The cuisine is one of the best representations of the individuals inhabiting one area. Furthermore, it also defines the people living there now or in the past. However, dishes change over time, new ingredients are added, and the old ones are left out.
The Middle East is an exciting region with many migrations happening over time and many new people coming and going. That's why it's a perfect fusion of many unique dishes typical for the area and famous worldwide. Here is our choice of top 10 dishes you'll want to try when traveling to the Middle East or make them yourself!
According to legend, people first made shawarma in the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. This dish is similar to doner kebab, which has already gained popularity worldwide. Shawarma is made from the seasoned meat that you grill on a vertical stack and cut directly from it. Besides the meat, you can add salads such as onion, cucumber, dried tomatoes, and of course, cover everything in tahini sauce.
Greece has gyros, a very similar dish to this one, but that's no wonder as the Ottoman Empire was in control of the region for several centuries. Therefore, they had a significant impact on the people's cuisine inhabiting the eastern part of the Mediterranean sea. Most importantly, this dish is delicious, whether you experience it in Jordan, Israel, Lebanese, Egypt, Turkey, etc.
Another classic dish to be experienced all around the Middle East is delicious falafel. This dish is deep-fried balls of, most usually chickpeas or fava bean. Moreover, falafel gets served in pita bread with different salads and toppings, just like shawarma.
Falafel is very popular among vegetarians around the globe, but it's also a famous street food in the Levant. To add flavor, you could use cumin or coriander. There's a reason why so many markets around the Middle East have such colorful spice stands.
The first sweet dish on our menu is an Ottoman-heritage dish - baklava. People don't know about its origins, but we're happy it exists! Because the Ottomans ruled many countries, baklava is present in most of them, from Syria to Bosnia!
In a nutshell, baklava is a filo-dough pastry filled with chopped nuts covered in honey or syrup. Baklava gets prepared in large pans filled with the dough coated in melted butter or some sort of oil. There are many pastry shops out there with baklava on their menus, and we highly recommend you try it!
Next in line is another sweet dish, iconic in the Arab world. Knafeh, or variations of the same dish, was mentioned in several cookbooks from the Middle Ages. Yet, today it represents a trendy choice if someone wishes to take a quick bite while strolling the streets.
The general recipe says that you heat the pastry in butter, margarine, or palm oil and then spread it with soft white cheese, such as Nabulsi cheese (out of sheep milk), and top it with more pastry. At the end of cooking, you coat a thick syrup of sugar and water and add a few drops of rose water into the pastry. However, you can find a lot of variations of the same recipe all around the Levant!
Mainly in the African-Arab part of the Middle East, shakshuka has a respectable place in cuisine! Basically, it's a dish made out of eggs poached in tomato sauce, seasoned with olive oil, pepper, paprika, onion, and garlic. Depending on the country, you can find several types of shakshuka served in cafes, restaurants, or homes.
Nevertheless, we can't forget that tomatoes came from the New World as the people of the Old Continent found out about them in the late 15th and the early 16th century. Because of its ease of making it, it gained worldwide popularity over the years. However, It's the perfect comfort food for Sunday breakfast!
Fifth on our list is a national dish of Palestine. Its ingredients are easy to get your hands on, especially if you're in the Middle East. The basic recipe of the musakhan involves mixing roasted chicken with onions, allspice, a bit of saffron, and some pine nuts. In the end, you get musakhan served over flatbread, unique and widespread in this part of the world.
In 2010 over 40 Palestinian chefs gathered to break the Guinness World Record by making the biggest musakhan ever, of course! In the town of Ramallah, these chefs created the dish weighing nearly 3000 pounds! It was a significant moment for the townspeople, celebrating their symbol.
4. Malawah Bread
Malawah bread is one of our favorite dishes on the list! This traditional Yemeni flatbread can have a variety of toppings, and we love it. Mamulawach is one of those variations - a stuffed/wrapped sandwich with malawah. The unique part of the bread is that it's layered and stuffed with butter and served immediately after baking.
Flatbreads have been all-around for ages since ancient Egypt, and it presents modest food for the poor and the rich. Furthermore, it's known for not including yeast, as only the essential ingredients, such as flour, salt, and water, are needed. Flatbread is an empty canvas in front of a cooking mastermind that he makes into an art piece, like our malawah bread.
Kibbeh is another traditional food found in every corner of the Middle East, including Istanbul. Yet, it's the national dish of Syria if you ask some people. It's usually made by pounding wheat with meat and making balls out of the paste. Afterward, it's toasted with pine nuts and a variety of spices. Just like in other dishes we present here, recipes differ from country to country. Kibbeh is usually grilled, deep-fried, or even served raw.
Kubbeh is a popular meal among some Jewish communities today, usually prepared at home as it's one of many variants of Kibbeh. Kubbeh is a bulgur-dough-made ball filled with vegetables, beef, or lamb. It goes nicely in broths loved by some people, and hopefully by you when you try it.
Chraime is a fish stew made with tomatoes and spices, which most people associate with Libya cuisine. One of its beauties is that it takes no time to prepare and requires almost no skills. With the simple recipes comes the struggle to find the original one because everyone has their way of making it!
The first thing is to cook the garlic in an oil-coated pan until it turns golden. Then, add other spices before putting tomato and tomato sauce inside. When it starts to boil slightly, add your fish and wait for it to cook. In 30 minutes, you can have a full meal for your entire family! Enjoy!
1. Baba Ghanoush
Our last choice of dishes from the Middle East you have to try is the baba ghanoush. It's not a full-meal dish, but more like "meze'' (a starter) that goes well with various pastries. It involves mashed cooked eggplant mixed with lemon juice, tahini sauce, and olive oil.
It's super easy to make baba ghanoush, and its ingredients are available worldwide. Many nations pride themselves on being the original place of this tasty dish, but sadly no one can say it for sure. Now, we eat this spread almost daily, and we're thankful to whoever combined these ingredients for the first time!
In the end, one should be grateful for the variety of food and the people's creativity working with it today. Nevertheless, the Middle East, this fantastic part of the world with its rivers Tigres, Euphrat, and the Nile, is where agriculture first started. With agriculture came the first towns and a broader spectrum of possibilities, such as developing more delicate cuisine.
Furthermore, with many movements among the population came the exchange of ideas, including many recipes we are aware of today. Who knows how some of the dishes tasted like the first time someone prepared them. In conclusion, we hope we have opened your appetite, and you're now ready to try some of them.
Did you already try some of the dishes listed here? Do you know some other popular dishes from the Middle East? If so, write to us in the comment section!
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