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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JAKARTA: At her home in Beirut, Lisa Maalouf would host lunch feasts for her children and friends almost every Sunday — a weekly affair through which she channeled her passion for cooking, which recently gave rise to her own restaurant in one of the world’s most coveted tourist destinations.
The 65-year-old from the Lebanese capital is now the head chef of Zali in Pererenan, in the southwestern part of Bali, the Indonesian island that every year welcomes millions of international tourists.
Maalouf established Zali with her daughter and son, as well as their friends and business partners. When the restaurant opened during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, it was welcomed with enthusiasm.
“The people were open to learning about the new concept, they were eager to learn what’s this, what’s Lebanese food. It was really nice to introduce them to a new culture,” Maalouf told Arab News.
And she wanted it to be the way it was at her home, to replicate her Sunday feasts in Beirut — an experience she said was always filled with chats, laughter, food-sharing and togetherness.
“This is the purpose of Zali. I’m a mom, I’m a grandma. I cook here as I cook back home with my kids, how I cook for my family,” she said.
“This is authentic, homemade food. It’s not a restaurant-restaurant, you know? Everybody calls me ‘mama’ here. They love to come and eat. They tell me they love the food because just like how your mama cooks at home, it’s me cooking here.”
Zali was also an opportunity for her to show the traditional Levantine cordial and generous treatment of guests.
“The Lebanese bring people together,” she said. “Lebanese hospitality is known for its generosity; it has a very welcoming vibe.”
The restaurant’s menu is an array of her own favorite dishes, such as kibbeh, a popular Levantine dish based on spiced ground meat and cracked wheat, which is served with a side of yogurt dip.
“It’s ethnic, different from other cuisines. It is unique. It’s not European, not American. It is unique and we have all our ingredients fresh,” Maalouf said.
In Bali’s southeast seaside town of Sanur, Lebanese cuisine is also making its mark with Lebanesian Warung.
The restaurant opened about five years ago, with a name that plays on the owner couple’s origins — the husband is from Lebanon and the wife from Indonesia.
“Our food is authentic, it’s not fancy, it’s not fusion or anything like that,” Kitty, the Indonesian owner, told Arab News.
Together with her husband Charbel, who is from the northern Lebanese city of Zgharta, Kitty serves various types of mixed grill, shawarma, mezze, as well as falafel, garlic sauce, and traditional leavened bread with different toppings, including zaatar.
“We’re small, but we’re very proud of a lot of our dishes. Because you know, it’s the Lebanese tongue who has tried and tested it. We make a lot of things from scratch,” Kitty said.
She is particularly proud of their bread, baked from an in-house recipe and always made to order.
“Our staff knows how to assemble a lot of things but either my husband or I will still season most of the dishes. So, it’s very rustic,” she said.
Throughout the years, Kitty and Charbel have kept the Sanur restaurant small to stay true to its unique offering — personal touch.
“It’s in everything, you know, it’s in the flavor itself, it’s in the interaction, it’s in the decor … It’s like going to someone’s house to eat. It’s the hospitality, which is a huge part of Middle Eastern culture,” Kitty said.
“It’s not a conveyor belt style production. It’s human touch. You can feel that every bowl would be different, slightly, because we season every bowl as it goes out. It’s a personal touch, it’s family-feel, it’s hospitality, warmth, abundance, which is all representative of the culture.”
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