International Cuisine in Zagreb: Layali Lebanese Restaurant

Total Croatia News

© Layali Lebanese Restaurant
Muhamara, a dip made with tomatoes and walnut
Muhamara, a dip made with tomatoes and walnut

July 22, 2020 – Offering Arabic food, Middle Eastern lunches like falafel and dips with salad, or spicy grilled meat wraps, Layali Lebanese holds an authentic provenance.

Once famous mostly as a run of beer bars and backpackers, over recent years Tkalčićeva in the capital’s upper town has also become the focal point of international cuisine in Zagreb. But, even among the city’s more exotic menu of meals, Layali Lebanese Restaurant stands alone. Offering Arabic food, their light, Middle Eastern lunches like falafel and dips with salad, or spicy grilled meat wraps hold an authentic provenance. Mastermind behind the menu is Zafer Hindash, who comes from the Middle East. He runs the restaurant with his nephew Bernard Solaković. Both practicing Muslims, alcohol is not permitted on their premises, so this is a destination that’s all about the food

IMG_5195.jpegZafer Hindash and his nephew Bernard Solaković © Total Croatia News

Zafer: My name is Zafer Hindash and I’m 53. I was born in Jordan but I left there in 1976. I lived almost all my life in Dubai. My brother got a job there, so we moved the whole family. The things I remember from Jordan are the people, the neighbours, the atmosphere. It was a very similar feeling in Dubai when we arrived. There were not so many rich people there back then, unlike today. You cannot imagine what it was like to be there to see all the changes. Really, it felt like everything was running too fast. You could walk down the street one day, come back the next and it would look totally different. A few years ago, I was searching for the next place I could be, for retirement. I went to Turkey, I visited here and I liked it. I left Dubai in 2017 and came to Zagreb.

Bernard: I didn’t really know so well Arabic food until Zafer came here. I’d tried things my aunt would make on her visits here from Dubai. The food inside a Muslim home here in Zagreb is different from what you would find in a Catholic home. We brought many dishes here from Bosnia, which is where the older generations of my family are from, so it’s very normal for us to make pita and burek at home. Some people might only buy this from pekara. We also make baklava at home and other sweet specialties.

Layali_fullresolution_logo-8253.jpeg© Layali Lebanese Restaurant

Zafer: I travelled a lot and, honestly, most places are the same; you can find good people everywhere. But, I love it here. The people, the neighbours. The pace of life is more stable here than in Dubai. I am at an age now where you cannot handle everything moving so fast. This is now the best place for me to be.

Bernard: At first, people couldn’t understand why we don’t serve alcohol here. Tkalčićeva is so famous for drinking. But, after we explained that it is a religious thing, that this is our Hallowed way of working, people accepted it. We offer instead our Arabic teas and coffee.

Zafer: I was in business all my life. This is the first time I worked with food. Before this, it was only a passion in my home. Preparing food is like the sea; so many spices, so many different combinations. The food we make at Layali is the food I love to make at home. I would describe our food as Arabic, but really now, some of it is international. They ask for it everywhere. And not just falafel and hummus. I get shocked when people ask for muhamara or fatoush. I guess food and people travel a lot more these days.

Layali_fullresolution_logo-8184.jpeg© Layali Lebanese Restaurant

Bernard: It can be tricky to eat out here if you are a Muslim, because so much of the meat here is mixed and it may contain some pork. It’s even more difficult if you strictly adhere to religious rules which dictate you can only eat Halal meat. We have a Halal supplier for all of our meat here. There are farms in Croatia and the wider region which provide meats in this way.

Zafer: All of our spices are imported. We tried everything that is on offer here, but nothing is quite the same as back home. All the spices we use are really fresh. We import them from Lebanon or Dubai. We use the fresh parsley from here. In every Arabic home, you’ll find a mix of seven spices. It’s very important to our cuisine and it can differ from house to house, from region to region. We have different spice mixes for each meat dish we make. We tone down the spices to more suit European tastes but, if someone asks, we make it how we make it back home.

Layali_fullresolution_logo-1393.jpeg© Layali Lebanese Restaurant

Bernard: In my home, we mostly eat meat. We don’t actually eat so many vegetarian main courses. But, when I eat the vegetarian options from Layali, such as falafel, I really don’t miss the meat. It really encourages you to eat less meat. I feel lighter – especially when I’m working – if I eat like this. It’s perfect for a lunch in this hot, summer weather.

Zafer: If I’m not working, I love to walk. I love the city and I love the weather. I walked all over Zagreb. I don’t have a map, I just walk. I love the old buildings and the nature. In Dubai, all the buildings are new. It looks artificial to me. When I’m tired, I stop in some cafe for a drink. Especially I love the rain. When it rains, I walk. If I eat somewhere else, I usually take pizza. It’s something we don’t make here.

Layali_fullresolution_logo-8343.jpeg© Layali Lebanese Restaurant

You can find Layali Lebanese Restaurant at Tkalčićeva 59

You can read the introduction to our series on Zagreb international cuisine and the first installment here

To follow our whole series on international cuisine and to follow the Croatian restaurant and gastro scene, keep an eye on our Gourmet pages here


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