Fresh, wholesome, healthy, rich, aromatic – it’s no wonder that the past decade has seen Middle Eastern cuisine’s global profile skyrocketing.
While everyone has their favorite dish, we hit up Lebanese-American food blogger Bethany Kehdy of dirtykitchensecrets.com for her take.
Her favorite dishes are simple and rustic, such as m’jadarrah. That’s a lentil stew (also known as poor man’s stew) consisting of slow-cooked lentils with a sprinkling of burghul and caramelized onions and served with a side of zesty cabbage salad.
Or kishik – a porridge made from burghul fermented with yogurt and dried in the sun on rooftops over seven days during the fall before being ground into fine powder.
“It’s soul-soothing, wholesome food in a jiffy, although an acquired taste, I’ll admit,” says the power blogger.
So what is your favorite Mideast dish?
Along with Kehdy’s takes, we rounded up 20 of our favorite Middle Eastern dishes to get you started along with destinations where you can find them:
The big daddy chickpea spread can be slathered on anything from a burger or baked potato to the traditional hot pita bread.
Veteran preference: more garlic, more better.
Where to try it: Abu Shukri, Via Dolorosa near Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, Israel. Tel: +972 2 627 1538
The pizza of the Arabic world, manakeesh is a round bread sprinkled with either cheese, ground meat or herbs (zaatar). It’s ideal for breakfast or lunch. Varieties come from both fancy Levantine restaurants or street vendors.
Where to try it: Al Hallab, Guarhoud Road, Garhoud, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tel: +971 4 282 3388
3. Grilled halloumi
These mini-slabs of chewy goodness are made from goat and sheep milk. Unlike other cheeses, no acid or bacteria is used during processing.
Where to try it: Abdel Wahab, El Inglizi Street, Monot, Achrafleh, Beirut, Lebanon. Tel: +961 1 200 550
4. Foul meddamas
Made of fava beans, olive oil, parsley, onion, garlic and lemon, this dish doesn’t have the most appetizing of presentations – blobby brown mush is about the best we can say of it. Taste and texture make up for it.
Where to try it: The Pavilion Downtown Dubai Cafe, Downtown, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tel: +971 4 447 7025
You may consider fried chickpeas with herbs as simply a great snack. Or tasty pita filler. For Middle Easterners, however, the origins of falafel are a matter of patriotic interest.
The “New York TImes” has reported how the dish’s provenance sparks fierce debates, but we’re happy to sit on the sidelines and remain addicted to the taste.
Where to try it: Books@Cafe, First Circle Amman, Jordan. Tel: +962 6 465 0457
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy this magical combination of bulgur, parsley, mint, onion and tomatoes. But watch out, you just might be tempted to switch teams after a steady diet of this popular salad.
Where to try it: Cairo Restaurant, Al-Malek Talal Street, Amman, Jordan. Tel: +962 6 462 4527
7. Moutabal/baba ghanoush
Just when you’re ready to declare hummus the best dip on the planet, you find moutabal. Similar to baba ghanoush, the dip offers a similar consistency with an eggplant kick. Spiced up with chili, it delivers a zing.
Where to try it: Zest, One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tel: +971 4 440 1010
This tangy salad is one of the Middle East’s greatest contributions to world culture. Crispy lettuce, crunchy fried squares of pita, diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onion, garlic, lemon, olive oil and mint make for a refreshing addiction.
Where to try it: Al Halabi, Mall of the Emirates, Barsha, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tel: +971 4 395 1615
9. Umm ali
Egyptian bread pudding, or umm ali, is a hearty pastry cooked in milk and cream. Versions are made with croissant pieces, raisins, pistachios, vanilla and condensed milk.
Where to try it: Naguib Mahfouz Restaurant, 5 Sikkit el Badistan, Khan el Khalili, Cairo, Egypt. Tel: +20 202 590 3788
This cow or sheep milk cheese is usually fashioned into golf ball-sized bites and rolled in zaatar herbs or chili flakes (the latter version favored in Syria). Also often enjoyed with diced tomato, onion and olive oil.