A Guide to Arabic Cuisines

Middle Eastern cuisines reflect a diversity of taste and culture, and there will always be plenty of choices!

No matter where you are in the Middle East, it is always possible to have your preferred food in any country, because in all Middle Eastern countries, there are many restaurants specializing in different cuisines. These are usually inexpensive and offer really tasty food.Most Middle Eastern dishes are seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices. Salads are essential, especially at lunch. Chicken, lamb and fish are the primary meats in the Middle East. Rice and bread are always essential items on the table.Gatherings, formal dinners and special occasions usually include large quantities of meat, chicken and rice.

When you eat Egyptian food, you will taste a mixture of Italian, Turkish, Lebanese and Syrian food with a unique taste of Egyptian food. You can really enjoy Mediterranean food at its best in Egypt.

Palestinian, Bahraini, Yemeni, Qatari and Kuwaiti cuisines share many dishes in common with other Arab countries.

Aish Baladi or dark bread is an essential food in the Arab World. It is made of whole wheat flour. Egyptians enjoy eating aish baladi at breakfast stuffed with beans (“foul” in Arabic) or falafel.

Foul and falafel is a typical breakfast meal in Egypt. Egyptians usually eat both together. Foul is made of slow-cooked fava beans, seasoned with garlic, lemon, vegetable or olive oil, salt, black pepper, tahina and a tasty spicy sauce. Falafel or taa’miya is a patty made of chickpeas that have been soaked, mashed and combined with bread crumbs, onions, spices and egg. It is usually served on sandwiches. Foul and falafel are very cheap, and it is the most popular and traditional breakfast meal in Egypt eaten by both the rich and poor.

The famous Egyptian mulukhiyya is a green vegetable seasoned with lots of fried garlic and served in soup form. Egyptians eat mulukhiya at lunch at least once a week. It is served with bread or rice, and it can also be served with rabbit, meat or chicken.

Delicious kushari is the most popular and traditional dish for lunch in Egypt, especially for poor people. It is a combination of rice, lentils, macaroni, hummus (chickpeas), fried onions, tomato sauce, spicy red pepper sauce and garlic sauce. You can choose not to add any of these extras. Kushari is an inexpensive meal served at many restaurants, and it is one of the top ten fast foods in the Middle East.

Muslims all over the world eat fattah for breakfast on the first day of the Adha Feast. Traditional fattah of Egypt is served in layers of toasted or fried bread, meat and steamed rice seasoned with garlic and tomato sauces. In Lebanon, fattah is served with your choice of chicken or meat shawarma. Palestinian fattah is different in that it is covered with yogurt. Fattah is also eaten on different occasions and celebrations. The Coptic people of the Middle East also eat fattah on their feasts.

Maqluba is a famous Middle Eastern dish made of rice and eggplant. It is served with chicken or lamb and may also be served with fried tomatoes, carrots or potatoes.

Kabab is a great variety of meat-based dishes in the Middle East. Kabab dishes in Turkey include stews and casseroles in addition to grilled and skewered meats. It is common among the wealthy.

The famous Iraqi and Turkish dolmah is a popular Arabic dish of Lebanese origin. It has a very special place in Turkish cuisine. Dolmah is also known as mahshi waraq enab in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan. It is made of grape leaves stuffed with rice peppers combined with tomato, onion, spices and a variety of vegetables. Arabs use the same ingredients with different types of mahshi (green peppers, aubergines, courgettes, tomatoes, etc.). Mahshi waraq enab is usually served with yogurt.

Yogurt is an essential element in Turkish cuisine, and it is served with almost all meat dishes, unlike the rest of the Middle Eastern countries where yogurt is served usually only at dinner.

Aseed is a tasty dish of Yemeni origin. It consists of fish and is served with onions, garlic, cheese and fresh salad. Sometimes it is also served with meat. Aseed is eaten particularly at lunchtime and at Iftar during Ramadan.

The Lebanese are famous in the Middle East for their appetizers, salads and side dishes. In Lebanon, tabouleh is the most famous one.  It is made of chopped parsley, tomatoes and bulgur.

Couscous is the national dish of Morocco and Algeria and is made from semolina flour, salt and water covered with tomato sauce and served with meat or chicken. Egyptians add sugar to couscous (known as kuskusi in Egypt) and serve it as a dessert.

Harissa is a very popular dish in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. It is a condiment made from crushed hot peppers, garlic, olive oil, caraway seeds, coriander seeds and salt served with sliced tomatoes. It is used to add hot flavor to sandwiches, couscous and pasta. Tunisian harissa is much hotter than harissa from other Arab countries.

Kibbeh, of Lebanese origin, is a popular dish in the Middle East. The name kibbeh is derived from the Arabic word kubbah meaning “ball.” Kibbeh is also a national dish in Iraq and it is well known in all Arab countries. Kibbeh is cooked and served in many different ways. Fried kibbeh is shaped into balls and made of bulgur or rice and chopped meat.

Shuwa is a typical Omani dish served on special occasions. Preparing shuwa is very elaborate; many people participate in making it. It is a whole cow or goat roasted for one to two days.

Yakhni is a combination of vegetables with meat and it’s usually served with rice. It is one of the popular one-dish meals in Lebanon. Yakhni is very delicious and healthy.

Kabsa is a traditional Arabian rice dish and the national dish of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. It is rice cooked with spices and served with red or white meat or chicken along with a variety of salads.

Machboos is a national dish of Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. It is very tasty, and it is made of a mix of spices, vegetables and cooked meat. It is widely known in the whole Middle Eastern area.

Mansaf, of Jordanian origin, is a very delicious dish of Palestine. It is made of lamb leg, taboon bread, saffron rice yogurt, nuts and almonds and it is usually cooked for weddings.

In Iran, one can try many varieties of rice dishes, each with a unique taste. Rice and bread are the most essential items for all meals. Katehchelowpolo and damyare the most common rice dishes in Iran. Iranians usually flavor their dishes with dried fruits and herbs.

Most Middle Eastern dishes are served with turshiTurshi is made of a variety of pickled vegetables. Eggplant is a common vegetable in Middle Eastern cuisine. Middle Eastern people also consume a lot of dried fruits and nuts.

Shay koshari, or tea, is the most favorite hot drink for Middle Eastern people. People usually drink it after each meal and between meals.

Karkadeh is a favorite drink for Muslims during the month of Ramadan. It is made by boiling dry red hibiscus flowers with sugar. Karkadeh is a mixture of sweet and sour. It is known to have a good source of Vitamin C and minerals, and it is also used as a medication for patients suffering from high blood pressure. Karkadeh is served either hot or cold.

Umm Ali, the Egyptian specialty loved around the Middle East, is made with layers of bread in the form of creamy pudding. Ingredients include puff pastry combined with nuts, raisins and coconut, soaked in hot sweetened milk and cream.

Syrian hareessa is well known all around the Middle East. It is known as basbousa in Egypt and Yemen and nammoura in Lebanon. It is quite sweet and made of semolina cake and soaked in honey syrup, rose water and vanilla and topped with hazelnuts.

Kahk is a traditional desert that Arabs eat on different feasts. It is a shortbread biscuit covered with sugar icing. Kahk can be served plain or stuffed with dates, agameya or walnuts.

Qatayef is a delicious dessert; it is a crepe filled with nuts and soaked in honey and vanilla. It is popular in Turkey and all Arab countries.

As you can see, the Middle Eastern cuisines offer a wide variety of different foods, drinks and desserts. No matter what your tastes are, you will find something delicious to eat!