Food is one of the world’s greatest pleasures; we can never be grateful enough for its existence. While this is true for almost everyone, foodies relate the most to this fact, being open to trying new dishes. They’re ready to take culinary adventures and take their taste buds to places where new kinds of foods exist.
Today, we’re shedding light on the variety of Middle Eastern food. The term “Middle East” can confuse many, unsure which countries are deemed Middle Eastern. Middle Eastern countries include Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Emirates, Palestine, Jordan, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Tunisia.
In other words, the Middle Eastern region encompasses predominantly Arab countries in North Africa and Minor Asia. You can easily guess that this is the hometown of a perfect shawarma sandwich, but we ought to say that there’s much more to Middle Eastern food that you should know.
Man’oucheh is the singular form of Manakeesh, one of the most consumed foods in the Middle Eastern region. Manakeesh are initially part of Levantine cuisine. They’re freshly baked doughs with a crispy crust and fulfilling fillings. The most popular flavours are Labneh cheese mixed with za’atar (thyme).
However, they can be made with many different ingredients, including mixed vegetables, ground beef, and chicken. Condiments like toumeya or mayonnaise are used to spruce up the flavour. Sometimes, melted mozzarella cheese covers the ingredients and takes the taste to a new level. Moreover, a manoucheh is folded like a sandwich or spread like a pizza.
2. Foul Medames and Falafel
Falafel is nearly the most popular Middle Eastern food made in different parts of the world. No one can blame people from different backgrounds for devouring it, and it has that crunchy texture and moist flavour that makes it one of the most satiating foods ever. Fun fact, some Egyptians tend to call it Ta’amiya rather than Falafel. Another Middle Eastern food well-paired with Falafel is foul medames, fava beans.
Foul is a palatable dish of mashed fava beans garnished with lemon juice, spices, and olive oil for a flavoursome taste. Although this combination is famous around most Middle Eastern regions, it’s deemed the national dish of Egypt, where it’s a breakfast staple for people of different social classes. Interestingly, some even believe this food can be traced back to Ancient Egypt.
3. Tabouli Salad (Tabbouleh)
The Arab World is fond of having salads as a staple appetiser in their cuisines. They can’t have their introductory course without crunching on fresh cucumbers and chopped tomatoes. That explains the popularity of Tabouli salad, which originated in the Levant region yet remains a huge part of Middle Eastern cuisine.
While salad is part of any Middle Eastern meal, the tabbouleh version, in particular, is popular in Lebanon and Syria the most. It’s a fulfilling dish of tomato pieces, parsley, mint, and sweet pepper, seasoned with lime juice, salt, and olive oil. Other variations include adding lettuce or substituting tomatoes for pomegranate seeds.
4. Grilled Halloumi
White cheese and labneh are a massive part of Middle Eastern cuisine, yet halloumi cheese remains among the best delicacies. Halloumi is a raw cheese with a semi-hard texture made from sheep or goat’s milk. Brine is used for preserving it and has a texture similar to mozzarella. Well, it’s safe to say it’s the Middle Eastern version of mozzarella.
One of the best ways that Arabs enjoy this cheese is by grilling it until it melts and becomes stretchy. This underrated savoury delicacy takes nothing more than a bread loaf with a mix of vegetables, like cucumber, arugula, pickles, and a generous amount of halloumi. All get stuffed together into the sandwich and put into the grill until the bread is slightly toasted and the cheese melts.
5. Shawarma, of course!
It may sound like this is some sort of a secret that we need to disclose to you, but it isn’t. Everybody knows that shawarma is a great Middle Eastern delicacy that cannot be resisted, no matter how strong your will is. Around the world, people compare shawarma to Mexican burritos and Greek gyros, but in the Middle East, there’s a special version in every country.
Yemeni shawarma ought to be the most delicious, using thick shami bread to embrace the fillings. It resembles the Lebanese version, yet the seasoning can vary slightly. On the other hand, Syrian shawarma is famous for its thin layered bread, known as Syrian bread and resembles a tortilla in appearance and texture but not taste.
Lastly, Egyptian shawarma adds your fillings in a small rounded bun and splashes a crazy amount of tahini or toumeya. The Egyptian version is not among the most popular ones worldwide, but it definitely needs more recognition.
6. Kebab and Kofta
Kebab and Kofta is a protein-dense dish that most Middle Eastern regions seem to indulge in. Legends have it that this mouthwatering meal originated in Turkey during the Ottoman Empire. Although it’s still standing its ground across the Turkish lands, it’s also a famous dish in other countries, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Kebab and Kofta are two types of meals vital in Middle Eastern cuisine. They’re ground meat of either lamb or beef that is put into skewers and grilled to perfection. This meal can never be complete without the side condiments, tahini, and baba ghanoush, adding a delectable moist to the irresistible taste.
Kabsa is actually the national dish of Saudi Arabia, yet it’s said that Yemen is the original hometown. This hearty meal is also popular in Arabian Peninsula, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. According to them, this meal represents the Arabic heritage and culture. It goes back to ancient times and lives to tell its fascinating culinary story.
Kabsa features mixed rice served on a tempting communal platter blended with meat varieties, either chicken or beef, along with fresh vegetables grilled to perfection. Variants may occur according to different regions, where some areas prefer adding lamb meat and potatoes.
8. Mombar and Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves
Mombar and stuffed grape vine leaves are two different dishes, but they can more often be served together, and they’re among the most popular Middle Eastern food. Leaves of grapevine are used for stuffing rice along with some vegetables, including chopped tomatoes and parsley. It’s a popular vegetarian main course and an appetiser in most Middle Eastern countries, especially Egypt and Lebanon. Moreover, it can be served either cold or hot.
However, mombar is primarily famous in Egypt and is commonly known as an Arab sausage. It’s made from the intestines of calves and sheep, whereas the same cooked rice used in grape vines is used here too. The stuffed sausage-like casing is then fried to golden perfection and enjoyed alongside a chicken or beef dish.
Shakshuka is a prominent Middle Eastern food that recently gained popularity in the Western region. This egg-based dish is originally Moroccan, yet it’s also a staple in Egyptian cuisine. Others may argue, claiming that Tunisia was the first to come up with this hearty dish, but it’s still a perfect breakfast dish around the Arab World.
Shakshuka is mainly a dish of poached eggs, with which tomato sauce dominates to spruce its flavour. It also takes several flavoursome spices like cumin, cayenne, and paprika for an extra taste. The dish is not purely eggs and tomato sauce; it gets chopped pieces of onion, garlic, and peppers and is fried in olive oil. It’s a delicacy you don’t want to miss and will kickstart your energy in the morning.
Salad makes up a considerable part of Middle Eastern cuisine, where people can’t go a day without eating their servings of freshly chopped tomatoes and cucumbers. Fattoush is one of the popular dishes in the Middle East, especially in the Levantine region. Legends have it this nutritious salad has its roots back in Northern Lebanon.
Fattoush is a colourful dish of mixed vegetables and greens, including tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, green peppers, parsley, green onion, and cucumbers. The best part of this dish is the irresistible crunch from the fried pita bread pieces. Instead of using calorie-dense condiments, the Middle Eastern opt for vinegar or za’atar for a tangy taste.
11. Moroccan Lamb Tagine
Tagine is an Arabic word that describes a pot where people in the Middle East cook a slow-simmered stew. In some cases, it also refers to the stewing process, bringing us to this delectable Middle Eastern food, the Lamb Tagine. It’s a Moroccan delicacy that may bear some resemblance to the Saudi Kabsa, but it’s different.
Lamb Tagine is a mouthwatering dish of tender pieces of lamb soaked in flavourful spices with sweet and aromatic notes. The perfectly cooked lamb is then laid over a couscous bed, another unmissable Moroccan savoury. Couscous is a grain that has a yellow hue, resembling basmati rice. That’s why people may mistake this dish for a kabsa at first.
It only makes sense to immediately transition to the couscous after mentioning the palatable lamb tagine of Morocco. Couscous is a popular Middle Eastern food known to have come straight from Morocco to the rest of the Middle East. However, some sources claim that it was originally a North African dish.
Couscous is a semolina-based dish made of grains, which is why people confuse it with rice. However, couscous has been deemed a type of pasta but has a considerably small size. Couscous dish usually goes well with grilled vegetables and meat-based dishes, including the Moroccan lamb tagine.
13. Tahini, Baba Ghanoush, Hummus
Condiments and dipping sauces are essential in Middle Eastern cuisine. They come on the side with as many dishes as possible. They even serve as appetisers, where people dip pieces of bread in the sauce and enjoy a flavourful snack until their main course is ready. Middle Eastern food love being paired with a fair share of sauces, including tahini, hummus, and baba ghanoush.
Although these dips are essential Middle Eastern Food, they’re currently popular across different countries of the West, especially hummus. Tahini is a sauce with a tangy taste made with crushed sesame seeds. Baba ghanoush is made from tahini mixed with olive oil, eggplants, and lemon juice. Hummus is also based on tahini, pureed chickpeas, and lemon juice.
14. Ruz Al Bukhari (Bukhari Rice)
Bukhari is a type of rice that Saudi Arabia uses as one of its flavourful specialities. It has a strong aroma and spicy taste that makes it quite delectable. While considered a national dish in Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arabia, it is a popular Middle Eastern food and a staple lunch in Afghanistan.
Bukhari Rice has a brown hue, and it’s a fascinating dish blended with carrots, chickpeas, and dried fruits. It’s a simple dish with tasty ingredients enjoyed over lunch and paired well with lamb meat or grilled chicken.
It’s safe to say that Ma’amoul is the Middle Eastern version of cookies. It’s a popular sweet dessert that appears during Ramadan and Eid and is quite famous across the Middle East. Although it’s usually associated with Saudi Arabia and the Arabian peninsula, it’s said that ancient Egypt takes the credit for bringing cookies to life, which is the ma’amoul.
Ma’amoul is an Arabic word that means filled or stuffed. It’s a cookie made with semolina flour with figs, nuts, or dates as its main fillings. Some variants have recently emerged, where pistachios, walnuts, and almonds are used as fillings of a ma’amoul.
We’re grateful for the cultural diversity that aided in offering different types of cuisine with several delectable food types, and Middle Eastern food is no exception. They present a fair share of flavours you can never get enough of.