Just One Dish: Lemonana at Bishos
The story behind the frozen lemon-mint drink at this Palestinian restaurant in the Northeast, and why you should try it.
Welcome to Just One Dish, a Foobooz series that looks at an outstanding item on a Philly restaurant’s menu — the story behind the dish, how it’s made, and why you should be going out of your way to try it.
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I had Bishos’s lemonana for the first time on one of those late February days when spring was just starting to make itself known. It wasn’t warm outside, exactly, but it was still sunny and the temperature went above 45 degrees. The combination of the drink, a frozen blend of lemon juice and mint, and an hour of even the weakest February vitamin D zapped my seasonal depression into a distant memory.
Bishos is owned by husband-and-wife team Zohra Saibi and Bishara Kuttab, who opened the original location in Fox Chase in 2017. Though there are lots of Middle Eastern restaurants in the Philadelphia area, Kuttab said he wanted to open Bishos to share the Palestinian dishes he grew up eating in Jerusalem.
“[Middle Eastern dishes are] kind of like pizza in the United States,” he explains. “Chicago has its own style, New York has its own style — Middle Eastern dishes are kind of like that. You’ll find shawarma, for example, all over the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, the East Balkans, but Palestinian shawarma has specific sauces and spices, and it goes on a specific type of bread.”
That bread, called saj bread, is thin, unleavened, and baked on a convex metal griddle — a style that Kuttab says dates back to the days before using yeast was commonplace. I ordered my saj bread stuffed with cheese for a hot, melty bite that dipped well in Bishos’s foul and baba gannouj. On the side, falafel came piping hot and crisp, bright green and fluffy on the inside. I also ordered beef and lamb shawarma, which was thinly sliced off a sizzling spit, seared until just a little crispy and served over rice with sumac-dusted onions, cucumber salad and a tangy yogurt sauce. I kept coming back for bite after bite, my palate washed clean by the bracing lemonana.
The minty lemon drink is a common addition to meals in Kuttab’s hometown of Jerusalem and all over the Levant. Bishos’s lemonana is spun in a slushy maker to icy perfection, but unfrozen versions are often served by the pitcher with large meals. Kuttab’s lemonana relies on simple ingredients: tons of fresh lemon juice, a little water, and crushed mint that turn the slush to an electric green color. Some versions are very sour or very sweet, Kuttab explains, but Bishos’s recipe is meant to be balanced, minty and clean.
If you’re lucky enough to live near Bishos in the Northeast, you probably already know how great the place is. If not, consider making a day of your visit: plan a picnic at the nearby Pennypack Park, complete with Bishos’s shawarma and cheese-and-za’atar-stuffed saj bread. On your way out of Bishos, make a visit to Le Souk as well, the market next door that Saibi and Kuttab opened in December of 2022. They sell bulk Palestinian olive oil and several types of za’atar from different parts of the Middle East, plus nuts, dried fruits and olives, all offered by weight in the style of the markets in Jerusalem. The particularities of your visit are up to you, but the lemonana is non-negotiable.
Where: Bishos, 7950 Oxford Avenue
Share It With: Bring some friends for a picnic of shawarma and falafel, but make sure they get their own drinks.