Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (2024)

If you’ve ever enjoyed pita bread, hummus, or falafel, you’ve ventured into the wonderful world of Middle Eastern food. But there’s much more to the cuisine than these iconic staples—it has a range of flavors and styles to offer.

If you have Middle Eastern heritage or want a deeper understanding of the region, a great place to start is the food. Authentic food from any given place packs with it more than just the flavors. It provides insights into the lives of the people and the history of the region.

Explore and Share Middle Eastern Foods

New Culinary Heritage Classes!

FamilySearch invited expert guests to teach classes about culinary heritage. Tune in to watch live classes on rootstech.org.

    Watch Here

    But what exactly is considered Middle Eastern food, and why is it significant?

    What Is Considered Middle Eastern Food?

    Middle Eastern food stems from a variety of cultures around the Mediterranean, Red, Arabian, and Caspian Seas. It includes Arab, Israeli, Moroccan, Syrian, and Turkish cuisines, just to name a few. In reality, a long list of countries and cultures are included.

    While Middle Eastern food encompasses a variety of cuisines, it’s generally characterized by fragrant and copious spices, nuts, olive oil, and creamy elements. Mutton, lamb, and goat are traditional meats. Chicken, camel, beef, fish, and pork are also used, but less frequently.

    Traditional Middle Eastern Foods

    Early civilizations in the Middle East paved the way for modern farming and cooking. This area of the world was among the first to keep farm animals and cultivate plants, including wheat, sheep, goats, and cattle. Middle Easterners also developed the process of fermentation, which has permeated worldwide cultures to leaven bread, make alcohol, and create unique flavors.

    As a result of its unique location between Europe, Asia, and Africa, the Middle East became a hub for the exchange of goods and culture as international trade expanded through the ages. Spices, ingredients, and new dishes were all exchanged, shaping the food of the Middle East and surrounding areas alike.

    Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (3)

    Local ingredients and religion have also played key roles in shaping the food in the region. Dates, fava beans, chickpeas, and barley are staples as locally sourced ingredients, while lamb and mutton became the predominant meat as a result of religious laws banning pork.

    Religious practices in the area also paved the way for a worldwide staple: coffee. The stimulating drink was brewed to help people stay awake for evening worships, particularly during Ramadan.

    Ramadan: A Month of Fasting

    Ramadan is a holy month of fasting in Islamic culture. It has deep ties to the Qur’an and holds spiritual significance for Muslims around the world. Throughout the month, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, only eating after a prayer at sunset.

    The evening meal that follows is often a social event shared in homes or mosques. Shops and restaurants stay open late into the night to accommodate daily fasts, creating a lively nightlife. In the morning, drums and bells sound before dawn, warning Muslims to eat their last meals before the next day of fasting.

    Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (4)

    When the month ends, everyone celebrates with a large feast and festivities known as Eid al-Fitr. Pastries and sweets are served in abundance alongside other celebrations, such as gift giving and family visits.

    Etiquette at Middle Eastern Mealtimes

    Dining etiquette varies by region in the Middle East, so it’s difficult to pinpoint hard and fast etiquette rules. Generally, food is either shared from a central, communal plate or served by the host. If a host is serving you food, be prepared for second helpings the moment your plate is cleared. Leaving some food on the plate can signal that you’re full.

    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.

    Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (5)

    Middle Eastern Recipes

    Use these recipes to taste some of the best dishes of the Middle East from your own home. While there’s no substitute for actually visiting the Middle East, food can help you experience some of its elements from afar. Try this list to get started:

    Hummus: Probably the most famous dish originating from the Middle East, hummus is a creamy and versatile dip made from chickpeas.

    Manakeesh: This flatbread is a popular choice for breakfast. It’s topped with a flavorful heap of cheeses and spices.

    Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (6)

    Foul Mudammas: For this dish, fava beans are stewed with spices and herbs to create a flavorful and hearty meal.

    Falafel: Falafels are fried balls made of chickpeas and can be enjoyed in a variety of ways.

    Fattoush: This light bread salad is refreshing and flavorful, the perfect addition to any meal.

    Umm Ali: This Egyptian dessert is similar to bread pudding and is served with nuts and other fillings.

    Shawarma: Shawarma is a crowd favorite, the marriage of slow-roasted chicken and the famous pita bread.

    Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (7)

    Shish Tawook: Don’t miss out on this tender, marinated chicken skewer.

    Dolma: These stuffed grape leaves can be filled with a variety of options.

    Kofta: Skewers of meat are popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, and koftas are a great choice for beef and lamb kebabs.

    Mansaf: The yogurt sauce for mansaf makes this dish. Lamb is cooked in it, and it’s often served over a bed of rice.

    Baklava: Baklava is probably the most famous dessert from the Middle East. It’s made with ground nuts, honey, and layers of filo dough.

    Knafeh: Knafeh is another Middle Eastern dessert. It’s made with a cheese filling that’s surrounded by shredded filo dough and topped with a syrup.

    Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (8)

    Masgouf: This grilled carp dish is the national dish of Iraq.

    Pita: The popularity of pita bread speaks for itself. It’s a flatbread characterized by a pocket of air in the center.

    If you have Middle Eastern heritage, try looking for or sharing family recipes through FamilySearch Memories.

    Middle Eastern Food, Recipes, and Traditions • FamilySearch (2024)


    Which are 3 major ingredients that dominates Middle East cuisine? ›

    • Grains are the basis of the Middle Eastern diet, where wheat and rice are considered staple foods. ...
    • Butter and clarified butter (also known as smen), also ghee, are traditionally the preferred oil to cook in. ...
    • Most regions in the Middle East use spices.

    What is the most common Middle Eastern food? ›

    Falafel: These deep-fried, meat-free balls have become a common international street food dish. Hummus: Made from mashed chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice and garlic, this is one of the most popular Middle Eastern foods -- and a topic for fierce regional rivalries.

    What is the difference between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food? ›

    The difference between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine is an exploration of two distinct culinary worlds. Middle Eastern cuisine entices with its rich spices, aromatic dishes, and use of flatbreads. In contrast, Mediterranean cuisine captivates with its fresh, simple ingredients and a strong focus on seafood.

    What is the main spice used in Middle Eastern food? ›

    One of the most popular spices in Middle Eastern food is cumin. This strong, highly fragrant savory spice gives falafels their unmistakable smell.

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

    Poultry is the most consumed meat type in the Middle East.

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

    What Are Some Of The Most Popular Vegetables In Middle Eastern Cooking?
    • Spinach.
    • Parsley.
    • Mint.
    • Cabbage.
    • Onions.
    • Garlic.
    • Squash.
    • Eggplant.
    Jan 24, 2023

    What sets Middle Eastern cuisine unique? ›

    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 a traditional Arabic dish? ›

    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 a traditional 3 course meal? ›

    A three-course meal will generally contain an appetizer or salad, a main dish, and a dessert. While there's some debate on the components of a five-course meal, it often contains hors d'oeuvres, an appetizer, a salad, an entrée, and a dessert.

    What food is similar to shawarma? ›

    At first glance, the gyro and the shawarma look remarkably alike. In fact, they share an origin story: They are both descendants of the doner kebab, a Turkish dish made with sliced meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. Despite the similarities, though, the gyro and the shawarma are different sandwiches.

    Why is Middle Eastern food so delicious? ›

    By relying on ingredients that are in-season and locally-sourced, Middle Eastern dishes achieve an authenticity and depth of flavor that's hard to replicate 1. More than Just Food: These ingredients are not just about taste. They're symbols of the region's rich agricultural heritage.

    What is the Middle Eastern diet called? ›

    The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes plant-based foods and healthy fats. You eat mostly veggies, fruits and whole grains. Extra virgin olive oil is the main source of fat.

    What are Middle Eastern food cultures? ›

    While Middle Eastern food encompasses a variety of cuisines, it's generally characterized by fragrant and copious spices, nuts, olive oil, and creamy elements. Mutton, lamb, and goat are traditional meats. Chicken, camel, beef, fish, and pork are also used, but less frequently.

    What are the main ingredients in Middle Eastern food? ›

    • Chickpeas. Also known as garbanzo beans, are a staple legume in Middle Eastern cuisine. ...
    • Olive oil. It is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and is used abundantly in dressings, marinades, and sautéing. ...
    • Meats. ...
    • Rice. ...
    • Nuts. ...
    • Tahini. ...
    • Balgur. ...
    • Freekeh.

    What does Middle Eastern food consist of? ›

    While Middle Eastern food encompasses a variety of cuisines, it's generally characterized by fragrant and copious spices, nuts, olive oil, and creamy elements. Mutton, lamb, and goat are traditional meats. Chicken, camel, beef, fish, and pork are also used, but less frequently.

    What are the most important ingredients and spices in the Middle East? ›

    For centuries Middle Eastern spices and seasonings have been an important part of the world's diet. Today, spices of the Middle East, such as nutmeg, cardamom, sumac, and fenugreek, are used to enhance the flavor of numerous Western and Middle Eastern cuisine delights, ranging from soups, to entrées, and even desserts.

    Which of the following foods is common in Middle Eastern cultures? ›

    Popular foods throughout the Middle East include olives, chickpeas, flatbread, yogurt and cheese. Lamb and mutton are favorite meats of the region, as pork is prohibited by Islam and Judaism and is not commonly eaten.

    Top Articles
    Latest Posts
    Article information

    Author: Rob Wisoky

    Last Updated:

    Views: 6049

    Rating: 4.8 / 5 (68 voted)

    Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

    Author information

    Name: Rob Wisoky

    Birthday: 1994-09-30

    Address: 5789 Michel Vista, West Domenic, OR 80464-9452

    Phone: +97313824072371

    Job: Education Orchestrator

    Hobby: Lockpicking, Crocheting, Baton twirling, Video gaming, Jogging, Whittling, Model building

    Introduction: My name is Rob Wisoky, I am a smiling, helpful, encouraging, zealous, energetic, faithful, fantastic person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.