Features of Middle Eastern Cuisine

What are the interesting cuisines of the Middle East?

Middle Eastern cuisine combines the cuisine of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Turkey and Jordan. The dishes have a lot in common, first of all they are all hearty and with a lot of meat and grains. And also spices. The love for spices in the Arab countries is limitless.

What is the cuisine of the Middle East interesting?

Lebanese Cuisine – French Influence

The national cuisine of Lebanon is characterized by an abundance of vegetarian dishes, the use of cereals and legumes (especially chickpeas) and fish, because the sea is near. From the cuisines of other neighboring countries Lebanese cuisine is different in the presence of salads and snacks in general.

The thing is that Lebanon was a French colony for a long time, so the traditional Arab hearty meal is mixed here with a light Mediterranean. One example of such atypical Arab dishes, which then migrated to France, Morocco and spread to the Middle East, is tabouli (taboulé).


Tabouleh Photo: Vera Ivanchikova, personal archive


This is fresh vegetables with a fine grind of bourgouleh. Making this salad requires a very sharp knife, as well as a lot of patience. Vegetables – tomatoes, cucumbers – are chopped as finely as possible, this is what a sharp knife is for. Then add also finely chopped parsley, and it should be three times more than the rest of the vegetables. Parsley Photo: Vera Ivanchikova, personal archive

While the vegetables are being chopped, which is a long process, it is necessary to prepare the burgle. Grits, about a third of a cup, pour lemon juice with water in the ratio of one to one. This mass insists for about an hour, then is added to the already chopped vegetables and herbs. Everything is dressed with juice. Tabouli is ready.

In Lebanon and Syria, this dish is used as an appetizer for grilled meat and as an appetizer with ozu (Arabic vodka).

Syrian Cuisine – Everything from its Land

Because Syria was for some time under the influence of socialism, Syrians are used to eating food that has been grown locally. The Syrians say: everything you need: meat, vegetables, fruits, cereals. They are also proud to say that there are many wonderful cuisines of the world, but none of them compares with the Syrian cuisine.

Syria grows a lot of cereals and legumes, especially wheat, which is used to make special bread like pita, without which no meal can go. Interestingly, the bread is used as a spoon. Everything is eaten with bread, even potatoes.

Burgul with lentils and onions

Wheat is also used to make a special groat – burgul (or bulgur). The rye is eaten as a second course, for example, in the familiar pilaf. Prepare this groats separately, as a garnish to the meat. Although hearty, burghul is quite dietary. For example, burghul with lentils sauteed with lots of onions – isn’t it a diet dish? Burgul with lentils and onions Photo: Vera Ivanchikova, personal archive

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Also loved in Syria are vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, paprika. Eggplant is a separate topic. The favorite dish in the country is makdus. It is eggplants stuffed with nuts. It takes a long time to cook the dish, a lot of effort is involved, and it is often cooked with the whole family. If a Syrian lives in another country, he misses not only his home and family, but also the makdus.

Chickpeas are everywhere.

As for chickpeas, this legume is a favorite of all Middle Easterners. First of all it concerns such an oriental dish as hummus – a snack made of puréed chickpeas with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and spices. You can also buy hummus in Russian stores, but nothing compares in taste to real Arabic hummus cooked with love at home.


Hummus Photo: Vera Ivanchikova, personal archive

Chickpea with pasta

Chickpeas are added to many dishes, even stuffed pasta (like our flotsam) is also often laced with chickpeas. Chickpeas with pasta Photo: Vera Ivanchikova, personal archive

If you make hummus in a deep fryer, you get a no less delicious dish – falafel. They are eaten both simply with vegetables and in pita, like shawarma or kebab.

By the way, Arab kebab is not meat in pita bread, which we are used to seeing in stalls near the subway. In fact, the word “kebab” refers to any kind of grilled meat. So if you are invited to eat kebab, then get ready to go not to the nearest snackbar, but seriously, to a restaurant.

Arabian cuisine: characteristics, national dishes and traditions.

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Reading time: na minutes

Arab Cuisine: Features, National Dishes and Traditions


Arabic cuisine combines the traditions of many centuries. It is rich in flavors and aromas while being a healthy food system. UAE dishes use a lot of fruits, vegetables and grains, with lamb and lean poultry being the preferred meats.

The peculiarities of the UAE cuisine are

  • The UAE cuisine is characterized by a wide use of spices and all kinds of seasonings;
  • special ingredients with a peculiar taste and flavor;
  • Original cooking techniques;
  • The rituals that accompany cooking;
  • the great role of tradition in the consumption of food.

Arab cuisine has been shaped by the natural, climatic and religious characteristics of the region.

Arabic cuisine was formed under the influence of the natural, climatic and religious features of the region.

Historical background

Arabic language and culture originated in the Arabian Peninsula and today it unites over 200 million people in almost 20 countries that occupy an area from the Atlantic coast of Morocco to the Strait of Oman in the Arabian Sea, including the entire Maghreb and Middle East.

As a result, many national and regional culinary practices have taken root in Arab cuisine. It mainly consists of dishes whose ingredients and names differ only slightly from region to region. Sometimes the delicacies are a symbol of the country of origin.

What products do the Arabs use?

  1. Vegetables: most often used in dishes is eggplant (for grilling or stew) and cucumber (for freshness of salads), garlic and onion are basic seasonings because of their aroma and their properties (garlic is antiseptic, onion cures diseases).
  2. Fruits and cereals: Arabs like to add bulgur (evaporated and dried), almonds and pistachios, dates for desserts or salty dishes, chickpeas and lentils.
  3. Fats and oils: Preference is given to vegetable oil (especially corn and sunflower oil, sometimes also to nuts), tahina is used, a thick paste of sesame seeds, which serves as a base for sauces. Samna, a purified animal fat, gives a special flavor to meat and couscous.
  4. Meat: Lamb is prized at great feasts and in the daily diet – roasted, baked or in stew. Poultry is widely used: chicken, pigeon, quail are often used, beef and goat meat are sometimes cooked.
  5. Bread and snacks: Arabs eat bread with all dishes, prefer the classic pita or flatbread. Breads with honey, hummus, creams, laban (thick yogurt with spices) are consumed.
  6. Spices: nutmeg, cumin, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cardamom, coriander, anise, black pepper.
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The finer points of cooking homemade dishes

The secret to cooking Arab dishes is using large containers like deep pots, pots, and cauldrons. Food is stewed, boiled, or fried whole so that there is less dishwashing afterward – in hot countries, there is a shortage of water. Thanks to the Arabs, there are interesting culinary devices such as a falafel press or a couscous pot. Pots and pans are often made of cast iron – this material heats evenly and retains more heat, allowing you to cook over a slow fire without rushing, which is appreciated in the Arab mentality.

Religion also imposes special cooking conditions. In Islam, eating is a sacred act. There are prohibitions on food, the canons of Islam prescribe to be in a special mood before, during and after the meal. In the books of the Prophet Muhammad there are many remarks about nutrition and culinary habits to be observed when cooking at home. Islam and its dogmas are binding, sacred to the Arabs.

Traditions of Arab cuisine – what peculiarities can be encountered

  1. Ration. Lunch always includes a main dish consisting of vegetables and grains. Meat is less popular. Rice and beans are common, sometimes lunch may consist only of appetizers – bread, sauces, salads, meat, vegetables. Dessert is obligatory: fruits (dates, melon, figs), pastries, sweets (marshmallow, baklava).
  2. Etiquette. Arabs prefer to eat at home or in small catering establishments. A person is considered lonely if he or she eats in a restaurant. Food is brought to the mouth with the right hand only, without utensils. Bread (pita) is often used instead. Prayers and rituals at the table are obligatory. Ramadan, the month in which eating and drinking from dawn until sunset is not allowed, is observed.
  3. Hospitality. No matter how poor the host is, he is obliged to invite the guest to the table. If the host offers too expensive a meal when he himself is in want, it is considered bad form. The host himself is the first to eat, thereby showing that the food is good and inviting others to join in the meal. The main rule is that the guest should not go hungry.
  4. Coffee. In Arab countries, the drinking of coffee is a special ritual. It is inherited from the desert nomads, the Bedouins. According to tradition, the host is the first to drink a cup in order to appreciate the taste of the drink offered to the guest. After the first cup of coffee is drunk, the guest cannot ask for the second one, it is offered by the host as a sign of friendship. Tradition and ritualism make coffee houses one of the main places where Arab culture is manifested in all countries.
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What to try while in the UAE

If you come to the United Arab Emirates for the first time, you should definitely get acquainted with the main dishes of the national cuisine. You can find and taste them in any city.


Dubai is close to the sea, so the Arabian cuisine has found a place for seafood. The most popular treat in the UAE is masgoof. It is a grilled carp, spread out and soaked in a marinade of tamarind and turmeric. The fish is cooked until crispy and then placed over the coals, which makes it so tender that it detaches itself from the skin. The carp is served with greens, lemon slices and pickles. Sometimes they cover it with a flatbread to preserve the heat and juices.


Desserts round off every meal in the UAE, so the fragrant khabisa, a sand dough sweet with spicy cardamom and saffron, is a must-try. The people of Dubai add syrup from the fruit tree, a natural substitute for sugar. The dessert is served on a plate, stacked as a pile, or in a glass, pre-sprinkled with caramel mass and pistachios. The syrups add to the habisa’s toughness and firmness, while the batter makes it crumbly.

Baghdad fish, Habisa dessert and Arabian Maqbous plov are the highlights of Arabian cuisine.

Baghdad fish, habisa dessert and Arabian macbous pilaf are the highlights of Arabic cuisine.


The brightest representative of UAE national cuisine is Arabian plov makbus. It is distinguished from its counterparts in neighbouring countries by its thickly sliced meat, crunchy nuts and pronounced soft onions. Favorite oriental spices of UAE residents – saffron, cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon – give the dish a special flavor and make it more sweet and spicy than usual spicy pilaf. Maqbous is worth trying in special restaurants or cafes because the hotels make a simplified version of it, not much different from the classic pilaf.


Speaking of desserts in the UAE, it is impossible not to mention the Lukamat sugar doughnuts. The round slices of unleavened dough are deep fried until crispy and then soaked in caramel or syrup. In Dubai, for example, a variant of syrup made from sweet dates is popular. Lukamat turns out crispy and honey-like, and is often served with coffee, which is a favourite among Arabs. You can try the dessert in the snack bars of the city.

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The main meat of Arab cuisine is one of the most popular national dishes, the mouthwatering mansaf. Finely chopped lamb is mixed with bulgur, spices and dried yogurt are added, which thickens when fried. Sometimes substituted with tahina, which gives a delicate nutty flavor. Mansaf is spread on a flatbread, generously sprinkled with herbs and herbs. Due to the geographical location of Dubai, you can find a fish version of this dish in some establishments as well.


Breakfast in the UAE likes a hearty meal, so the Arabs often make madruba in the morning. Stuffed chicken thighs are stewed with dried limes and various spices, then a glass of lentils or rice, grated tomatoes and crispy onions are added. All this together with broth is boiled until the consistency of a delicate thick pâté. You can spread the fragrant, hot mass on a flatbread.


Another breakfast option in Dubai is an omelet with sweet vermicelli, called balalit. The boiled noodles are additionally deep-fried to a golden crust. One cooks an omelette separately and cuts it into small pieces or rolls it up in an envelope. The cardamom-based sauce is the main secret of this dish: it turns out sugary, spicy and thick. The result is a sweet and savory dish that can hardly be compared with anything else.


Often Arabs prefer a snack or pastry instead of the main course. Often a snack option is hamir. These are buns based on yeast dough, fried to a golden crust. The dainty is cooked in boiling oil, so khamir rises immediately, becomes juicy and fluffy. There are variations of the filling: salty, with meat or vegetables, and sweet, with cardamom or dates. Chefs experiment with the shapes and flavors of hamir, so these flavorful buns are worth trying more than once.

Chiken fuga.

Another version of Arabic pilaf chiken fuga – with chicken, saffron and dried lime. This pilaf is more spicy and tangy because of the special mixture of spices. We serve a yogurt-based mint sauce to bring out the flavor of the dish. You can try chiken fugu in any cafe.


The Arabs’ love of sweets is revealed in chebaba, a pancake served at any time. Saffron, cardamom, turmeric are added to the batter. The filling is to your liking. Coconut yogurt, honey, cream cheese, nuts, or fruit are popular. It is obligatory to sprinkle the sweetness with date syrup. Chebab is appreciated by Dubai residents and tourists alike.

Street food in the UAE

The three cardinal rules of street food in the United Arab Emirates are: quick, tasty, satisfying. Snacks are often wrapped in bread or served with pita bread. Falafel and shawarma are prominent and can be found on every corner of every city. Both dishes have national characteristics – for example, shawarma is made only with fried chicken, vegetables and garlic.

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In Arabian cafes, it is customary to begin a meal with meze, several small appetizers served on the same plate. These may include salads, vegetable caviar, pastries, famous hummus (pasta made of nuts and chickpeas with butter), aromatic creams and porridges. Sometimes meze is served for free.

The most popular dishes of Arabic street food are shawarma and falafel.

The most popular dishes of Arab street food are shawarma and falafel.

The basis of hearty street food is meat, from which kebabs and kebabs are prepared. Mixtures of several kinds of minced meat and minced meat are practiced, and the variety of street kebabs and grills is astounding.

Every cafe cooks the dish with its own specifics, but the fact that it turns out juicy and appetizing is guaranteed everywhere.

Arabic desserts

Apart from the classic habis, lukamat, hamir and chebab, sweet puddings and cookies, japanchiki are popular in Dubai. Nut halwa and baklava are worth tasting: these dishes have their own specificity in the Emirates and are widely spread in street food. Dates and nuts are used to make bread and cakes. Nuts and dates in chocolate are a special treat; you can also find glazed fruits.

Cold and hot drinks

A favorite cold drink of the Arabs, served before meals to whet the appetite, is ayran. It is made on the basis of sourdough and resembles a brackish thick syrup. The use of rosewater is considered traditional. Plain purified water is infused with rose petals and drunk after meals, it promotes digestion. More simple and familiar options for refreshment: almond milk, tamarind infused water, pomegranate juice, mint syrup.

Of hot drinks black coffee without sugar is preferred. The most popular and most consumed variety is Arabica.

Food for children in the UAE

For children, the Arabian national cuisine is specific because of the abundance of spices and smells. Dishes can be spicy and too spicy. However, in the Emirates, vegetables and fruits are often cooked, so a child can enjoy a mouth-watering salad or khamir with a tasty filling. Harmless are balalit, chebab, biryani (a dish of rice with meat or vegetables).

In some cafes or hotel restaurants, you can ask the chefs not to add a lot of spices in the dish, so that the child will enjoy the classic cuisine. Street food is sometimes made specifically for children without particularly spicy ingredients. The most extreme case is to go to the usual fast food restaurant. It is worth a visit to McDonald’s for the sake of a Big Mac with two chicken cutlets instead of beef cutlets – a special menu item for the UAE.

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