Azamara Blog - The Ultimate Guide to Arabian Cuisine (2024)

Cruising to the Arabian Gulf allows travelers to experience so much within a voyage. It's one of the most diverse regions in the world, home to desert sinkholes and towering skyscrapers, ancient souks and flashy shopping malls, luxury golf courses and Bedouin camps. This diversity extends beyond the region's cityscapes and rich history into its kitchens and restaurants. Simply put, Arabian cuisine's flavorful and fantastic recipes are more than enough to put this region on your menu of must-visit destinations.

And now, with this handy guide to local cuisine in your back pocket, you'll have the inside scoop on the foods to keep an eye out for when you cruise the Middle East and Arabian Gulf with us.

Levantine Cuisine

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The Levant may not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of Arabian cuisine. After all, the Levant is not an Arabian country — or a country at all! Instead, Levant is a term used to historically describe a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia. Today, countries like Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Southern Turkey make up this region that serves as the land bridge connecting Africa and Eurasia. And this connection is one of the reasons this region, and the Levantine cuisine that emerged from it, is synonymous with Arabian cuisine. After all, the "crossroads of eastern Asia, the eastern Mediterranean, and northeast Asia" has seen many traders, explorers, and adventurers over the years. And each of them brought spices, recipes, and ingredients that changed the world's gastronomy forever.

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.

Popular Levantine dishes include:

    • Dips and spreads like hummus (made with chickpeas) or baba ghanouj (made with eggplant), served with pita

    • Salads like tabbouleh (finely chopped parsley drenched in olive oil and lemon juice) and fattoush (toasted pita bread with vegetables such as radishes, cucumber, and tomatoes)

    • Meat dishes like kafta kebabs (ground, skewered meat), kibbeh (ground meat served fried or raw), and shawarma (meat grilled on a spit, shaved, and served on a plate or in a pita)

    • Falafel (deep-fried balls of ground chickpeas, served on a plate or in a pita)

It's important to note that, though Levantine cuisine is both famous and influential, it is not the traditional food of every Arabian country. You'll find it across the region, but there's much more to sample during your time cruising the Middle East and Arabian Gulf.

Emirati Cuisine

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The United Arab Emirates is home to the cosmopolitan cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Here, you'll find the cuisine to be creative and globally inspired. Much like Levantine cuisine, this inspiration reflects the UAE's history as a trading hub. Flavor is the name of the food game here, with many of the region's most-popular dishes enjoying an infusion of spices and ingredients sourced from across Asia, the Arabian Gulf, and the Middle East. Some of the more common ingredients in Emirati cuisine include cinnamon, turmeric, nuts, saffron, limes, and dried fruit.

It's easy to think of the UAE as the desert, but cities like Dubai are coastal. As such, you can expect fish to be a highlight of many local dishes. Ask locals, and they'll tell you the most popular seafood dish in the city is madrooba. This dish, consisting of salted maleh fish, and spices in a thick sauce, has its origins in Bahrain, but has won over many an Emirati over the years. We think it will win you over as well! Many regional restaurants also serve jasheed, a traditional dish of minced shark meat with onion, spices, and rice.

Speaking of tradition, in classic Emirati cuisine, camel meat is commonly served in the region. Often, this meat was reserved for special occasions like weddings or Eid-al-Fitr. These days, however, you'll see it on the menu at most traditional restaurants. In addition, lamb and seafood stews are popular.

Of course, pork is one thing you might not find on menus in the UAE. This is because Muslims are prohibited from eating this meat. As a result, you'll frequently see pork substitutions on menus, such as beef and veal. Now, this doesn't mean you won't find any pork in the UAE — it just takes a little more work! Typically, if a restaurant does serve pork, it's clearly labeled as such.

Finally, if you have a sweet tooth and a love for traditional desserts, try luqaimat. These sweet dumplings typically consist of milk, sugar, butter, and flour fried up and covered in delicious date syrup. Perfectly named (luqaimat means bite-sized), this famous traditional dessert is the best way to cap off any meal.

Qatari Cuisine

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The cuisine in Qatar is constantly evolving, which makes sense when one considers the growth and evolution of this country over the last several decades. Qatari cuisine takes plenty of influence from the region surrounding the country, and you'll quickly find sway from India, Lebanon, North Africa, India, Iran, and more. There's also a large ex-pat community here, so you'll find restaurants expertly serving up dishes from around the world.

If there's one dish that is unmistakable Qatari, it's machbous. In fact, it's so beloved that it has become known as the country's national dish. Machbous features basmati rice, pine nuts, raisins, onions, tomatoes, and a mix of spices with mutton, chicken, or fish. Often, it's served with a side of spicy salsa for an added kick.

Mathrooba and margooga are two other popular traditional Qatari dishes. Mathrooba is often eaten to break the fast of Ramadan and is a rich, buttery porridge-like chicken dish. Margooga is a hearty and healthy stew of meat, eggplant, carrots, and spices. It's usually enjoyed with a piece of farrago bread.

Omani Cuisine

Oman is a small country on the Arabian Peninsula. Like the other countries we've covered, Oman's geographic position at the crossroads of Asian and African trade routes has created a culinary culture as distinctive as it is flavorful. North African, Persian, Arab, and Indian influences play a huge role in the cuisine here. Dates and seafood are Oman's most common local ingredients, and the cuisine relies on imported ingredients like black limes, coconut milk, and clove.

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As soon as you arrive in Oman, you'll discover that locals love dates. And for good reason. The dates produced in this region are delicious. Mouth-watering and — occasionally — massive, dates are essential to Omani cuisine and are often served on their own, as part of Omani sweets, or with kahwa.

Omani coffee flavored with cardamom, called Kahwa, is integral to local culture. Visitors are held in high esteem and hospitality is of the utmost importance. Kahwa is always served to guests, typically with traditional sweets.

For many, Shuwa is considered to be Oman's signature dish. Meaning grilled meat in Arabic, Shuwa is often prepared for special occasions such as Eid. This isn't a quick dish. In fact, it takes several days to prepare, but like most time-honored recipes, the wait is worth it. Preparation begins by marinating the meat in spices, then wrapping it in banana leaves or palm leaves. From here, the meat is placed in an underground sand oven, where it is slowly cooked over one to two days. Finally, when it's ready, the meat is served on a bed of rice. As we mentioned, this dish is usually prepared for special occasions, and the meal is a communal event that brings out locals in celebration.

Sampling Arabian Cuisine With Azamara

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If you're a foodie, you'll find some fantastic Shore Excursions that explore the cuisine of the Arabian Gulf. In Dubai, you can travel to the Sahara Desert Resort for an authentic desert dinner experience. Here, enjoy an array of five-star cuisine infused with authentic Arabian flavors as local performers delight with music, fire dances, belly dances, and more. Or, enjoy a Bedouin dinner on the dunes, where you'll indulge in grilled meats and Arabian sweets under an unforgettable blanket of stars. In addition, there's gold cappuccino in Abu Dhabi and High Tea in Muscat. So whether you're craving something small or a feast fit for royalty, you can find it when you cruise the Arabian Gulf with us.

Pack Your Appetite

From high teas at luxury hotels to traditional barbecues at Bedouin camps (not to mention the incredible food onboard), an Arabian voyage will delight your taste buds.

Explore our upcoming voyages to the Arabian Gulf today.

Azamara Blog - The Ultimate Guide to Arabian Cuisine (2024)


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 staple food of the Arabs? ›

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.

What is the number 1 food in Saudi Arabia? ›

1. Kabsa. Considered by many as the national dish of Saudi Arabia, Kabsa is a flavorful mixed rice dish typically made with basmati rice, meat, vegetables, and a blend of spices.

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

Religious influence

Lamb and mutton are favored meats, since pork is prohibited by both Islamic and Jewish dietary laws, though Christian and other non Muslim or Jewish communities consume pork, and Chicken is also common in many Middle Eastern cuisines. Grilled meats (kebabs) are popular, with many regional varieties.

Why is Middle Eastern food so good? ›

One characteristic that distinguishes most Middle Eastern cuisine is the abundance of highly aromatic and flavorful spices, including cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, sumac, and turmeric. These spices contribute to the color, fragrance, and flavors that are central to Middle Eastern cuisine.

What vegetables do Arabs eat? ›

Arab cuisine also favors vegetables such as cucumbers, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), okra, onions, and fruits (primarily citrus), which are often used as seasonings for entrees. Olives, as well as dates, figs, and pomegranates are also widely used.

Is Arabic cuisine healthy? ›

Middle Eastern cuisine is one of the healthiest, since it incorporates lean proteins, healthy fats, vegetables, and grains into almost every dish. Rich spices, seeds, and herbs (notably za'atar and cumin) sets it apart from European cuisines. Here, five delicious Middle Eastern dishes for a clean, healthy lifestyle.

What food is similar to falafel? ›

Also referred to as kubbeh, kibbeh is a mixture of ground lamb, camel, or beef with bulgur wheat, onions, nuts, and traditional Middle Eastern spices. The mix is then rolled into balls or football shapes and deep-fried to perfection. The texture is fairly similar to falafel, but the inclusion of meat makes it richer.

Are Lebanese and Arabic the same? ›

To conclude, the Lebanese and Arabic languages are two different languages yet of same Semitic roots. Calling the language we speak in Lebanon, Arabic or a dialect of Arabic has proved to more confuse those who want to learn Lebanese by pushing them to learn a different language than their intended one.

Is shawarma an Arabic food? ›

Shawarma (/ʃəˈwɑːrmə/; Arabic: شاورما) is a Middle Eastern dish that originated in the Levant region of the Arab world during the Ottoman Empire, consisting of meat that is cut into thin slices, stacked in an inverted cone, and roasted on a slow-turning vertical spit.

What is the food etiquette in the Middle East? ›

Arab countries typically favor finger foods, so utensils are not always used. Areas such as Turkey do use utensils. Arab countries also avoid using the left hand while dining, as it is culturally the hand used to do unhygienic tasks. Floor cushions and low tables are also common in some regions.

Why Lebanese cuisine is the best? ›

Lebanese cuisine has always utilised fresh local ingredients, ensuring that you get the maximum nutritional benefits from every bite. Fruits, vegetables, legumes and proteins form the foundations of traditional Lebanese food which are then embellished by an array of fresh spices.

Is Moroccan cuisine the best in the world? ›

According to a recent ranking published by WorldSIM Travel Blog, Morocco is at the top of the ranking of the world's gastronomic destinations. The richness of Moroccan gastronomy has earned Morocco the second place, ahead of Italy and France.

Which country has the best cuisine in the world? ›

Italy. Italy is the number one country having the best food in the world. It's difficult to talk about Italian food, it's easier to enjoy it. The original shades of Italian cuisine – green, red and yellow always produce a wonderful blend of taste and flavor.

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