The Top 5 Delicious Middle Eastern Dishes You Need to Try
One can always learn about a new country or new culture through its cuisine. The ingredients that are used, how they are prepared, what is prohibited in their cooking, and how the people actually sit down to share a meal can tell you a lot about the belief systems and characteristics of that nation.
Another advantage to all of this cultural learning through food is that much of it is delicious – so when you are in the Middle East don’t be shy, and try all the delightful local dishes that you can.
Before you get started, it’s good to know that Middle Eastern food tends to have certain characteristics. Here are some of the common themes.
A lot of dishes are cooked with spices and herbs such as cumin, caraway, nutmeg, turmeric, mint, and parsley - so prepare for some strong aromas but also remember that these ingredients help to give Middle Eastern dishes their amazing flavours.
Middle Eastern dishes are rich in protein. Meats such as chicken, beef, and lamb are typically grilled and skewered. If meats are excluded, you will find other sources of protein such as cheese, yoghurt, chickpeas, lentils, and beans.
Pita bread is a staple, and is considered to be the oldest type of bread in the world.
Middle Eastern food is versatile. The choice of meat can be replaced in many dishes, so don’t be afraid to ask for a substitute if you can’t eat certain types of meat.
Now that you are prepared, let’s take a look at our top five delicious Middle Eastern dishes that you really must try.
Machboos is the name given to spiced chicken and rice, not dissimilar to biryani. The main ingredients are chicken, basmati rice, and spices and herbs such as coriander, garlic, turmeric, dried lime, and saffron. The chicken is to be cooked first, and then the rice and chicken are cooked together again in a pot along with the other ingredients. Although machboos should traditionally involve chicken, you can always replace it with something else that you prefer.
At Tiptara, Centara Muscat Oman you can try this classic machboos dish. Just remember that machboos should be shared with others so don’t forget to offer it to your family and friends.
If you’re not a fan of meat, mashuai is a great alternative. It is a roasted fish – typically a kingfish locally known as kanad. To prepare mashuai, patience and time are everything because the marinating phase alone can take hours before all the spices soak into the fish. The fish will then need to be slow cooked on a charcoal grill for at least another 20-30 minutes. This Omani traditional dish can be found throughout the Middle East, and is usually served with lemon rice.
Kebabs are basically meatballs made of ground lamb, veal, beef, or a mixture of all. Once the meat has been ground and mixed with coriander seeds, ground cumin seeds, cayenne, pepper, and chopped parsley it is then placed on a skewer to grill. You can have kebabs with basmati rice, or pita bread, and they are especially recommended with a side dish like tzatziki, which is yoghurt and cucumber.
Yes, we mentioned that Middle Eastern cuisine is packed with protein, most of which comes from meat products, but don’t be alarmed if you are a vegetarian or vegan because we are about to introduce you to tabbouleh – a superfood salad made with finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, mint, chopped onion, and bulgur wheat, seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
It is light. but packed with fibres and good carbs. For non-vegans or non-vegetarians, you can enjoy your tabbouleh as a side order to accompany other dishes of your choice. It’s always good to eat your greens.
Made from simple ingredients – milk, sugar, corn starch (or rice flour), and rose water – muhalabieh is a Middle Eastern milk pudding. In restaurants they usually sprinkle muhalabieh with pistachio nuts and rose petals as garnish.
Warning - it can be very, very sweet as most Middle Eastern desserts don’t hold back on the sugar.
If you want to explore more examples of delicious Middle Eastern cuisine, the staff at Tiptara, Centara Muscat Oman can always be a wonderful source of advice and guidance. Ask if you are unsure about any dishes, and Bialeafiata!