ingredients are used
  • It's a place I recommend

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Barbar, Hamra

Many say their man'oushe is tasty while others are scared of eating at Barbar. Scared? I didn't see anything unusual or unhealthy to scared off, but I can assure you that it's not tasty. Barbar is more of a factory. Production is their motto. It's one of the least places I liked.

My Impressions:

  • A beautiful place
  • Valet parking
  • Nice decoration
  • Professional management
  • It's a fast food chain and not an authentic small eatery

The Man'oushe:

  • Too commercial
  • Too oily
  • A dough that I didn't like much
  • Too small for its price

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Abdel Aziz, Hamra

Located on the corner of a street leading to Bliss, Abdel Aziz might look cheap and dirty but believe me the owner is trying his best to provide the area with a decent upscale man'oushe. We had the chance to meet with him, where he explained about the way he prepares his dough.

My Impressions:

  • A very normal place under the road
  • Dozens of man'oushes displayed and ready to be devoured
  • The same pizza like style found around the Hamra area
  • More like an industry, order, pay and leave

The Man'oushe:

  • It looks commercial until you taste it
  • It's way too oily but didn't cause heart burn
  • The zaatar is not strong and gentle on the stomach
  • No salt is used in the dough which which makes it look spongier, and gives it a tastier longer lasting feel

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Atyab Chi, Mazraa

On our way to Al Jazira bakery, we stopped in front of Atyab Chi, few meters away. Atyab Chi is fresh and new owned and managed by Rabih, a funny guy who really took care of us as we have been friends for years. He insisted on offering us three man'oushes.

My Impressions:

  • A clean place
  • A wide choice of possibilities
  • A clean chef handling the furnace
  • A nice printed leaflet

The Man'oushe:

  • Thick yet tender at the same time
  • Tasty zaatar is used
  • Premium ingredients imported from Syria
  • One of the most oily man'oushes we tasted today but the oil used is premium and doesn't cause heart burns
  • A tasty man'oushe it is

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Al Jazira, Mazraa

Located in Mazraa, in Jazira center, this bakery is not one of best things you want to see. I compared it to Abou Arab; where it's better to eat without seeing. Half the shop is on the walkway with man'oushes thrown here and there just a couple of meters away from the passing cars. Enjoy a new way of eating dust and pollution. On another hand, Al Jazira has one of the best man'oushes I've tasted today. A must try!

My Impressions:

  • A dirty place
  • An owner smoking next to the food
  • The staff doesn't look clean
  • Half the materials are outside the shop on the walkway

The Man'oushe:

  • One of the best
  • Soft and tender
  • Perfectly cooked
  • Premium Zaatar
  • Adequate thickness

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Al Balad, Cola

Leaving AL Jazira, the owner asked us to pas by Al Balad. It wasn't one of the best advice to take. Surely not the place you want to enjoy a tasty man'oushe.

My Impressions:

  • The place is too dirty
  • The furnace guy doesn't look like a professional employee
  • The fridge is full of previously prepared man'oushes covered in nylon which makes them look dirty and unprofessional

The Man'oushe:

  • An average street man'oushe
  • Nothing special about it that made want to take another bite

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Barbar, Spears

Exactly like its little brother in Hamra, Barbar has a man'oushe that is not tasty. Dozens of employees are all working together producing hundreds of pieces of dough in a synchronized way. The manager didn't accept that we take pictures, so we did so without his permission.

My Impressions:

  • Professional and clean
  • Nice and impressive decoration
  • A complicated hierarchy
  • More of an industrial factory than a bakery

The Man'oushe:

  • Small
  • Thick
  • Hard to chew
  • Oily
  • Looks and feels industrial and cheap

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Lourdes, Badaro

Lourdes is the place that has the most "Laisser Aller" among the places visited. Phones, pens, papers and cigarettes boxes are all on the working platform. The staff goes in and out without washing their hands. Cleaning towels here and there... You really don't want to see this place. BUT as for its man'oushe. Yummy. It's really close to perfection.

My Impressions:

  • In couple of words, the place is not up to the standards of he man'oushe offered
  • Prices are all changed, depending on the way a client looks
  • An unappealing small kiosk
  • Many residents of Badaro don't know this place as it looks cheap and small

The Man'oushe:

  • Awesome
  • Delicious
  • Fresh
  • Generous
  • The dough is exquisite
  • The zaatar quality is premium

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Al Charek, Furn El Chebbak

I have never tasted worse. Nothing's good to have around here. A dirty place, an unpleasant staff and a cold man'oushe. We asked a lot before arriving to this place. I really wanted to know the story behind "Furn EL Chebbak". A region that has a name of a bakery. The women led us here. Shocking!

My Impressions:

  • A general bakery, mini market and a man'oushe shop at the same time
  • Very dirty
  • Nylon bags, papers... Everything that has nothing to do with a bakery
  • Ministry of health should pay them a visit

The Man'oushe:

  • Thick and chewy
  • It was served cold
  • Zaatar is close to being disgusting
  • The grades reflect my feelings

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Breakfast 2 Breakfast (B2B), Achrafieh Sassine

Now was time to move on to what is supposed to be the best. We went to B2B. With years of experience, dozens of staff members, a respect for the quality and service and a delivery army producing freshly baked good by the minute. When we arrived, the cashier had to shout:"Who's turn is it?" Then someone came from outside, threw his cigarette and without washing his hands grabbed a previously prepared dough and threw it inside the oven. No hygiene respected, no professionalism, and the worst part not a premium taste.

My Impressions:

  • A total disappointment.
  • Nobody even asked me why I am taking pictures
  • A staff moving on slow motion

The Man'oushe:

  • Below average
  • Oily with a strong taste of zaatar
  • Undercooked
  • Very commercial

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Zaatar W Zeit, Sodeco Achrafieh

For the ones who were expecting to see ZWZ's man'oushe at number one, they will be disappointment. ZWZ man'oushe is the only one out of the 16 that contains sugar. It's sweeter than being a savory breakfast. That feel of sweetness covers other premium ingredients and negative things. It's zaatar content is too little and the dough is thin to an extent of being transparent.

My Impressions:

  • The cleanest place you can imagine
  • It's not your usual man'oushe place, you'll feel like you're sitting in a dream park
  • Beautiful decoration
  • A perfect setup

The Man'oushe:

  • Super thin
  • Unjustifiably the most expensive of all
  • Zaatar is too little
  • It's too crunchy and breaks into little pieces
  • It comes cut in slices even though we didn't ask for that. I and many others like to see it in one piece, maybe roll it to eat

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Conclusions and Discoveries:

  • All man'oushes have an average price of 1000/1250 in Hamra and 1250/1500 in Achrafieh (LL)
  • Hamra has a special way of making a man'oushe, just like an American Pizza, with thick crunchy rounded sides. While in Achrafieh all of them are thinner with the same homogeneous thickness and the dough is not perfectly rounded. It's kept as prepared, more like an oval shape
  • Preparing the dough without salt is better as the yeast gets to work adequately with the flour making the dough fluffier. This man'oushe will last longer
  • Adding sugar is trying to be tricky, trying to make the man'oushe more addictive. It doesn't always work
  • Almost all bakery owners were very responsive, answering all the questions and allowing us to take pictures of every single detail
  • A special thank you to those who invited us

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Incident of the day: Out of the 17 bakeries visited, yes we actually went to 17 places that day and one place didn't welcome us. The owner didn't let us take pictures or even try to explain what we are trying to do. An incident worth describing. Mankouche Xpress in Achrafieh facing Hotel Alexandre was very aggressive and impolite. He shouted telling us not to take pictures. When I tried explaining to him what we are trying to do: searching for the best man'oushe and all I need is to buy one order to taste, he answered: "I'm not interested, remove the camera now". He had something to hide that's for sure. I definitely won't even try eating in this dirty place...

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The Final three winners:
  • The overall preparation winner: Hamadeh, Ghalaniye, Atyab Chi, Zaatar W Zeit
  • The tastiest man'oushe winner: Al Jazira, Lourdes, Ghattas
  • Big winner of all /200: Hamadeh, Ghattas, Atyab Chi

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Stay tuned, more reviews and other regions will be coming your way soon.




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been there? what was your impression? (5.67/10)

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