The Middle East has been hidden from the outside world for centuries. However, when oil prices started declining in the 2010s, the region started investing in tourism and opening its borders as a way of diversifying its revenue generation. Tourism is now booming and the outside world is finally getting a glimpse of the region’s culture.
For example, thanks to the region’s tourism profile skyrocketing in the last 5-10 years, food enthusiasts from all over the world have had a chance to taste the healthy, soul-soothing, rich, wholesome, and aromatic Middle Eastern cuisine. If you haven’t tried it yet, this Middle East culinary guide will help you choose the cuisines to try the next time you tour the Middle East.
To make this patty-shaped light meal, chickpeas are ground, spiced up with local spices (including cumin, garlic, and parsley), and then deep fried. Falafel is very common among Jordanians. It is mostly sold as street snack, but you can order it in an upscale Jordanian restaurant either as veggie nuggets or you can order it with bread. Some people also stuff falafel into sandwiches for its light and fluffy feel when in the mouth. The snack is also very popular in Egypt.
- Margoogat (Margoog)
This tomato-based stew is very popular in Emirati, but it is a staple meal for all of Middle East. In fact, most Muslim households in the region use it iftar in the evening during the holy month of Ramadan. Margoogat is mixed with a local masala that is made with turmeric, cumin, and bezar, and can be served with chicken or lamb.
This sour-flavored yogurt is a traditional Yemeni dish; it isn’t influenced by any Northeast African or Arabian Peninsula cuisines like most Middle Eastern cuisines. It is half yogurt and half sourdough bread or flatbread. It is mostly served with minced meat or, for the vegans, it can be topped with veggies. Whichever choice of bread, it has to be soaked in the yogurt.
This long-grain rice dish is largely influenced by Persian and Indian biryanis. It originated in Yemeni but it has been perfected in Saudi. The rice is spiced and then cooked using recycled water from fish or meat stews. The idea behind recycling water is so that the meat or fish taste from the water, together with the added spices, can completely change the predominant rice flavor into a unique Kabsa flavor. The meal is served with lamb, chicken, or fish placed on top. The next time you get your Saudi Arabia visa; have Kabsa at the top of your must-try cuisines immediately you land in Saudi.
This dish originated from Pakistani, but it is served in restaurants across the Middle East, especially in Oman. It is basically made of barbecued, fried or grilled meat, either beef or lamb. The meat is then minced and rolled into meatballs which are then spiced using onions and local distinctive spicy sauces. Some Middle Eastern restaurants bake the patties and serve them in cylindrical chunks rolled on a stick.
- Al Machboos (Majboos)
Majboos, a traditional rice dish most popular in the Emirati, is another popular cuisine that is heavily influenced by the Arabian Peninsula. It is served with meat (chicken, seafood, or lamb) and lots of onions, and comes with an irresistible aroma of baharat spices. Baharat is a local spice mix that is common among the Arabs. When served with seafood, Majboos is accompanied by local dried limes called loomi. Loomi is just as aromatic as Baharat.
Locals believe that when two angels visited Prophet Abraham, the prophet served them Hanith. That makes this incredibly tender dish one of the oldest meals in the world and if you are a religious person, it definitely is an iconic meal of faith. Hanith is made with meat that has been cooked at high temperatures in a tightly-sealed pot to make it extremely tender.
The Middle Eastern cuisine is a little-known culinary adventure that every foodie needs to try at least once in their lifetime. Most of the dishes we have mentioned here are served communally and eaten with bare hands, as a show of togetherness either as friends or as family. If you are in the company of another foodie, the better your culinary experience will be.