By Sheliza Mitha
If you believe that it takes a passport and a trip to the other side of the world to get yourself an authentic chicken shawarma or any handful of Lebanese mezze (starters), you’d be happily wrong. A little bit of Lebanon can be easily found at the Golden Pita, a quick SkyTrain ride away from Vancouver in the Lougheed Mall neighbourhood.
With a menu that overflows with authentic Lebanese fare, you won’t know where to start or where to stop. In full disclosure, I am what you would call kind of a regular here. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that I think about my next Golden Pita meal almost as soon as I’ve finished my last bite. Then I diligently pour over my calendar, questioning when I can get my next fix. An addiction? Kind of.
Originally opened in 1996, this 22-seat eatery celebrates 22 years this July – and without any signs of slowing. The owners – Imran and Jad – are two cousins from Lebanon who manage every aspect of this ambitious operation.
When they took over the business four years ago from another Lebanese family, it was a turnkey operation with a loyal client base. That base has since grown due to the cousins’ own flair for serving up traditional Lebanese cuisine. Case in point is their revamped chicken shawarma. Served with garlic paste, pickled turnips and tahini, this is likely their most popular menu item – and the kind of authentic you would find at any Lebanese eatery.
The mezzes are all equally traditional and tempting, making you question whether you’ve actually traversed the globe to find yourself in the heart of Lebanon. Such is the feeling when sampling their handmade, homemade savoury meat pastries – which are what you would find at their local bakeries, as ubiquitous in Lebanon as cafés in Metro Vancouver.
While here, sample the falafel, fatayer (Lebanese mini spinach pies) or the sambousek – an untraditional meat pie flavoured with a special seven-spice blend common to Lebanese and Arab cuisine. The kebbeh is another must-try: filled with ground beef and surrounded by a shell of bulgur wheat and more ground beef.
And for nearly every meat mezze, there seems to be appetizing and delicious vegetarian versions. My favourite? The baba ghannouj. Impossibly smooth and smoky, yet with a surprising hint of tang that inevitably forces me to order another to take away with me.
With Imran’s marketing background and Jad being a former accountant, I asked these cousins what inspired them to become chefs, restaurateurs and entrepreneurs. Their answers were simple and soulful.
“We wanted to do something creative, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity,” Imran explains, “there’s really no where else in Vancouver that has real Lebanese food, the kind you find in bakeries or homes in Lebanon. That’s what makes the Golden Pita so unique.”
As for Jad, he adds that “it was important for us to bring something from home here – the flavours and spices, but also the feel of Lebanon. This is food that’s meant for sharing, family style. This is what I urge people… please share the food. You don’t have to share the bill, but do try different things and share the food.”