Walking down the bustling Hamra Street in the heart of the Lebanese capital of Beirut, one is afforded the luxury of picking from a range of Fast Food chains: Burger King, Crepaway, Food Style -- the list goes on. Those names have now become a conspicuous feature in an area long associated with the Lebanese identity. Today, people come from miles away to experience ‘Western’ cuisines in a vibrant ambiance.

Scattered among those stylish brands are traditional eateries for those who still look for a taste of authenticity. They compete in a market swept by 21st-century dishes, but they are still visited by those careful about what they eat.

Lebanon holds the mantle

Lebanon, a country that sits on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, leads a number of nations that still cherish a traditional, Mediterranean diet. Paleolithic dishes have been inherited with little modification across generations.

The rise of the fast-food culture has been met with resistance by healthy diet advocates. In Lebanon, there are people who still hold to the old diet, especially along the coast, where seafood is a popular choice, while in the mountains, consuming raw meat is still a dietary choice by villagers of all ages.

When it comes to salads, Tabbouleh tops the choices. The Mediterranean mix is prepared from bulgur, Olive Oil, chopped tomatoes and cucumbers along with minced parsley.

Onions or garlic are also added for special flavor. Mono-unsaturated fat and carbohydrates make the dish a perfect choice for diet followers.

But there is nothing like raw meat to best define a Levantine mezzeh (a traditional meal as it is known in Lebanese). Households across towns and villages have preserved this ancient food legacy.

A typical mezzeh will include raw meat (lamb or beef) bulgur, mint and olive oil.

Antoinette, a 75-year-old who lives in Beirut, opened her kitchen for authentic food enthusiasts. She says she still prepares the same kebab she has prepared for over 50 years. It is how people here resist a trend of what she brands as ''weird-looking food.''

‘’I have customers who never eat elsewhere,’’ says Antoinette.

‘’They have their breakfast and lunch here. They are not happy with the way their life has changed. They miss simple, healthy plates.''

Still a popular choice

Situated in one corner of the Hamra main street, t-Marbouta is decorated with posters of old Beirut and furnished with sofas to reflect a Lebanese house atmosphere. The restaurant serves a variety of Levantine dishes enjoyed by local and foreign customers alike.

‘’t-Marbouta’s food is still being cooked in homes and offered in many restaurants,’’ says Areej Abou Harb, t-Marbouta Cultural Activities Coordinator.

‘’Today, the restaurants in Beirut offer a wide variety of cuisines. The Levant food is one of them. Not everyone likes to eat junk food and there are those prefer this traditional type of diet.’’

Abou Harb stresses that customers are aware of the nutritional value of what they eat.

Potato Omelette, for instance, is one of the most popular dishes served at t-Marbouta for breakfast and brunch. It is a simple and quick recipe made with stewed potatoes and chopped onions. Added to scrambled eggs, the warm, protein-rich mix is served mainly during the winter season.

Hummus is here to stay

Lebanon is not the only destination for the Levant cuisine. Countries in the Levant share the same culinary traditions that have been influenced by different food theories. This can be traced back to the age of the Ottoman Empire which controlled Jordan, Syria and Southern Turkey.

If you want a manifestation of this deep-rooted culture, try Hummus which is a blend of cooked, mashed chickpeas with tahini, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice.

The simple, smooth spread is popular not only in the Levant but also in Europe.

Traditional cuisine is admittedly facing an existential battle in the face of drastic changes to eating habits. Middle East societies have welcomed a broad range of franchises, but Antoinette still believes that the recipes she learned from her grandmother will still be prepared by her grandchildren in years and decades to come.