Libyan cuisine is an interesting mix of traditional North African and Mediterranean culinary favorites, seasoned with Italian influences. Staples are chickpeas, mint, lamb, chicken, tomatoes, saffron and various other herbs and spices, although pork is forbidden by Sharia law. Tripoli’s cuisine especially uses Italian-style ingredients, with pasta dishes popular and seafood found on most menus. The capital also offers a wide range of international dining options. Southern Saharan cuisine is based on traditional Arab cooking, using olive oil, figs, dates, apricots, and oranges.
Bars and Pubbing in Libya
Nightlife in Libya simply doesn’t exist due to the Islamic Sharia ban on alcohol, although black market alcoholic drinks are available for private parties. However, visitors taking advantage of the black market should be very careful, as penalties for its unlawful purchases can be severe. Tea houses and coffee shops are an alternative to bars and pubs, with either green or red tea the national drink, along with the strong, grainy Turkish coffee served in tiny cups. Mint is often added to tea, especially at the end of a meal.
For a totally traditional tea experience, Magha as-Sa’a (Medina, Tripoli) is outstanding, with its open air-patio and indoor room decorated with vintage musical instruments. It’s a tourist hub, but also a favorite with locals, and open 24 hours. Set in the port area overlooking the harbor, Gazelle Café (Sharia al-Fat’h, Tripoli) is good for whiling away an hour or so and sampling a variety of flavors. A visit to a shisha (hookah) bar is also a must, with the best located in the medina, although women on their own are rarely seen in these types of places.
Dining and Cuisine in Libya
Surprisingly, traditional Libyan restaurants are rare in Tripoli, with most eateries serving either Western or Turkish dishes. The medina district offers the best choice, although expats tend to congregate at the excellent fish restaurant in the souq, famous for its seafood couscous, stuffed calamari and great coffee. For people-watching, Al Saraya (Martyrs’ Square, Tripoli) is the place to be, although the food is just average. Delicious seafood is also available at Al-Morgan (September Street, Tripoli), while Al-Sakhra (Gargaresh Road, Tripoli) is popular for its live entertainment, excellent cuisine and rustic ambience.
For a spectacular setting right next to the Roman Arch of Marcus Aurelius, Athar Restaurant (Tripoli Medina) should be on all visitors’ lists. Open-air dining is enhanced by the illuminated arch and filling, delicious and inexpensive traditional food. Athar is also one of the few independent venues which accepts credit cards. For an upscale meal surrounded by the city’s elite, Mat’am al-Saraya(Martyrs’ Square, Tripoli) is the place to be. High-quality Lebanese food is found on the first floor, with the seafood dishes especially tasty, and the downstairs coffee shop with outdoor garden patio famed for its delicious desserts.
For a fun gastronomic experience, Barakoda (Al Hufrah district, east-central Tripoli) is set right next to the fish market, and will grill up anything you buy and serve it fresh with a huge salad. Wildly popular with both locals and expats, you may need to wait for a table, but it’s well worth it. The Libyan version of the famous Scottish Haggis is served at Mat’am al-Bourai (medina, Tripoli) in a cheerful, bright setting. Osban (boiled sheep’s stomach stuffed with mince meat, offal, herbs, and rice in a rich sauce) is an all-time Libyan favorite.