20 top Middle Eastern foods | CNN (2024)


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:

1. Hummus

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Which came first, hummus or pita?

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

2. Manakeesh

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It's pizza, captain, but not as we know it.

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

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Halloumi: not your typical grilled cheese.

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

5. Falafel

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

6. Tabouleh

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Parsley as you've never had it before.

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

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Baba ghanoush comes in a variety of styles.

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

8. Fattoush

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Fattoush: simple ingredients, magical combination.

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

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Egypt's most delicious pudding.

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

10. Shanklish

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Crumbly cheese rolled in herbs.

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.

Where to try it: Market Place, JW Marriott Dubai, Abu Baker Al Siddique Road, Al Rigga, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Tel: +971 4 607 7009

11. Shawarma

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Shawarma: One of the prettiest sights in the world.

No, shawarma wasn’t invented as a hangover cure. But the tender bits of skewered chicken, garlic puree and salad wrapped in pita have made it a beloved post-session snack the world over. One more, please.

Where to try it: Hashipudia, 6 Ha-Shikma Street, Jerusalem, Israel. Tel: +972 2 625 4036

12. Shish tawook

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Shish tawook: it's all about the marinades and condiments.

Served with pure garlic paste, this simple skewered chicken dish is hugely popular in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq and the Gulf region. Dishes are served with fries and pita bread.

Where to try it: Al Falamanki, Damascus Street, Beirut, Lebanon. Tel: +961 1 323 456

13. Dolma

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Vine leaves: rolled to perfection.

Dolma goes horribly wrong when the stuffed vine leaves become flaccid and slimy after being left out in the sun for too long. They need to be fresh with succulent lamb or juicy vegetables.

Where to try it: Asitane Restaurant, Kariye Camii Sokak 6, EdirnekapI, Istanbul, Turkey. Tel: +90 212 534 8414

14. Kofta

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Kofta: don't let looks deceive you.

Common in Iran and Pakistan, these balls of minced lamb or beef have a spicy, onion kick.

You can fry, grill, barbecue or bake the patties, but they’re best served with a distinctive spicy sauce. In the Arab region, you’ll find them in cylinder shapes, often on a stick.

Where to try it: Gulf Pomegranate Iranian Restaurant, ‪Al Ansab Road next to Al Agbiya Mosque, Muaskar Al Murtafa’a, Oman. Tel: +968 9 223 6697

15. Quwarmah Al Dajaj

Curry veterans, this may be a new one for you.

Known to most as Kuwaiti curried chicken, the zesty dish is made with a blend of Middle Eastern flavors and spices – lime, ginger, turmeric, baharat, cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika – that combine to give it a distinctive pop.

Where to try it: Mais Alghanim, Gulf Road, Kuwait. Tel: +965 2 225 1155

16. Mansaf

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Mansaf is practically the national dish of Jordan.

The small version of this Jordanian and Palestinian dish looks like a pizza covered with a lamb carcass, while a larger banquet variety can cover a whole table.

Despite the intimidating appearance, the tender mutton, covered in yogurt sauce and sprinkled with almond and pine nuts, makes for a culinary masterwork.

Where to try it: Jabri Restaurant, Wasfi Al-Tal Street, Amman, Jordan. Tel: +962 6 5681700

17. Kebab karaz

Otherwise known as cherry kebab or desert candy, this Syrian dish offers a new slant on the famed meat stick. Kebab karaz adds sour cherries and pomegranate pips, rendering the meaty mix blood red, sweet and sour.

Where to try it: Al-Mayas, Al-Bedea, Kuwait City, Kuwait. Tel: +965 5 738 089

18. Baklava

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Baklava: sticky and sweet.

Buttery filo pastry, chopped nuts, sweet syrup and honey dressing – made from a recipe that dates to the Ottoman empire, it’s no wonder baklava is one of the most enduring and beloved dishes on the planet.

Where to try it: Rihtim Cad, Kati Otopark Alti, 3-4 Karakoy, Istanbul. Tel: +90 212 293 0910

19. Knafeh

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Knafeh: savory cheese flavor, crunchy pastry crust

This delicious cheesecake uses Nabusi cheese, which is common to Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. The blush coloring comes from orange blossom water or rose water.

Where to try it: Habibah, Al Malek al Hussein Street, Amman, Jordan

20. Iraqi masgouf

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Carp is a difficult fish to get right ... but not in Iraq.

Remember the best piece of carp you ever had? No?

You would if it had been this carp, which is slow-cooked for up to three hours until the fat has been burned off, then served with lemon and pickles.

Where to try it: Al Adhamiyah Iraqi Restaurant, Al Asmakh Street, Jasra, Doha. Tel: +974 4432 4326

Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2012. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.

20 top Middle Eastern foods | CNN (2024)


20 top Middle Eastern foods | CNN? ›

Falafel. Made with ground chickpeas and fava beans, falafel is hailed as the most popular Middle Eastern dish, aside from hummus. Sometimes served with salads and hot sauce, falafel is most often stuffed inside pita bread to make a healthy, vegetarian sandwich.

What is the most popular food in the Middle East? ›

Falafel. Made with ground chickpeas and fava beans, falafel is hailed as the most popular Middle Eastern dish, aside from hummus. Sometimes served with salads and hot sauce, falafel is most often stuffed inside pita bread to make a healthy, vegetarian sandwich.

What are the 10 most popular foods in the world? ›

10 most popular dishes in the world
  • Tortilla | Country: Mexico. ...
  • Yakiniku | Country: Japan. ...
  • Croissant | Country: France. ...
  • Tacos | Country: Mexico. ...
  • Ramen | Country: Japan. ...
  • Burger | Country: America. ...
  • Sushi | Country: Japan. ...
  • Pizza | Country: Italy.

What are types of Middle Eastern food? ›

Middle Eastern dishes
HummusMiddle East
Kashk bademjanIran
KebabMiddle East
41 more rows

What are five staple foods of the Middle Eastern diet? ›

5 Middle Eastern ingredients to keep in your Sydney food pantry
  • Pomegranate molasses.
  • Za'atar.
  • Tahini.
  • Mint.
  • Sumac.

What is the #1 food eaten in the world? ›

Cereal grains and tubers are the most common food staples. There are more than 50,000 edible plants in the world, but just 15 of them provide 90 percent of the world's food energy intake. Rice, corn (maize), and wheat make up two-thirds of this.

What is the #1 most eaten food in the world? ›

Rice, for instance, claims the throne as one of the most consumed staple foods worldwide due to its versatility, affordability, and high caloric yield, making it a reliable source of sustenance for billions.

What is the #1 best food to eat? ›

Top 10 Foods for Health
  • Whole grains. ...
  • Beans and lentils. ...
  • Fish. ...
  • Berries. ...
  • Winter squash. ...
  • Soy. ...
  • Flaxseed, nuts and seeds. ...
  • Organic yogurt. Men and women between 19 and 50 years of age need 1000 milligrams of calcium a day and 1200 milligrams if 50 or older.

What are three Arabic foods? ›

Arabic dishes like hummus, falafel, and kebabs are popular worldwide and a staple of meals in the Middle East. These all come from Levantine cuisine, the traditional food of the Bilad ash-Sham region. The most distinctive aspect of Levantine cuisine is mezze, small dishes served at the beginning of a multi-course meal.

What is the Middle East best known for? ›

The Middle East is widely and most famously known as the cradle of civilization. The world's earliest civilizations, Mesopotamia (Sumer, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia), ancient Egypt and Kish in the Levant, all originated in the Fertile Crescent and Nile Valley regions of the ancient Near East.

What is Middle Eastern cuisine known for? ›

Middle Eastern cuisine is known for its rich and aromatic spices. Common spices used include cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, sumac, cardamom, and saffron. These spices add depth and complexity to dishes. Middle Eastern cuisine often features slow-cooked dishes and flavourful stews.

What is Saudi Arabia favorite food? ›

Kabsa. Considered as the national dish of Saudi, Kabsa is a rice dish made with meat and vegetables. The chefs of Saudi make extensive use of dried fruits and nuts in most of their preparations, Kabsa is no exception to this rule!

What is the national Arab dish? ›

Kabsa (Arabic: كبسة [kabsah]) is an Arab mixed rice dish, served on a communal platter, that originates from Saudi Arabia. It is commonly regarded as a national dish in all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula.

What is the most consumed meat in the Middle East? ›

Similarly, among red meat, consumption is primarily dominated by beef due to the religious affiliations of Bahrain's population. By country, Saudi Arabia currently has the highest consumption of edible meat, with a share of 20.42%, by value, of the Middle Eastern edible meat market.

Why is Middle Eastern food so popular? ›

It's no wonder Middle Eastern cuisine is so flavorful — almost every ingredient is used fresh, which gives everything a potent kick. For example, cumin is often used to add a well-rounded flavor to dishes, while cardamom adds a distinct sweetness. Other common spices include cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. 2.

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