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The cuisine of Assyrian people is similar to other Middle Eastern cuisines. It is rich in grains, meat, tomato, and potato. Rice is usually served with every meal accompanied by a stew which is typically poured over the rice. Tea is typically consumed at all times of the day with or without meals, alone or as a social drink. Cheese, crackers, biscuits, baklawa, or other snacks are often served alongside the tea as appetizers. Dietary restrictions may apply during Lent in which certain types of foods may not be consumed; often meaning animal-derived. Alcohol is rather popular specifically in the form of Arak. Unlike in Jewish cuisine and Islamic cuisines in the region, pork is allowed, but it is not widely consumed.
Most of the time, the preparation of meals by the Assyrian diaspora reflects the region in which the individual ancestors are from. The foods consist of similar ingredients however the manner in which they are prepared slightly varies from region to region. Furthermore, individuals tend to combine the authentic Assyrian meals with the ethnic meals of that particular region.
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Tea is almost always drunk in the morning with Assyrian breakfast (ܛܥܡܬܐ, ṭʿāmtā). Assyrian tea is drunk with sugar and evaporated milk as opposed to regular milk or cream. Common breakfasts include fried eggs and tomatoes seasoned with various spices, and Scrambled eggs mixed with vegetables. Meats used in the morning to eat with eggs include ham, bacon, sausage, Spam,[dubious ] and even pan-fried beef hot dogs,[dubious ] which are mixed in an omelette or scrambled eggs. Soft-boiled eggs are often made when members of the household are sick as many believe it to be very healthy. Harissa (dish), a traditional Assyrian porridge made of chicken, wheat, and a generous amount of butter, usually made during Christmas, is also eaten as a breakfast by some because it is perceived as a heavy and nutritious meal. Home-made yogurt called mastā can be eaten plain with bread, or mixed with cucumbers, garlic, salt, mint, and olive oil called "jajik." Assorted cheeses and "samoon" (thick Assyrian bread) are a must in any Assyrian household for breakfast time. Usually the cheese is American or "guptah tamirta" (feta), and various cream cheeses from Middle Eastern stores such as "Kiri Cheese" and "Puck". Baklawa, kelecheh, and kadeh may also be eaten during breakfast time. "Gehmar" is a rich cream that is consumed with honey or date syrup on samoon. During Lent, meat and dairy products are forbidden, and many Assyrians fry a mixture of diced tomatoes, onions, potatoes, and green peppers with a generous amount of olive oil, adding to it spices such as curry, red pepper, paprika, salt, and pepper. This is generally eaten with samoon, lawasha (flat, unleavened pita) or pita bread. Lenten breakfasts also include tahini mixed with fig or date syrup called "napukhta" which is again eaten with the breads mentioned previously. Halawah, which is a sesame paste mixed with pistachios, is also popular during Lent.
Assyrian Maza (ܡܙܐ) is similar to related cuisines' Mezes which may include ḥemṣē ṭḥīnē, Baba Ghanouj, Tapoula, Fattoush, vegetables and dip, Burek(fried egg roll stuffed with either ground beef or chicken, onions, parsley, and various spices), etc. Fava beans, known as baqqilē, and chick peas, known as ḥemṣē or ḥerṭmanē (ܚܪܛܡܢܐ), are very common in soups, salads, and find their way into many foods. Fried almonds and raisins are also used but not as appetizers but rather as garnishes for main dishes. "Potato chap" is deep fried mashed potatoes stuffed with ground beef, parsley, and onion. "Kubba" made with ground beef and an outer shell of ground wheat is flattened and then fried or oven baked is another maza favorite, it is often eaten with ketchup or steak sauce. Another popular maza is tourshee which literally means pickled. Many different types of vegetables are pickled such as cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, beets, and peppers. As mentioned in the main paragraph, tea is a staple in the diet even more so than coffee. Almost always the maza is accompanied with tea or Turkish coffee.
Lunch and dinner
There is no difference to lunch and dinner to Assyrians as there are with some other cultures, they are referred to as kawitrā w kharamsha, or ˁurāytā w ḥšāmtā (ܚܕܝܐ ܘ ܥܫܝܐ). Lunch and dinner typically consist of basmati rice which can be prepared either plain, red ("smooqah"), yellow ("zardah"), or plain with fried miniature noodles called sha'riya. In place of rice, "Gurgur" burghul can be prepared in any of the styles Assyrian rice is made. Beef and chicken Kebab, a dish of pieces of meat grilled on a skewer or spit are also commonly eaten for lunch/dinner.
Biryani is an Assyrian rice dish with sha'riya made of green peas, fried cubed potatoes, almonds, raisins, sliced hard boiled eggs, and chicken. "Rezza Smooqah" (red rice) is often made with chicken or meat. Rice (when made plain) is usually accompanied with a stew; called shirwah." There are many different shirweh (plural) in the Assyrian community and may vary by tribe. The broth is basically tomato paste, water, and a variety of spices depending on the shirwah one makes. The name of the shirwah is often called by the main ingredient in it. Typical shirweh include (but are not limited to): "Kari" (made with potatoes), "Masheh" (beans), "Bumyeh" (fried okra), "Fasulyah" (long green beans), "Loobiyeh" (Chinese green beans), "Spenakh" (Spinach), "Qarnabeet" (cauliflower), "Qareh" (zucchini). All the mentioned soups are prepared with beef, chicken, or ox tails depending on the preference. During Lent, the meat is omitted. Salad may be served with any of the rice dishes. A traditional Assyrian salad is cubed tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and red onions made with a homemade dressing of lemon, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Other various types of Assyrian soups/stews include: "Thlokheh" (Lentils made with curry and sha'riya) Kipteh(Ground beef meatballs flavored with parsley, rice, onion, and spices in a tomato based stew) "Kuba Hammouth" (Ground beef long meatballs that has an outer cracked wheat shell served in a sour tomato based stew) "Dikhwah" (yogurt based heavy stew with barley and meat) "Boushala" (yougurt based stew with assorted greens such as Swiss chard and spinach) "Pachah" (A longtime Assyrian delicacy, this heavy stew consists of lamb stomach stuffed with rice, brain, tongue, liver, and assorted other parts) "Girdoo" (porridge made of rice and yogurt, then served with date or fig syrup) "Tashreep" (a soup made of chick peas, onions, and lamb meat) Hareesa (oatmeal textured soup made with shelled wheat, chicken or beef, and broth, sometimes eaten with butter and/or cinnamon)
Some traditional Assyrian specialities include: Tepsi (a casserole made in layers of fried potato, fried eggplant, fried green peppers, fried onions, meat, and tomatoes drenched in a tomato sauce and baked in the oven) "Shamakhshi" (fried rolled eggplant stuffed with ground beef in a garlicky tomato sauce) Dolma (rice and tomato sauce stuffed in grape leaves, cabbage, various peppers, zucchini, and eggplant) Masgoof (fish spiced with olive oil, salt, and turmeric, topped with tomatoes, potatoes, and onions then oven baked) La'Mah'Jeen (flat bread topped with ground beef, tomato paste, spices, and onions and then oven baked)
During the holidays, many of the dishes previously mentioned are traditional such as Hareesa and Pachah for Christmas.
Because Assyrians are minorities in all places they inhabit, their local cuisine may vary and also contain elements of the popular cuisine in their locale. The majority of Iraqi cuisine is incorporated into Iraqi Assyrian cuisine and the same is the case for Assyrians of Iran, Syria, or Turkey. Falafel with amba for example is very popular amongst Assyrians and are especially common during lent and other holidays requiring dietary restrictions that call for abstinence from animal-derived products and foods.
Desserts, snacks, and beverages
There are several different types of dessert which include Baklava, Kuleicheh, different types of cakes and cookies, Kadeh, "Nazooki", and others. Kadeh (ܟܕܐ) are usually prepared alongside Kulecheh. A Kada looks like a thick yellowish flat bread though it contains plenty of butter, eggs, and sugar which renders it a very sweet pastry. Due to the influence from the post-Ottoman occupation of Iraq and Syria by the British and French many customs were picked up from the colonial administrators. Tea and Biscuits are often eaten as snacks. Turkish coffee which is a hold-over from Ottoman times is often used the same way though with a twist of fortune telling called finjan which is a form of tasseography. When the coffee is consumed the fortune teller will look at the bottom of the cup and read you your future. Arak is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages. It tastes like black liquorice and is clear until mixed with water, which then becomes milky-white. Daweh is a popular yogurt drink made with yogurt, water, salt, and sometimes mint, is consumed during the summer when it is hot. Assyrian rural communities have often traditionally brewed their own organic Wheat Beer and produced their own Wine.
Unlike their Muslim or Jewish neighbours of the countries they originated from, Assyrians as Christians may consume pork or drink alcohol, though pork is not a staple in the diet due to its unavailability in Muslim dominated lands, and is shunned by some. There are hold-overs from the Old Testament in which people slaughter animals a certain way and where some animals are considered unclean such as the aforementioned swine. The story of Jesus casting the demonic Legions into pigs that went over the cliff is a popular reason for some Assyrians not to eat pork.
- Peggie Jacob. "Peggie's Mediterranean Cookbook" Morris Press