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National Tabbouleh Day

Contributing writer: Camille CESBRON, Food Anthropologist

On Saturday July the 4th, Lebanese all over the world will celebrate Lebanese National Tabbouleh Day. People gather to celebrate by eating the national dish, in the thee colors of the Lebanese flag. This celebration based around the idea of commensality – eating together – and reinforced by the idea of preserving their culinary identity, shows the Lebanese attachment to their culture through the consumption of the same dish. Tabbouleh is important to us because it is so embodied in your life and social gatherings.

This celebration which was launched in 2001 by Ricardo Mbarkho, Lebanese artist living in Paris, has rapidly spread around the world.

From the Arabic word tabbala (تبّل) « to season », tabbouleh is most commonly made with parsley, tomatoes, burghul, spring onion (in spring and summer) or brown onion, olive oil, lemon juice, and sometimes mint. There are few ways to eat tabbouleh : with lettuce or cabbage leaves, wine leaves during spring and summer and some people even enjoy it with bread.

Fresh saff tabbouleh from Rashaya ready to be served

Tabbouleh holds an essential place in the Lebanese mezze: people would have most often tabbouleh or fattouche on the table, to the point where it’s almost mandatory in Lebanon to have at least one salad on the table. Tabbouleh has several « declensions » in Lebanon, lentils replace the burghul in the Chouf, and fennel replace parsley in some villages. The word tabbouleh itself has been used to refer to different salads and dishes containing burghul and mixed fresh vegetables ; one of the most interesting dishes is called Tabbouleh bi Qawarma and usually replace the traditional ingredients in winter when herbs are not in season.

Qawarma tabbouleh served with boiled cabbage leaves

Preparing tabbouleh is a social activity because it takes time to prepare the parsley. Women gather to form little bunches of even-size parsley then chop it with a very sharp knife to give it a clean cut in order to not bruise the herb.

Lentil tabbouleh from the Chouf

Lebanon and Syria share the origins of tabbouleh. There, in the cities the tabbouleh is the classic version but in the countryside, lentil and cucumber are sometimes added, and instead of onion, garlic is sometimes used. It’s said that women invite each other to prepare and eat tabbouleh. It can be an early lunch, or at night for dinner. Usually they serve it with jam and add roasted peanuts on top. In Syria, it said that men usually prefer fattouche, as tabbouleh is more linked to women.

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