Tasting the Flavours of the Middle East

shish tawook
shish tawook- skewered chicken kebab

This is a guest post by Sagar Kole, a travel blogger who is passionate about seeing the world– not only does he love to travel, Sagar also likes to cook and experience different cuisines. In this post, he shares his love for Middle Eastern food- something I grew up on and love as well.

I’m not a foodie. Yes, I do like to taste good food but it is definitely not my top priority while visiting a destination. Yet, I’m writing this post about the Middle Eastern cuisine. Why? Well, long story short, there’s something very different about Middle Eastern food, and in a good way.

It might take a while to get acquainted with but for someone like me, the gastronomy is a total delight. A mix of various cuisines, Middle Eastern food for me is soul- soothing- a blend of Arab, Iranian, Israeli, Kurdish and Turkish cuisines.

Here are some of my favourite dishes that I think will be easily liked by first-timers who’ve never tried Middle Eastern food before, though that is hard to imagine given how popular the cuisine has become in recent years. Presenting the perfect introduction to the flavors of the Middle East.

Hummus

hummus

Mezze platter with hummus in the center

Undoubtedly, hummus deserves the first mention, not only for the fact that it is one of my most favourite all time meals but also because it is probably the most commonly known Middle Eastern dish across the globe.

Although best enjoyed with warm pita bread, I can eat this delicious spread with just about anything. Burger, wedges you name it. This creamy dip is made within minutes but gives you a delicious satisfaction that can last for hours together. The traditional recipe consists of mashed chickpea mixed with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil to create a dip and is most commonly served with meat dishes, in a mezze appetizer platter with warm pita bread.

Turkish Coffee

The popularity of Turkish coffee has risen rapidly in the past decade, thanks to its delectable flavour. I simply love its bold and rich taste. That hint of cardamom that effortlessly blends with the strong taste of coffee simply blows your mind.

There’s a Turkish saying that goes around it – “coffee should be black as hell, strong as death, and as sweet as love”. Without going deep into the saying, I prefer to enjoy my blackish brown Turkish coffee that comes unfiltered to me with roasted coffee beans simmered in a pot. Let it settle down in your cup and then sip it for an unforgettable caffeine kick. UNESCO has declared Turkish coffee as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Turkey.

Falafel

Falafel

If there’s another dish as popular internationally as hummus, it is the falafel. Filling, nutritious, and tasty- in other words, perfect any time of day, whether for an in-between snack or a meal.

Have it immediately once it’s fried to taste the perfect marriage of the crunchy exterior and the fluffy chickpea filling. A falafel is made with grounded chickpeas and herbs and spices and is served either as a plate with tahini, pita bread and pickle or as a sandwich wrapped in the bread.

Shawarma

shawarma

shawarma

A ridiculously tasty wrap of minced meat (lamb or chicken) shaved off a rotating pit, shawarma is a local favorite. You get the variations of chicken, beef and lamb, and though all are super delicious, I personally love the melt- in- the- mouth lamb shawarma. In recent years, shawarma stands have sprung up in many cities around the world though the taste isn’t always as good as what you get in the Middle East.

Marinated with a tangy blend of spices, and slow cooked on a turning pit to retain the flavour, juiciness and the tenderness of the meat, it is served wrapped in pita bread or saj bread along with vegetables, pickle and tahini.

Baklawa

baklava

Baklava and Helva

Baklawa is a sweet delicacy made with chopped nuts, filo pastry, honey dressing, and sweet syrup and is a must try. There’s a Greek version of this sweet too known as Baklava, both are sweet and taste similar. Here in the Middle East, it is available with ingredients like dates and dried fruits and nuts like figs and pistachios as well but I prefer it with nuts.

 

What makes Middle Eastern food intriguing is its use of herbs and spices. The dishes are meat heavy but the cooking techniques are healthy with the use of grills and olive oil. The flavours can often be unexpected and are a combination of Mediterranean freshness, Middle Eastern heritage and influences from North Africa as well as Asia.

Moreover, the cuisine can taste different owing to regional influences depending in the city or country where you’re tasting it. Dubai, a major stopover destination is just one of the cities where you can experience Middle Eastern cuisine, here’s another list of what to try while in Dubai. Read about visiting Dubai on a budget and what you should know if you’re planning a trip during Ramadan.

 

These are my favourite Middle Eastern dishes. Tell me your favourites in the comments section.

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