Holy Guacamole! Is that a Salsa Chaat?

A full century after Lebanese immigrants first sought refuge on the eastern coast of Mexico, the cross-cultural cuisine born of that exodus has reached the shores of Mumbai. But this pure vegetarian Chowpatty eatery has a distinct Indian flavour, Anjana Vaswani finds

Dishes like Kibbeh, Tabouleh and Tacos Arabes, although Lebanese, are just as much a part of authentic Mexican cuisine. Born of the influence of the Arabs, who streamed into Mexico between the 19th and 20th centuries, Mexican cuisine, in fact, stands testimony to how magnificent cultural fusion can be. With ample vegetarian preparations, it's surprising that there are so few eateries serving this cuisine in Mumbai. Which is why, we were excited to drop by at the newly-opened and oddly-named Leb Mex that claimed to offer authentic Lebanese and Mexican food.

The Quesadillas (Rs 120) are made with Black Beans, Grilled Vegetables,
Sour Cream, Cheese and Guacamole. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Positioned just beside Sukh Sagar at Chowpatty, Leb Mex is brightly-lit, and with coloured caricatures of everything from red peppers to Mexican dancers dominating one wall, the ambiance of the split-level eatery is cheery albeit a tad childish -- not entirely inappropriate for a fast-food place, though.

We ask a small group of servers standing behind a glass counter, what they would recommend for the health-conscious. They scratch their chins in what seems like a synchronised motion. 'Hummus,' offers one, while the other draws our attention to their salads.

There are three varieties of salads on offer -- a Taco Salad with beans, greens and salsa (Rs 125); which sounds heavy for our liking, a French Fries Salad (Rs 95) -- really just a serving of French fries covered with a blanket of melted cheese, and a Couscous Salad (Rs 90), which we sample and enjoy. It's light, flavoursome and healthy, though servers are clearly oblivious to the nutritional value of the Middle Eastern grain that's a good source of protein, potassium and antioxidants.

A Salsa bar stands at the base of the staircase that leads up to three small tables. Tempted by the five varieties on display, we ask to sample each. Neither is particularly impressive, but the Pineapple and Mango Salsa is interesting, even though it tastes more like a salad than a sauce and could just as easily be dubbed a bean chaat. On the other hand, all six varieties of Hummus here were impressive.

The Sundried Tomato Hummus (Rs 150), in particular, deserves special mention. If you happen to be passing the place, and feel like a quick snack, this is worth stopping by for. Despite the name, there are only four items listed under Fusion: Mediterranean Nachos with Feta cheese and Mint Yoghurt topping, Mexican Hummus which we sampled and discovered was really spicy, Mexican FalafelĀ  and Mediterranean Burritos (Rs 160), which the servers wholeheartedly recommended and with good reason, we found.

Rolled in incredibly fresh Laffa bread (a thinner version of Pita), the blend of Feta, assorted veggies and Hummus was genuinely enjoyable and though they were a tad softer than we like them, the Quesadillas (Rs 120) were also very good. With a tasty beans and cheese filling, the deep-friend Chimichangas (Rs 120) were a bit of a letdown sadly, as the taste of the casing resembled a Punjabi samosa more than it did a tortilla.

That neither desserts nor Lebanese coffee feature on the menu, was another disappointment. The food was semi-authentic at best. But at least it seems like we're getting warmer and, on the bright side, vegetarians now have a wider range of foreign fast food to enjoy and kids have a brand new venue to host their birthday parties at (Thirty persons minimum, we were told).

At: Leb Mex, near Sukh Sagar Restaurant, Chowpatty.
Call: 23688000 (a branch should open its doors at Lower Parel's Todi Mill Compound soon)

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