The Gulf States: Bon appétit!

October 31st, 2017 | Destination: | Rubric: Editorial, General |

© Hégésippe Cormier/cc-by-sa-3.0

© Hégésippe Cormier/cc-by-sa-3.0

The Persian Gulf is a mediterranean sea in Western Asia. The body of water is an extension of the Indian Ocean (Gulf of Oman) through the Strait of Hormuz and lies between Iran to the northeast and the Arabian Peninsula to the southwest. The Shatt al-Arab river delta forms the northwest shoreline. The gulf has many fishing grounds, extensive reefs (mostly rocky, but also coral), and abundant pearl oysters. The body of water is historically and internationally known as the Persian Gulf. Some Arab governments refer to it as the Arabian Gulf. Arab cuisine is a cuisine defined as the various regional cuisines spanning the Arab world, from the Maghreb to the Mashriq or Levant and the Persian Gulf. The cuisines are often centuries old and resemble and culture of great trading in spices, herbs, and foods. The three main regions, also known as the Maghreb, the Mashriq, and the Khaleej have many similarities, but also many unique traditions. These kitchens have been influenced by the climate, cultivating possibilities, as well as trading possibilities. The kitchens of the Maghreb and Levant are relatively young kitchens which were developed over the past centuries. The kitchen from the Khaleej region is a very old kitchen. The kitchens can be divided into the urban and rural kitchens.

Content


A selection of Jordanian mezze (appetizers or small dishes) in Petra © flickr.com - Unai Guerra/cc-by-sa-2.0

A selection of Jordanian mezze (appetizers or small dishes) in Petra © flickr.com – Unai Guerra/cc-by-sa-2.0

General
Essential to any cooking in the Arab world is the concept of hospitality and generosity. Meals are generally large family affairs, with much sharing and a great deal of warmth over the dinner table. Formal dinners and celebrations generally involve large quantities of lamb, and every occasion entails large quantities of Arabic coffee or Arabic tea.

There are two basic structures for meals in the Arab World, one regular and one specific for the month of Ramadan. Cafés often serve croissants for breakfast. Breakfast is often a quick meal, consisting of bread and dairy products, with tea and sometimes jam. The most used is labneh and cream. Lunch is considered the main meal of the day, and is traditionally eaten between 1:30pm and 2:30pm. It is the meal for which the family comes together, and when entertaining, it is the meal of choice to invite guests to. Rarely do meals have different courses; however, salads and mezze (an appetizer) are served as side dishes to the main meal. The platter usually consists of a portion of meat, poultry or fish, a portion of rice, lentils, bread and a portion of cooked vegetables, in addition to the fresh ones with the mezze and salad. The vegetables and meat are usually cooked together in a sauce (often tomato, although others are also popular) to make maraq, which is served on rice. Most households add bread, whether other grains were available or not. Drinks are not necessarily served with the food; however, there is a very wide variety of drinks such as shineena (or laban), karakaden, Naqe’e Al Zabib, irq soos, tamr Hindi, and fruit juice, as well as other traditional Arab drinks. During the 20th century, carbonated soda and fruit-based drinks, sold by supermarkets, have also become very popular. Dinner is traditionally the lightest meal, although in modern times, and due to changing lifestyles, dinner has become more important.

In addition to the two meals mentioned hereafter, sweets are consumed much more than usual during the month of Ramadan; sweets and fresh fruits are served between these two meals. Although most sweets are made all year round such as Kanafeh, Baklava, and Basbousa, some are made especially for Ramadan, such as Qatayef. Iftar (also called Futuur), or fast-breaking, is the meal taken at dusk when the fast is over. The meal consists of three courses: first, they shall eat a date based on Islamic tradition. This is followed by a soup or anything they would like, the most popular being lentil soup, but a wide variety of soups such as chicken, oats, freeka (a soup made from whole wheat and chicken broth), potato, maash, and others are also offered. The third course is the main dish, usually eaten after an interval, when Maghreb prayer is conducted. The main dish is mostly similar to lunch, except that cold drinks are also served. Suhur is the meal eaten just before dawn, when fasting must begin. It is eaten to help the person make it through the day with enough energy until Maghreb time. The Arabian cuisine uses specific and sometimes unique foods and spices. Some of those foods are:

  • Meat: lamb and chicken are the most used, with beef, goat. Other poultry is used in some regions, and fish is used in coastal areas like the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean or the Red Sea. Pork is completely prohibited for Muslim Arabs, being both a cultural and religious taboo (Haram) and prohibited under Islamic law, whereas many Christian Arabs do eat and enjoy pork products, especially in Lebanon, where cold cuts of ham are frequently consumed in Christian neighbourhoods.
  • Dairy products: dairy products are widely used, especially yogurt, Buttermilk and white cheese. Butter and cream are also used extensively.
  • Herbs and spices: The amounts and types used generally varies from region to region. Some of the included herbs and spices are sesame, saffron, black pepper, Allspice, turmeric, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, parsley, coriander and sumac. Spice mixtures include Baharat, Ras el hanout, Za’atar, Harissa.
  • Beverages: hot beverages are served more than cold, coffee being on the top of the list in the Middle-eastern countries and tea on top of the Maghreb countries. In Jordan, Some part of Syria, Morocco and Algeria tea is much more important as a beverage. Other Arabian drinks include Andalucian Horchata and Maghrebi avocado smoothie.
  • Grains: rice is the staple and is used for most dishes; wheat is the main source for bread. Bulgur and semolina are also used extensively.
  • Legumes: Lentils are widely used in all colours, as well as fava beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), scarlet runner beans, green peas, lupini beans, white beans and brown beans.
  • Vegetables: Arabian cuisine favors vegetables such as carrots, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), artichokes, okra, onions and Olives. Potatoes are also eaten as vegetables in Arabian culture.
  • Fruits: Arabian cuisine favors fruits such as Pomegranate, Dates, Figs, oranges, citruses, watermelons, Cantaloupe, Honeydew melon, grapes, peaches and nectarines.
  • Nuts: Almonds, peanuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts are often included in dishes or eaten as snacks.
  • Greens: Parsley, Coriander and mint are popular as seasonings in many dishes, while spinach and mulukhiyah (leaves from the plant of the Corchorus genus) are used in cooked dishes.
  • Dressings and sauces: The most popular dressings include various combinations of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley or garlic, as well as tahini (sesame paste). Labaneh (thinned yogurt) is often seasoned with mint, onion, or garlic, and served as a sauce with various dishes.

The Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula, Middle-East and North-Africa relied on a diet of dates, dried fruit, nuts, wheat, barley, rice, and meat. The meat came from large animals such as cows, sheep and lambs. They also ate dairy products; milk, cheese, yoghurt, buttermilk (Labneh). The bedouins would also use many different dried beans like white beans, lentils and chickpeas. Vegetables which were used a lot among the bedouins are variants which could be dried, like pumpkins, but also vegetables which are more heat-resistant, like aubergines. They would drink a lot of fresh Verbena tea, Arabian tea, Maghrebi mint tea or Arabic coffee. A daily break to freshen up with drinks is a much loved tradition. The bread which is eaten a lot is called Khobz as well in the Khaleej as in the Maghreb regions. Dishes like Marqa, Stews, Tajines were prepared traditionally among the bedouins. Breakfast existed of baked beans, bread, nuts, dried fruits, milk, yoghurt and cheese and tea or coffee. Snacks included nuts and dried fruits. Read more on Wikipedia Arab cuisine.


Sambousek © puckarabia.com

Sambousek (pasties filled with meat, spinach, cheese or nuts) © puckarabia.com

Bahrain
The cuisine of The Kingdom of Bahrain consists of dishes such as Biryani, Harees, Khabeesa, Machboos, Mahyawa, Maglooba, Qouzi and Zalabia. Qahwah is the national beverage. Bahrain is a small island state near the western shores of the Persian Gulf. Much of the Cuisine of Bahrain is a mixture of Arabic, Persian, Indian, Balochi, African, Far East and European food due to the influence of the various communities present as Bahrain was an important sea port and trading junction since ancient times. Some of the common dishes prepared in most Bahraini households are:

  • Balaleet – Sweet saffron noodles served with a savory omelet on top,
  • Bayth elgitta – A fried cookie filled with a mixture of ground nuts and tossed in powdered sugar. It was named after the egg of the crowned sandgrouse (common to the area) due to its similar shape,
  • Biryani – A very common dish, which consists of heavily seasoned rice cooked with chicken or lamb. Originally from the Indian sub-continent,
  • Firga’a – White rice cooked with tomatoes and potatoes and eggplant in the bottom of the pan,
  • Gabout – stuffed flour dumplings in a thick meat stew,
  • Gers ogaily – a traditional cake made with eggs, flour, sugar, cardamom, and saffron. Traditionally served with tea,
  • Ghuraiba – Brittle cookies made from flour, butter, powdered sugar and cardamom. It’s usually served with Arabic coffee,
  • Harees – Wheat cooked with meat then mashed, usually topped with cinnamon sugar,
  • Jireesh – A mash of cooked spelt with chicken or lamb, tomatoes, and some spices,
  • Khabeesa – Sweet dish made of flour and oil,
  • Lugaimat – Fried yeast dumplings soaked in saffron syrup (sugar, lemon, and saffron),
  • Machboos – A dish made with mutton, chicken, or fish accompanied over fragrant rice that has been cooked in chicken/mutton well spiced broth,
  • Mahyawa – a tangy fish sauce,
  • Maglooba – Rice cooked with meat and potatoes and eggplant,
  • Margoog – Vegetable stew, usually containing squash and eggplant, cooked with thin pieces of rolled out dough,
  • Mumawwash – Rice cooked with Green lentils and can be topped with dry shrimp,
  • Muaddas – Rice cooked with red lentils and can be topped with dry shrimp,
  • Mutabbaq samak – fish served over rice. Rice is cooked in well-spiced fish stock,
  • Qouzi – Bahraini dish consisting of a roasted lamb stuffed with rice, meat, eggs, and other ingredients and
  • Zalabia – fried dough soaked in syrup (sugar, lemon, and saffron) it has a distinctive swirly shape.

Qahwah is the national beverage, while tea is drunk for hospitality. Other popular beverages include laban (a kind of salty buttermilk), yoghurt drinks, and soft drinks. Bahrain produces only a small amount of its food requirements due to limited land space, and imports much of its food. Read more on Wikipedia Bahraini cuisine.


A spice shop at Bazar-e Bozorg in Isfahan © flickr.com - yeowatzup/cc-by-2.0

A spice shop at Bazar-e Bozorg in Isfahan © flickr.com – yeowatzup/cc-by-2.0

Iran
Iranian culinary styles have shared historical interactions with the cuisines of the neighboring regions, including Caucasian cuisine, abroad Kurdish cuisine, Turkish cuisine, Levantine cuisine, Greek cuisine, Central Asian cuisine, and Russian cuisine. Through the Persianized Central Asian Mughal dynasty, aspects of Iranian cuisine were adopted into North Indian cuisine. Typical Iranian main dishes are combinations of rice with meat (such as lamb, chicken, or fish), vegetables (such as onions and various herbs), and nuts. Fresh green herbs are frequently used, along with fruits such as plums, pomegranate, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. Characteristic Iranian flavorings such as saffron, dried lime, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed and used in some special dishes. The basic traditional Iranian breakfast consists of a variety of flat breads, butter cubes, white cheese, whipped heavy cream (sarshir; often sweetened with honey), and a variety of fruit jams and spreads. Many cities and towns across Iran feature their own distinct versions of breakfast dishes. Pacha, a popular traditional dish widely eaten in Iran and the neighboring Caucasus, is almost always only served from three in the morning until sometime after dawn, and specialty restaurants (serving only pache) are only open during those hours. Traditional Iranian cooking is done in stages, at times needing hours of preparation and attention. The outcome is a well-balanced mixture of herbs, meat, beans, dairy products, and vegetables. Major staples of Iranian food that are usually eaten with every meal include rice, various herbs, cheese, a variety of flat breads, and some type of meat (usually poultry, beef, lamb, or fish). Stew over rice is by far the most popular dish, and the constitution of these vary by region. Traditional Iranian table setting firstly involves the tablecloth, called sofre, and is spread out over either a table or a rug. Main dishes are concentrated in the middle, surrounded by smaller dishes containing appetizers, condiments, and side dishes, all of which are nearest to the diners. When the food is perfectly served, an invitation is made to seat at the sofre and start having the meal.

The method of kateh is the predominant style of cooking rice in the Caspian region. In Gilan, Mazenderan, and Golestan, this type of rice dish is also eaten as a breakfast meal, either heated with milk and jam or cold with cheese and garlic. Caviar and Caspian fish roes hails from that region, and is served with eggs in frittatas or omelettes. In general, the cuisine of this region has the most affinity with the cuisine of the Caucasus region. Among the Iranian Turkmen in Golestan and North Khorasan, there is a dish made of rice, meat, and tomato paste known as chegderme, which is comparable to dampokhtak and arroz rojo. Kalle jush, which contains boiled Kashk, meat, and beans, is a form of soup in North Khorasan. Dande kebab refers to a traditional grilled rib meat dish among the Kurdish people in Iran. In Kurdistan Province, there is a variation of khoresh e qeyme known as qeyme tarre, which includes wild leek. Sib polow, rice with baked apple, is another distinctive traditional dish among the Kurdish people in Kermanshan. Iranian Azerbaijanis, living primarily in the provinces of Azerbaijan and Aderbil in northwestern Iran, also have a number of distinctive traditional dishes, including bonab kebabi—a variation of kebab kubide, zezbez—a savoury pudding dish known in Persian as cheqor peqor, and dushbara—a dish of dumplings. In Ardebil, there is also a form of khoresh e qeyme which is called pichagh qeyme. Azeris also have a type of dessert known as shekerbura, which is identical to Khorasan‘s shekarpare. They also make Tabriz köftesi, a meatball dish. Mahyawa is a tangy sauce made out of fermented fish in southern coastal regions of Iran, including Bushehr, Hormozgan, and Khuzestan. In southern Khuzestan, there is also a variation of kufte known as kibbeh, which is made of ground meat, cracked wheat, and various spices.

Appetizers

Soups and āsh: There are various forms of soups in Iranian cuisine, including sup e jow (“barley soup”), sup e esfenaj (“spinach soup”), sup e qarch (“mushroom soup”), and several forms of “thick soup”. A thick soup is referred to as āsh in Iran, which is an Iranian traditional form of soup. Also, shole qalamkar is the Iranian term for “Hodge-Podge” soup, a soup made of a mixture of various ingredients.

Fruits and vegetables: Agriculture of Iran produces many fruits and vegetables. Thus, a bowl of fresh fruit is common on Iranian tables, and vegetables are standard sides to most meals. These are not only enjoyed fresh and ripe as desserts, but are also combined with meat and form accompaniments to main dishes. When fresh fruits are not available, a large variety of dried fruits such as dates, fig, apricots and peach are used instead. Southern Iran is one of the world’s major date producers, where some special cultivars such as the Bam date are grown. Vegetables such as pumpkins, spinach, green beans, fava beans, courgette, varieties of squash, onion, garlic and carrot are commonly used in Iranian dishes. Tomatoes, cucumbers and scallion often accompany a meal. While the eggplant is “the potato of Iran”, Iranians are fond of fresh green salads dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, chili, and garlic. Fruit dolma is probably a specialty of Iranian cuisine. The fruit is first cooked, then stuffed with meat, seasonings, and sometimes tomato sauce. The dolma is then simmered in meat broth or a sweet-and-sour sauce. Verjuice, a highly acidic juice made by pressing unripe grapes or other sour fruit, is used in various Iranian dishes. It is mainly used within soup and stew dishes, but also to simmer a type of squash dolma. Unripe grapes are also used whole in some dishes such as khoresh e qure (lamb stew with sour grapes). As a spice, verjuice powder (pudr e qure) is sometimes reinforced by verjuice and then dried.

Rice: The usage of rice, at first a specialty of Safavid Empire‘s court cuisine, evolved by the end of the 16th century CE into a major branch of Iranian cookery. Traditionally, rice was most prevalent as a major staple item in northern Iran and the homes of the wealthy, while bread was the dominant staple in the rest of the country. Varieties of rice in Iran include gerde, domsia, champa, doodi (smoked rice), Lenjan (from Lenjan County), Tarom (from Tarom County), anbarbu, and others.

  • Polow and chelow – Chelow is plain rice served as an accompaniment to a stew or kebab, while polow is rice mixed with something. They are, however, cooked in the same way. Rice is prepared by soaking in salted water and then boiling it. The parboiled rice (called chelow) is drained and returned to the pot to be steamed. This method results in an exceptionally fluffy rice with the rice grains separated and not sticky. A golden rice crust, called tadig, is created at the bottom of the pot. Tadig is served plain, with thin bread or slices of potato. Meat, vegetables, nuts and fruits are sometimes added in layers or completely mixed with the chelow and then steamed. When chelow is in the pot, the heat is reduced and a piece of thick cloth or towel is place on top of the pot to absorb excess steam,
  • Kateh – Rice that is cooked until the water is absorbed completely. It is the traditional dish of Gilan Province and
  • Dami – Rice that is cooked almost the same as kateh, but at the start, ingredients that can be cooked thoroughly with the rice (such as grains and beans) are added. While making kateh, the heat is reduced to minimum when the rice and other ingredients are almost cooked. If kept long enough on the stove without burning and over-cooking, dami and kateh can also produce tadig. A special form of dami is tachin, which is a mixture of yogurt, chicken (or lamb) and rice, plus saffron and egg yolks.

Bread: Second only to rice is the production and use of wheat. The following table lists several forms of flatbread and pastry-bread commonly used in Iranian cuisine.

  • Lavash – Thin, flaky, and round or oval. It is the most common bread in Iran and the Caucasus,
  • Sangak – Plain, rectangular, or triangle-shaped leavened flatbread that is stone-baked,
  • Taftun – Thin, soft and round-shaped leavened flatbread that is thicker than lavash,
  • Tanur bread – Leavened bread baked in an oven called tanur,
  • Qandi bread – A sweet bread, sometimes brioche-like and sometimes flat and dry,
  • Barbari – Thick and oval flatbread; also known as Tabrizi, referring to the city of Tabriz,
  • Baguette – A long, narrow French loaf, typically filled with sausages and vegetables,
  • Nan e gisu – A sweet pastry-bread, also widely known as shirmal (“milk-rubbed”) and
  • Komaj – A sweet date bread with turmeric and cumin, similar to nan e gisu.

Kebab: In Iran, kebabs are served either with rice or with bread. A dish of chelow white rice with kebab is called chelow kebab, which is considered the national dish of Iran. The rice can also be prepared using the kateh method, and hence the dish would be called kateh kebab.

  • Kebab kubide – Barbecued ground lamb or beef, mixed with parsley and onion,
  • Juje kebab – Grilled chunks of chicken; one of the most common dishes in Iran,
  • Kebab barg – Barbecued and marinated lamb, chicken or beef,
  • Kabab torsh – Traditional kebab from Gilan and Mazenderan, marinated in a paste of crushed walnuts, pomegranate juice, and olive oil,
  • Kebab Bakhtyari – Mixture of barbecued fillet of lamb (or veal) and chicken breast.,
  • Chenje – Skewered and grilled cubes of meat. Iranian equivalent of shish kebab,
  • Shashlik – A popular form of shish kebab. In Iranian cuisine, shashlik is usually in form of large chunks and
  • Kebab tabei – Homemade grilled meat, prepared on the pan.

Stew: Khoresh is an Iranian form of stew, which is usually accompanied by a plate of white rice. A khoresh typically consists of herbs, fruits, and meat pieces, flavored with tomato paste, saffron, and pomegranate juice. Other non-khoresh types of stew such as dizi are accompanied by bread instead of rice.

Polow and dami: Apart from dishes of rice with kebab or stew, there are various rice-based Iranian dishes cooked in the traditional methods of polow and dami. Polow is the Iranian word for pilaf. A polow dish includes rice stuffed with cuts of vegetables, fruits, and beans, usually accompanied by either chicken or red meat. Dami dishes are simply the same thing cooked using the dami method.

  • Sabzi polow – Rice with chopped herbs, usually served with fish,
  • Lubia polow – Rice with green beans and minced meat,
  • Albalu polow – Rice with sour cherries and slices of chicken or red meat,
  • Morasa polow – Rice “jewelled” with barberries, raisins, carrots, orange peel, and almonds,
  • Shirin polow – Rice with sweet carrots, raisins, and almonds,
  • Adas polow – Rice with lentils, raisins, and dates,
  • Baqala polow – Rice with fava beans and dill weed,
  • Dampokhtak – Turmeric rice with lima beans and
  • TachinRice cake including yogurt, egg, and chicken fillets.

Others

Desserts: In 400 BC, the ancient Iranians invented a special chilled food, made of rose water and vermicelli, which was served to royalty in summertime. The ice was mixed with saffron, fruits, and various other flavors. Today, one of the most famous Iranian desserts in the semi-frozen noodle dessert known as falude, which has its roots in the city of Shiraz, a former capital of the country. Bastani e zaferani, Persian for “saffron ice cream”, is a traditional Iranian ice cream which is also commonly referred to as “the traditional ice cream”. Other typical Iranian desserts include several forms of rice, wheat and dairy desserts.

Snacks and candys: Cookies appear to have their origins in 7th-century Iran, shortly after the use of sugar became relatively common in the region. There are numerous traditional native and adopted types of snack food in modern Iran, of which some are listed within the following table.

Read more on Iranian cuisine.


Iraqi Qoozi © aziz1005

Iraqi Qoozi (slow cooked lamb with roasted nuts and raisins, served over rice) © aziz1005

Iraq
Iraqi cuisine or Mesopotamian cuisine has a long history going back to the Kurds, Medes, Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Ancient Persians. Tablets found in ancient ruins in Iraq show recipes prepared in the temples during religious festivals – the first cookbooks in the world. Ancient Iraq, or Mesopotamia, was home to a sophisticated and highly advanced civilization, in all fields of knowledge, including the culinary arts. However, it was in the Islamic Golden Age when Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258) that the Iraqi kitchen reached its zenith. Today, the cuisine of Iraq reflects this rich inheritance as well as strong influences from the culinary traditions of neighbouring Iran, Turkey and the Syria region area. Meals begin with appetizers and salads – known as Mezza. Some dishes include Kebab (often marinated with garlic, lemon and spices, then grilled), Gauss (grilled meat sandwich wrap, similar to Döner kebab), Bamieh (lamb, okra and tomato stew), Quzi (lamb with rice, almonds, raisins and spices), Falafel (fried chickpea patties served with amba and salad in pita), Kubbah (minced meat ground with bulghur wheat or rice and spices), Masgûf (grilled fish with pepper and tamarind), and Maqluba (a rice, lamb, tomato and aubergine dish). Stuffed vegetable dishes such as Dolma and Mahshi are also popular. Contemporary Iraq reflects the same natural division as ancient Mesopotamia, which consisted of Assyria in the arid northern uplands and Babylonia in the southern alluvial plain. Al-Jazira (the ancient Assyria) grows wheat and crops requiring winter chill such as apples and stone fruits. Al-Irāq (Iraq proper, the ancient Babylonia) grows rice and barley, citrus fruits, and is responsible for Iraq’s position as the world’s largest producer of dates.

Rice dishes
Long-grain rice is a staple in Iraqi cookery. The Iraqi word for rice, timman, is unique to Iraq and is of Akkadian origin. Iraqi rice cooking is similar to the method used for Iranian chelow, a multistep process intended to produce just-tender, fluffy grains. A prominent aspect of Iraqi rice cooking is the hkaka, a crisp bottom crust. It differs slightly from the Iranian tahdig, which is a single thick piece; the hkaka contains some loose rice as well. Before serving, the hkaka is broken into pieces so that everyone is provided with some along with the fluffy rice.

Soups and stews: Various stews served over rice form a major part of Iraqi cuisine.

  • Khoresh,
  • Fasoulia – soup of dry white beans, olive oil, and vegetables,
  • Harissa – a dish similar to keşkek that is a kind of homogeneous porridge made of previously stewed and boned chicken and coarsely ground soaked wheat,
  • Lentil soup,
  • Margat Bamia – or simply Bamia, a stew made with okra and lamb or beef cubes and in a tomato sauce,
  • Fesenjān – a thick, tart stew made from pomegranate syrup and ground walnuts (see bazha). It is traditionally made with poultry (duck or chicken),
  • Kebabs – a dish consisting of grilled or broiled meats on a skewer or stick. The most common kebabs include lamb and beef, although others use chicken or fish,
  • Qeema – a minced meat, tomato and chickpea stew, served with rice. Traditionally prepared at the annual Ashura commemorations in southern Iraq. The name qeema is an ancient Akkadian word meaning ‘finely chopped’,
  • Maqluba – an upside-down rice and aubergine casserole, hence the name which is literally translated as “upside-down”. It is sometimes made with fried cauliflower instead of aubergine and usually includes meat – often braised lamb,
  • Masgouf – a traditional Mesopotamian dish made with fish from the Tigris. It is an open cut freshwater fish roasted for hours after being marinated with olive oil, salt, curcuma and tamarind while keeping the skin on. Traditional garnishes for the masgouf include lemon, chopped onions and tomatoes, as well as the clay-oven flatbreads common to Iraq and much of the Middle East,
  • Margat Baytinijan – an aubergine based dish of the Balkans and the Middle East. All versions are based primarily on sautéed aubergine and tomato, usually with minced meat,
  • Pomegranate soup – called Shorbat Rumman in Iraq. It is made from pomegranate juice and seeds, yellow split peas, ground beef, mint leaves, spices, and other ingredients,
  • Quzi – stuffed roasted lamb,
  • Tashrib – a soup made with either lamb or chicken with or without tomatoes eaten with Iraqi nan. The bread is broken up into pieces and the soup is poured over in a big bowl,
  • Tahdig – crisp rice taken from the bottom of the pot in which the rice (chelow) is cooked. It is traditionally served to guests at a meal. Ingredients commonly added to tahdig include yogurt and saffron, bread, potato and tomato and
  • Tepsi Baytinijan – an Iraqi casserole. The main ingredient of the dish is aubergine, which are sliced and fried before placing in a baking dish, accompanied with chunks of either lamb/beef/veal or meatballs, tomatoes, onions and garlic. On top of the aubergine, potato slices are placed on top of the mixture, and the dish is baked. Like many other Iraqi dishes it is usually served with rice, along with salad and pickles,

Dumplings and meatballs

  • Dolma – a family of stuffed vegetable dishes. The grape-leaf dolma is common. Zucchini, aubergine, tomato and pepper are commonly used as fillings. The stuffing may or may not include meat,
  • Falafel – a fried ball or patty made from spiced chickpeas or fava beans. Originally from Egypt, falafel is a form of fast food in the Middle East, where it is also served as a mezze,
  • Kubba – a dish made of burghul, chopped meat, and spices. The best-known variety is a torpedo-shaped burghul shell stuffed with chopped meat and fried. Other varieties are baked, poached, or even served raw as famously done by the Lebanese. They may be shaped into balls, patties, or flat,
  • Manti – a type of dumpling stuffed with meat and vegetables,
  • Sarma – a dish of grape, cabbage, monk’s rhubarb or chard leaves rolled around a filling usually based on minced meat, or a sweet dish of filo dough wrapped around a filling often of various kinds of chopped nuts and
  • Samosa – a dry, spicy sausage eaten from the Balkans to the Middle East and Central Asia.

Sandwiches and wraps

  • Sabich – a Middle-Eastern food consisting of pita stuffed with fried aubergine and hard boiled eggs. Local consumption is said to have stemmed a tradition among Iraqi Jews, who ate it on Shabbat morning and
  • Shawarma – a Middle Eastern Arabic-style sandwich-like wrap usually composed of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture of meats. Shawarma is a popular dish and fast-food staple across the Middle East and North Africa

Dairy

  • Baladi cheese – a soft, white cheese originating from the Middle East. It has a mild yet rich flavor,
  • Jameed – hard dry laban (yogurt) made from sheep’s milk,
  • Jibneh Arabieh – a simple cheese found all over the Middle East. It is particularly popular in the Persian Gulf area. The cheese has an open texture and a mild taste similar to Feta but less salty,
  • Geimar – a creamy dairy product, similar to clotted cream, made in the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, other Middle Eastern nations, and Central Asia. It is made from the milk of water buffalos in the East or of cows in the West and
  • Labneh – yogurt which has been strained in a cloth or paper bag or filter, traditionally made of muslin, to remove the whey, giving a consistency between that of yogurt and cheese, while preserving yogurt’s distinctive sour taste.

Breads and pastries

  • Burek – a type of baked or fried filled pastry. It is made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo dough (or yufka dough), and are filled with salty cheese (often feta), minced meat, potatoes or other vegetables,
  • Ka’ak – refer to several different types of baked goods produced throughout the Arab world and the Near East,
  • Kadaif – a very fine vermicelli-like pastry used to make sweet pastries and desserts,
  • Kahie – layers of thin dough phyllo usually consumed warm for breakfast by adding cream Kaymak and light sugar syrup,
  • Khubz – an Arabic flatbread that is part of the local diet in many countries of Western Asia,
  • Laffa – an Iraqi pita or Naan bread,
  • Lahmacun – a thin pizza topped with minced meat and herbs,
  • Lavash – a soft, thin flatbread,
  • Manakish – a pizza consisting of dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat,
  • Markook – a type of flatbread common in the countries of the Levant. It is baked on a domed or convex metal griddle, known as Saj. It is usually sizable, about 2 feet, and thin, almost transparent,
  • Pita,
  • Samoon – a flat and round bread, similar in texture and taste to the Italian ciabatta and
  • Sfiha – a pizza-like dish traditionally made with ground mutton rather than the more modern addition of lamb, or beef in Brazil. They are “open faced” meat pies with no top dough. Sfiha were much like dolma; simply ground lamb, lightly spiced, wrapped in brined grape leaves.

Desserts

Beverages

  • Arak – a clear, colourless, unsweetened aniseed-flavoured distilled alcoholic drink. Arak is usually not drunk straight, but is mixed in approximately 1/3 arak to 2/3 water, and ice is then added,
  • Beer – a drink that originated in Iraq over 6,000 years ago,
  • Coffee – an Iraq national drink that has a strong and bitter taste,
  • Sharbat – a chilled, sweet drink prepared from fruit juice or flower petals,
  • Shinēna – a cold beverage of yogurt mixed with cold water, sometimes with a pinch of salt or dried mint added and
  • Tea – also known as Chai, is widely consumed throughout the day, especially in the mornings, after meals, and during social settings. It is prepared in a special way involving boiling tea in hot water, then placing it over a second tea pot with boiling water to let the tea infuse. Iraqi tea is renowned for being considerably stronger, richer and sweeter than those found in neighbouring countries, and is usually brewed with cardamom (heil).

Read more on Wikipedia Iraqi cuisine.


Mutabag Zubaidi © yalfish.com

Mutabag Zubaidi (Pomfret) © yalfish.com

Kuwait
Kuwaiti cuisine is an infusion of Arabian, Persian, Indian, and Mediterranean cuisines. A prominent dish in Kuwaiti cuisine is machboos, a rice-based specialty usually prepared with basmati rice seasoned with spices, and chicken or mutton. Seafood is a very significant part of the Kuwaiti diet, especially fish. Local favorites are hamour (grouper), which is typically served grilled, fried, or with biryani rice because of its texture and taste, Zbaidi, safi (rabbitfish), and sobaity (bream). Kuwait’s traditional flatbread is called Iranian khubz. It is a large flatbread baked in a special oven and they often top it with sesame seeds. Numerous local bakeries dot the country, the bakers are mainly Iranians (hence the name of the bread Iranian khubuz). Bread is often served with mahyawa fish sauce. There are many other available cuisines due to the international workforce in Kuwait. Among the main dishes are:

  • Balaleet – sweet saffron noodles served with a savory omelet on top.
  • Bayth elgitta – a fried cookie filled with a mixture of ground nuts and tossed in powdered sugar. It was named after the egg of the crowned sandgrouse (common to the area) due to its similar shape.
  • Biryani – a very common dish, which consists of heavily seasoned rice cooked with chicken or lamb. Originally from the Indian sub-continent.
  • Firga’a – white rice cooked with tomatoes and potatoes and eggplant in the bottom of the pan.
  • Gabout – stuffed flour dumplings in a thick meat stew.
  • Gers ogaily – a traditional cake made with eggs, flour, sugar, cardamom, and saffron. Traditionally served with tea.
  • Ghuraiba – brittle cookies made from flour, butter, powdered sugar and cardamom. It’s usually served with Arabic coffee.
  • Harees – wheat cooked with meat then mashed, usually topped with cinnamon sugar.
  • Jireesh (Yireesh) – a mash of cooked spelt with chicken or lamb, tomatoes, and some spices.
  • Khabeesa – sweet dish made of flour and oil.
  • Lugaimat – fried yeast dumplings soaked in saffron syrup (sugar, lemon, and saffron).
  • Machboos – a dish made with mutton, chicken, or fish accompanied over fragrant rice that has been cooked in chicken/mutton well spiced broth.
  • Mahyawa – a tangy fish sauce.
  • Maglooba – Rice cooked with meat and potatoes and eggplant.
  • Margoog – vegetable stew, usually containing squash and eggplant, cooked with thin pieces of rolled out dough.
  • Mumawwash – rice cooked with green lentils and can be topped with dry shrimp.
  • Muaddas – Rice cooked with red lentils and can be topped with dry shrimp.
  • Mutabbaq samak – fish served over rice. Rice is cooked in well-spiced fish stock.
  • Quzi – Kuwaiti dish consisting of a roasted lamb stuffed with rice, meat, eggs, and other ingredients.
  • Zalabia – fried dough soaked in syrup, sugar, lemon, and saffron, it has a distinctive swirly shape.

Read more on Wikipedia Kuwaiti cuisine.


Machboos © Miansari66

Machboos (a dish of rice and meat, popular in many Gulf states) © Miansari66

Oman
The cuisine of Oman is a mixture of several staples of Asian foods. Dishes are often based on chicken, fish, and lamb, as well as the staple of rice. Most Omani dishes tend to contain a rich mixture of spices, herbs, and marinades. Although Omani cuisine varies within different regions of Oman, most dishes across the country have a staple of curry, cooked meat, rice, and vegetables. Soups are also common and are usually made from chicken, lamb, and vegetables (e.g., smoked eggplant). The main meal is usually eaten in the middle of the day, while dinner is lighter. Typical Omani dishes are:

  • Harees is wheat mixed with meat.
  • Kahwa is an Omani coffee mixed with cardamom powder, often served as a symbol of hospitality. It is often served with dates and Omani halwa.
  • Kebab is a dish of curried meat (usually chicken or beef) barbecued or grilled, served with a side of vegetables.
  • Mashuai is a dish consisting of a whole spit-roasted kingfish, served with a side of lemon rice.
  • Machboos is a rice dish flavored with saffron and cooked over spicy meat.
  • Muqalab is tripe and pluck cooked with a variety of spices, including cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, black pepper, ginger, garlic, and nutmeg.
  • Shuwaa is a meal eaten only on festive occasions. The dish consists of a whole goat roasted in a special oven, which is a pit dug in the ground. This is usually a communal activity by an entire village. The meat is flavored with a variety of spices, then wrapped in sacks made of dry leaves, which are in turn placed into the oven.
  • Sakhana is a thick soup made from wheat, dates, molasses, and milk, typically eaten during Ramadan.
  • Albadhinajan mae tawarikh is a cake made from eggplant, dates and onions.
  • Coffee is the national beverage, while tea is drunk for hospitality. Other popular beverages include laban (a kind of salty buttermilk), yoghurt drinks, and soft drinks.

Read more on Wikipedia Omani cuisine.


Qatari Sweets in Souq Waqif in Doha © StellarD/cc-by-sa-4.0

Qatari Sweets in Souq Waqif in Doha © StellarD/cc-by-sa-4.0

Qatar
Qatari cuisine is made up of traditional Arab cuisine. Machbūs, a meal consisting of rice, meat, and vegetables, is the national dish in Qatar. Seafood and dates are staple food items in the country.

Among the main dishes are: Qatari Machbous (rice, meat, onions, and tomatoes mixed with spices. This dish is the local variation of kabsa), Kabsa (rice, meat, and vegetables mixed with spices. This dish is similar to biryani or pilaf), Balaleet (noodles cooked with sugar, cinnamon, saffron, and cardamom. There is often an omelet on top) and Ghuzi (whole roast lamb served over nutty rice. Also called Shuwaa).

Among the drinks are: Arabic coffee (coffee brewed from dark roast coffee beans spiced with cardamom. It is often sweetened and/or served with dates), Qahwa (also known as “Qatari coffee” or “sweet coffee”,is a bright orange mixture with cardamom, saffron, and sugar. It can also be served with milk) and Mint and lemon cocktail (a refreshing drink flavoured with mint and lemon. It is not Qatari but it is a staple drink).

Among the deserts are: Om ali (bread and rice pudding), Sago (sweet gelatin pudding spiced with saffron and cardamom. The Original recipe was blended together by Mohamed Fathi, an Egyptian scientist), Mehalabiya (Rose water and pistachio pudding), Esh asaraya (cheesecake topped with cream), Baklava, Kanafeh, and Qatayef, as well as local variations on desserts from the Western World. Read more on Wikipedia Qatari cuisine.


Kabsa © Basel15

Kabsa (a family of mixed rice dishes that originates from Saudi Arabia, where it is commonly regarded as a national dish. The traditional dish is made with rice and meat) © Basel15

Saudi Arabia
The Arabian people have consumed the same type of food for thousands of years. Some of the common food items in Saudi Arabian cuisine include wheat, rice, lamb, chicken, yogurt, potatoes and dates. Shawarma and Falafel are two common dishes which are originally Levantine and Egyptian dishes respectively. These two dishes are examples of the influence of foreign residents in Saudi’s food. Additional foods and dishes include: Jareesh, Haneeth, Hininy, Madfoon, Mandi, Jalamah, Gursan, Ka’ak, Kabsa, Khmer, Markook, Aseedah, Harissah, Mutabbaq, Sambusak, Saleeg, Dates Mohalla, Mabshoor, Mansaf, Masgouf, Maqluba, Manthoo, Yaghmush, Shakshouka, Roz Bukhari, Dajaj Mashwi, Kanafeh, Muhallebi, Basbousa and Umm Ali.

Islamic dietary laws forbid the eating of pork and the drinking of alcoholic beverages. This law is enforced throughout Saudi Arabia. According to Islamic law, animals must be butchered in a halal way and blessed before they can be eaten. In 2008, Saudi Arabia was the world’s fifth largest importer of both lamb and mutton.According to the Saudi Arabian cultural mission, “guests are served hot coffee and dates as a symbol of generosity and hospitality. The same practice is carried out in the month of Ramadan. Muslims in Saudi Arabia break their fast with dates, water and Arabian coffee. The caffeine in the coffee and the protein and iron in dates nourishes the fasting person with a lot of energy. This helps them perform the Tarawih held in the evenings during Ramadan.” Read more on Wikipedia Saudi Arabian cuisine.


Mhammar © cultures.ae

Mhammar (small local fish are spiced and prepared whole and often served with sweet carmelized onions and surgary yellow rice which is a blend of savory and sweet) © cultures.ae

United Arab Emirates
Emirati cuisine is a blend of many Middle Eastern, Arab cuisine of the Persian Gulf and Asian cuisines. The modern diet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is cosmopolitan, featuring dishes from around the world. A lot of people confuse Levantine food as being Emirati/Khaleej, but shawarma, hummous, tabbouleh, and mixed grill, whilst having similar characteristics, are fairly recent additions and do not do justice to the cuisine which makes up the Emirati diet. Due to harsh desert conditions, the traditional food of the United Arab Emirates uses a lot of meat, grain, and dairy. Vegetables are easy to grow in some areas, and are strongly featured in the diet. Traditional dishes include Maq’louba, Margooga, Harees, Machbous, Frsee’ah, Fireed, Jisheid, and Mishwy. Meats traditionally used were chicken or small fowl, such as Houbara bustards, and goats. As camels are highly prized for their milk and transporting ability, the eating of camel meat is normally reserved for special occasions. The dishes are usually like stews, as everything is often cooked in a single pot. Saffron, cardamom, turmeric, and thyme are the core flavors used in Emirati cookery. The introduction of rice to the diet came when the traders moved to the region. Leaves from indigenous trees, such as the Ghaff, were also used to stuff small birds, releasing their flavor during the cooking process. Breakfast in the UAE usually features breads like raqaq, khameer, and chebab, served with cheese, date syrup, or eggs. These were made over a curved hot plate, resembling a stone, which would have been used by the Bedouins. Balaleat is another dish, but its advent again with the traders, who introduced pasta. Sweet options include luqeymat, a deep fried ball of pancake batter that is rolled in sesame seeds and then drizzled with date honey. Other desserts include khabeesa, which is flour bread crumbs blended with sugar, cardamom, and saffron or bethitha, a semolina blended with crushed dates, cardamom, and clarified butter. At the close of the meal, it is usual to be served with a red tea infused with mint, which aids the digestion. Other traditions to the meal include a welcome with dates and gahwah (Arabic coffee), which are offered on arrival and are kept available through the guests visit.

Seafood has been the mainstay of the Emirati diet for centuries. The United Arab Emirates cuisine is a reflection of a great Arabian heritage and vast exposure to civilizations over time. Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, so it is not included in Arab menus. Meat, fish, and rice are the staple foods of the Emirati cuisine. Lamb and mutton are the more favored meats, then goat and beef. Popular beverages are coffee and tea, which can be supplemented with cardamom, saffron, or mint to give it a distinct flavor. Hotels frequently have pork substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labelled as such. Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars (but not in Sharjah). All nightclubs and golf clubs are permitted to sell alcohol. Specific supermarkets may sell pork, but are sold in separate sections. Read more on Wikipedia Emirati cuisine.


Saltah © Sadq5/cc-by-sa-3.0

Saltah (a brown meat stew called maraq, a dollop of fenugreek froth, and sahawiq (a mixture of chillies, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs ground into a salsa). Rice, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and vegetables are common additions to saltah)
© Sadq5/cc-by-sa-3.0

Yemen
Largely distinct from the more widely known Middle Eastern cuisines, it is unique and coherent, if characterized by a degree of regional variation. Although some foreign influences are evident in some regions of the country (with Ottoman influences showing in the north, while Mughlai Indian influence is evident in the southern areas around Aden), the Yemeni kitchen is based on similar foundations across the country, and tied to the unique culture and history of Yemen. The generous offering of food to guests is one of the customs in Yemeni culture, and a guest not accepting the offering is considered as an insult. Meals are typically consumed while sitting on the floor or ground. Another thing to mention is that unlike most Arab countries, lunch is the main meal of the day in Yemen, not dinner. In Yemen, many kitchens have a taboon, which is a round clay oven.Tomatoes, onions, and potatoes are some of the staple fruits and vegetables in Yemen. Chicken, goat, and lamb are the staple meats in Yemen. They are eaten more often than beef, which is expensive. Fish is also eaten, especially in the coastal areas. Cheese, butter, and other dairy products are less common in the Yemeni diet. Buttermilk, however, is enjoyed almost daily in some villages where it is most available. The most commonly used fats are vegetable oil and ghee used in savory dishes, while clarified butter, known as semn, is the choice of fat used in pastries. Broad beans are used in Yemeni dishes, such as bean salad. Lentils are also used in dishes, such as stews.

Yemeni people prefer to have warm dishes in the morning. Typically, the meal would often consist of different types of pastries with a cup of Yemeni coffee or tea. A more hearty meal would often include legumes, eggs, or even roasted meat or kebab, which is usually served with a type of bread either aside or as a sandwich. People in Yemen also make a breakfast dish that is made from lamb or beef liver, which is considered a bizarre delicacy to non-Yemenis. Dishes common at breakfast include: fattah, fatoot, ful medames, mutabbaq, and shakshouka. Unlike most countries, lunch is the main meal of the day in Yemen, not dinner. The largest amount of meat, poultry, and grains are consumed at lunch. Dishes common at lunch include: aseed, fahsa, fattah, haneeth, harees, jachnun, kabsa, komroh, mandi, Samak Mofa, shafut, Shawiyah, thareed, and Zurbiyan. Although each region has their own variation, Saltah is considered the national dish. The base is a brown meat stew called maraq, a dollop of fenugreek froth (holba), and sahawiq or sahowqa (a mixture of chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs ground into a salsa). Rice, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and vegetables are common additions to saltah. Meats used in the preparation of this dish are typically lamb or chicken. It is eaten traditionally with Yemeni flat bread, which serves as a utensil to scoop up the food. Ogda, meaning “knot” in Arabic, is a stew made from tying and mixing all the ingredients together. There are many types of ogda, and it can be made with small pieces of lamb, chicken, or fish that is mixed and cooked together with vegetables, including tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, onions, zucchini, etc. Dinner dishes are not much different than the breakfast dishes. However, pastries are not very popular at dinner, as they are only eaten for breakfast. Bint Al-Sahn (sabayah) is a sweet honey cake or bread from Yemeni cuisine. It is prepared from a dough with white flour, eggs, and yeast, which is then served dipped in a honey and butter mixture. Other common desserts include: fresh fruit (mangoes, bananas, grapes, etc.), zalābiya, halwa, rawani, and masoob. Masoob is a banana-based dessert made from over-ripe bananas, ground flat bread, cream, cheese, dates, and honey. In Yemen, honey is produced within the country, and is considered a delicacy. Locally produced honey has a high demand, and it is also considered as a status symbol in the country. Read more on Wikipedia Yemeni cuisine. Photos by Wikimedia Commons.


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