Arab cuisine

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A selection of Jordanian mezze, appetizers or small dishes, in Petra, Jordan.

Arab cuisine (Arabic: مطبخ عربي‎) is defined as the various regional cuisines spanning the Arab world, from Mesopotamia to North-Africa. Arab cuisine often incorporates the Greek, Levantine and Egyptian culinary traditions.

Diet and foods[edit]

Originally, the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula relied heavily on a diet of dates, wheat, barley, rice, and meat, with little variety and heavy emphasis on yogurt products, such as labneh (لبنة) (yogurt without butterfat).

There is a strong emphasis on the following items in Arab cuisine:

It should be noted that many of the same spices used in Arab cuisine, particularly in the cuisine of the Arab States of the Persian Gulf are also those emphasized in Indian cuisine, albeit used more subtly than would normally be the case in Indian cuisine. This is a result of heavy trading and historical ties between the two regions, and also because many South Asian expats live in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. Whereas Levantine cuisine tends to share many similarities with Turkish cuisine due to geographical proximity and the historical unity of the two areas during the Ottoman Empire and with the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean region more generally.


Essential to any cooking in the Arabian Peninsula is the concept of hospitality and generosity. Meals are generally large family affairs, with much sharing and a great deal of warmth over the dinner table. Formal dinners and celebrations generally involve large quantities of lamb, and every occasion entails large quantities of Arabic coffee. In an average Arab state household, a visitor might expect a dinner consisting of a very large platter, shared commonly, with a vast amount of rice, incorporating lamb or chicken, or both, as separate dishes, with various stewed vegetables, heavily spiced, sometimes with a tomato-based sauce. Most likely there would be several other less hearty items on the side. Tea would certainly accompany the meal, as it is almost constantly consumed. Coffee would be included in the same manner.

There are many regional differences in Arab cuisine. For instance, mujadara in Syria and Lebanon is different from mujadara in Jordan and Palestine. Some dishes, such as mansaf (the national dish of Jordan), are native to certain countries and rarely, if ever, make an appearance in other countries. Unlike in most Western cuisines, cinnamon is used in meat dishes, as well as in sweets such as baklava. Other desserts include variations of rice pudding and fried dough. Groundnuts are a common filling for such treats. Saffron is used in everything, including sweets, rice, and beverages. Fruit juice is quite popular due to the climate. The rice dish known as pilaf is very popular in Arab countries and among Arab communities around the world.

Arab Cuisine has been greatly influenced by the use of Indian spices and ingredients such as rice. Ancient trade between India and Medieval Arabia has enrichened the cuisines of both cultures.

Structure of meals[edit]

There are two basic structures for meals in the Arab World, one regular and one specific for the month of Ramadan.


Cafés often serve croissants for breakfast. Breakfast is often a quick meal, consisting of bread and dairy products, with tea and sometimes jam. The most used is labneh and cream (kishta, made of cow's milk; or qaimar, made of domestic buffalo milk). Labneh is served with olives, dried mint, and drizzled with olive oil. Pastries such as manaqeesh, sfiha, fatayer, and kahi are sometimes eaten for breakfast. Flat bread with olive oil and za'atar is also popular. Most Arab families also consume hummus and falafel with pita bread.

Traditionally, breakfast used to be a much heavier meal, especially for the working class, and included dishes such as lentil soup (shorbat 'adas), or heavy sweets such as knafa. Ful, which is fava beans cooked with chickpeas (garbanzo beans), garlic, lemon, and olive oil, is a popular working class breakfast in the Levant and Egypt. Lablabi is another heavy garbanzo-based stew popular for breakfast in Tunisia.


Lunch is considered the main meal of the day, and is traditionally eaten between 1:30pm and 2:30pm. It is the meal for which the family comes together, and when entertaining, it is the meal of choice to invite guests to. Rarely do meals have different courses; however, salads and mezze (an appetizer) are served as side dishes to the main meal. The platter usually consists of a portion of meat, poultry or fish, a portion of rice, lentils, bread or bagel, and a portion of cooked vegetables, in addition to the fresh ones with the mezze and salad. The vegetables and meat are usually cooked together in a sauce (often tomato, although others are also popular) to make maraq, which is served on rice. Most households add bread, whether other grains were available or not. Drinks are not necessarily served with the food; however, there is a very wide variety of drinks such as shineena (or laban), karakaden, Naqe'e Al Zabib, irq soos, tamr Hindi, and fruit juice, as well as other traditional Arab drinks. During the 20th century, carbonated soda and fruit-based drinks, sold by supermarkets, have also become very popular.


Dinner is traditionally the lightest meal, although in modern times, and due to changing lifestyles, dinner has become more important.

Desserts and Ramadan meals[edit]

In addition to the two meals mentioned hereafter, sweets are consumed much more than usual during the month of Ramadan; sweets and fresh fruits are served between these two meals. Although most sweets are made all year round such as knafeh, baklava, and basbousa, some are made especially for Ramadan, such as qatayef.


Iftar (also called Futuur, or Afur in the Somali language), or fast-breaking, is the meal taken at dusk when the fast is over. The meal consists of three courses: first, they shall eat a date based on Islamic tradition. This is followed by a soup or anything they would like, the most popular being lentil soup, but a wide variety of soups such as chicken, oats, freeka (a soup made from whole wheat and chicken broth), potato, maash, and others are also offered. The third course is the main dish, usually eaten after an interval, when Maghreb prayer is conducted. The main dish is mostly similar to lunch, except that cold drinks are also served.


Sahur is the meal eaten just before dawn, when fasting must begin. It is eaten to help the person make it through the day with enough energy until Maghreb time.

Regional Arab cuisines[edit]

Eastern Arabia[edit]

The cuisine of Eastern Arabia today is the result of a combination of richly diverse cuisines, incorporating Persian, Levantine, Yemeni, and Indian cuisine, as well as many items not indigenous to the Persian Gulf region, which were imported in dhows and caravans.[2] Do not forget that harees, fattah, and many other dishes are originally from the Persian Gulf.[citation needed]


Main article: Yemeni cuisine

The cuisine of Yemen is rather distinct from other Arab cuisines. Like most other Arab cuisines, chicken, goat, and lamb are eaten more often than beef. Fish is eaten mostly in coastal areas. However, unlike most Arab countries, cheese, butter, and other dairy products are less common, especially in the cities and other urban areas. As with other Arab cuisines, the most widespread beverages are tea and coffee; tea is usually flavored with cardamom, clove, or mint, and coffee with cardamom. Karakaden, Naqe'e Al Zabib, and diba’a are the most widespread cold beverages.

Although each region has their own variation, Saltah (سلتة) is considered the national dish of Yemen. The base is a brown meat stew believed to be of Turkish origin called maraq (مرق), a dollop of fenugreek froth, and sahawiq (سحاوق) or sahowqa (a mixture of chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and herbs ground into a salsa). Rice, potatoes, scrambled eggs, and vegetables are common additions to saltah. It is eaten with flat bread, which serves as a utensil to scoop up the food. Other dishes widely known in Yemen include: Aseedah, aseed, fahsa, thareed, Samak Mofa, mandi, fattah, shakshouka, shafut, Bint Al-Sahn, kabsa, and jachnun. Nasi kebuli Harees Hyderabadi haleem. Hadhrami restaurants can be found in Malaysia.[3][4][5]


Main article: Iraqi cuisine

Sheep brain is eaten in Iraq.[6][7][8]

The Levant[edit]

Sfiha, originated in Baalbek and spread throughout the region.
Main article: Levantine cuisine

Levantine cuisine is the traditional cuisine of the Levant, Mashriq, or Greater Syria area. Although now divided into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Palestine, the region has historically been more united, and shares most of the same culinary traditions. Although almost identical, there is some regional variation within the Levantine area.

In general, Levantine foods have much in common with other eastern Mediterranean cuisines, such as Greek and Turkish cuisine, as well as Armenian cuisine.

Some of the basic similarities are the extensive use of olive oil, za'atar, and garlic, and common dishes include a wide array of mezze or bread dips, stuffings, and side dishes such as hummus, falafel, ful, tabouleh, labaneh, and baba ghanoush.

It also includes copious amounts of garlic and olive oil, often seasoned with lemon juice—almost no meal goes by without including these ingredients. Most often foods are either grilled, baked, fried, or sautéed in olive oil; butter and cream are rarely used, other than in a few desserts. Vegetables are often eaten raw or pickled, as well as cooked. While the cuisine does not boast a multitude of sauces, it focuses on herbs, spices, and the freshness of ingredients.

Maqluba, in Palestinian cuisine, is an upside-down rice and eggplant casserole, sometimes made with fried cauliflower instead of eggplant, and usually includes meat, often braised lamb.

Iraqi cuisine utilizes more spices than most Arab cuisines. Iraq's main food crops include wheat, barley, rice, vegetables, and dates. Vegetables include eggplant, okra, potatoes, and tomatoes. Pulses such as chickpeas and lentils are also quite common. Common meats in Iraqi cooking are lamb and beef; fish and poultry are also used.

Soups and stews are often prepared and served with rice and vegetables. Biryani, although influenced by Indian cuisine, is milder with a different mixture of spices, and a wider variety of vegetables, including potatoes, peas, carrots, and onions. Dolma is also one of the most popular dishes.

The Iraqi cuisine is famous for its extremely tender kebab, as well as its tikka. A wide variety of spices, pickles, and amba are also extensively used.

In the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Jordan, the population has a cooking style of their own, involved in roasting various meats, baking flat breads, and cooking thick yogurt-like pastes from goat's milk.

Musakhan is a common main dish, famous in northern Jordan, the city of Jerusalem, and northern West Bank. The main component is taboon bread, which is topped with pieces of cooked sweet onions, sumac, saffron, and allspice. For large dinners, it can be topped by one or two roasted chickens on a single large taboon bread.

The primary cheese of the Palestinian mezze is Ackawi cheese, which is a semi-hard cheese with a mild, salty taste and sparsely filled with roasted sesame seeds.

Maqluba is another popular meal in Jordan and central Palestine. Mujaddara, another food of the West Bank, as well as in the Levant in general, consists of cooked green lentils, with bulghur sauteed in olive oil. Mansaf is a traditional meal, and the national dish of Jordan, having roots in the Bedouin population of the country. It is mostly cooked on special occasions such as Ramadan, Eid ul-Fitr, a birth, or a large dinner gathering. Mansaf is a leg of lamb or large pieces of mutton, on top of a markook bread that has been topped with yellow rice. A type of thick dried yogurt made from goat's milk, called jameed, is poured on top of the lamb and rice to give it its distinct flavor and taste. The dish is garnished with cooked pine nuts and almonds.

Levantine cuisine is also famous for its wide range of cheeses like Shanklish, Halloum, and Arisheh. Kishk is also a famous Syrian soup, alongside many soups made of lentils. Lebanese food also has a wide range of dips like Hummous, Baba Ghannouj, and Labneh, and also caters many raw meat dishes. Syrian food could be either extremely vegetarian or a meat lover's paradise. Lemon, oregano, za'atar, paprika, and various other Mediterranean spices and herbs are used in Syrian cuisine.

To top it off, Levantine cuisine also incorporates wines made in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine and the Levantine equivalent of the Greek Ouzo, known as Arak.


Main article: Egyptian cuisine
Kushari served at an Egyptian restaurant in Cairo.

Egyptian cuisine is a very rich cuisine that has many unique customs. These customs may also vary within Egypt itself, for example, in the coastal areas, like the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and Canal, the diet of the people relies heavily on fish. In the more agricultural areas, the reliance on farm products is much heavier. Duck, geese, chicken, and river fish are the main animal protein sources. Unlike the surrounding Arab cuisines, which place heavy emphasis on meat, Egyptian cuisine is rich in vegetarian dishes; three national dishes of Egypt; ful medames, ta'amia (also known in other countries as falafel), and kushari, are generally vegetarian. Fruits are also greatly appreciated in Egypt: mangoes, grapes, bananas, apples, sycamore, guavas, and peaches are very popular, especially because they are all domestically produced and are available in relatively low prices. Another famous dessert from Egypt is called Om or Um Ali, which is similar to a bread and butter pudding made traditionally with puff pastry, milk, and nuts. It is served all across the Middle East and is also made on special occasions such as Eid.[9] Egyptian breads include Aish baladi (عيش البلدي).[10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21] Cow brain is eaten in Egypt.[22][23][24][25][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32] Egyptians also eat sheep brains.[33]


Libyan Aseedah


Gashaato, a very popular coconut-based confection, set here to a backdrop of the Somali national flag.
Main article: Somali cuisine

Somali cuisine varies from region to region, and consists of an exotic mixture of native Somali, Ethiopian, Yemeni, Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Italian culinary influences. It is the product of Somalia's rich tradition of trade and commerce.

Among the favorite Somali dishes include xalwo (halva), a sweet hardened jelly; soor, a soft cornmeal mashed with fresh milk, butter, and sugar, and served with maraq (stew); and sambuusa, a small fried pastry with a filling of meat and vegetables.


Main article: Sudanese cuisine

In comparison to its North African and Levantine neighbors, the cuisine of Sudan tends to be generous with spices. The Sudanese cuisine has a rich variety in ingredients and creativity. Simple everyday vegetables are used to create stews and omelettes that are healthy yet nutritious, and full of energy and flair. These stews are called mullah. One could have a zucchini mullah, spinach "Riglah" mullah, etc. Sudanese food inspired the origins of Egyptian cuisine and Ethiopian cuisine, both of which are very popular in the Western world. Popular dishes include Ful medames, Shahan ful, Hummus, Bamya (a stew made from ground, sun dried okra), and Gurasa (pancake), as well as different types of salads and sweets.


Name Image Description
Basbousa بسبوسة Basboosa.jpg
Dolma ضولمة Dolma.JPG
Ful Medames فول مدمس Ful.jpg An Egyptian dish of cooked and mashed fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin, and optionally with chopped parsley, onion, garlic, lemon juice, and chili pepper.
Kleeja كليجا Kleeja.png
Maqluba مقلوبه Makluba.JPG
Mutabbaq مطبق MartabakTelur.JPG A stuffed pancake or pan-fried bread, which is commonly found in Saudi Arabia (especially the Tihamah and the Hejaz regions), Yemen, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand.
Pickled lemon ليمون مخلل MoroccanlemonS.jpg
Shish kebab كباب Shish-kebab-MCB.jpg


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nabeel Y. Abraham. "Arab Americans," Encarta Encyclopedia 2007. Archived 2009-10-31.
  2. ^ "Daily Traditional Gulf Cuisine food recipes by 1". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  3. ^ "Hadhramaut continues to highlight Arabic presence in Malaysia - Culture & Art - 13/12/2013". 2013-12-13. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  4. ^ "KUNA : Hadhramaut continues to highlight Arabic presence in Malaysia - Culture & Art - 13/12/2013". 2013-12-13. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  5. ^ GRACE CHEN (2012-07-07). "Archives | The Star Online". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  6. ^ David Finkel (15 September 2009). The Good Soldiers. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 55–. ISBN 978-1-4299-5271-2. 
  7. ^ John Martinkus (2004). Travels in American Iraq. Black Inc. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-1-86395-285-9. 
  8. ^ Peggy Faw Gish (12 February 2015). Iraq. Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 212–. ISBN 978-1-4982-1763-7. 
  9. ^ "Umm Ali Recipe - Egyptian Bread Pudding". 
  10. ^ "Aish baladi bread of life Photo by Lisa Maria Flurie — National Geographic Your Shot". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  11. ^ "Bread drying on a car in Cairo Photo by Ellen Geerlings — National Geographic Your Shot". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  12. ^ "Bread: Father and Son Photo by Kevin W Roy — National Geographic Your Shot". 2014-11-14. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  13. ^ "Bread: Father and Son #2 Photo by Kevin W Roy — National Geographic Your Shot". 2014-11-14. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  14. ^ "Egyptian Flatbread (Aish Baladi) Recipe". 2015-07-21. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  15. ^ [1][dead link]
  16. ^ "Egyptian Bread - 'Eesh baladi' - Egyptian Local Bread". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  17. ^ "Recipes - Traditional Flat Egyptian Bread (Aish)". 2007-11-09. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  18. ^ "Making Egyptian Bread". YouTube. 2011-12-30. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  19. ^ "Aish Recipe (Egyptian pocket bread; see Pita recipe)". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  20. ^ "AISH – EGYPTIAN BREAD | Arabic Language Blog". 2013-07-11. Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  21. ^ "Subsidised Bread Photo by Dany Eid — National Geographic Your Shot". Retrieved 2016-01-07. 
  22. ^ "420 lbs. of cow brains seized at Cairo airport - Travel - News". NBC News. 2012-01-13. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  23. ^ John Metcalfe (2012-01-19). "Why Do Cow Brains Keep Getting Seized at the Cairo Airport?". CityLab. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  24. ^ "420 Pounds of Cow Brains Seized at Cairo Airport — Naharnet". 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  25. ^ a b "Cow Brains Seized By Egyptian Officials". 2012-01-13. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  26. ^ "420 Pound Cow Brain Seizure in Cairo Deprives Egyptians of Tasty Dish". Green Prophet. 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  27. ^ "Smugglers caught with 420 pounds of cow brains at Cairo airport". 2012-01-17. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  28. ^ "Cow brains seized at Cairo airport | World | News | Daily Express". Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  29. ^ "Cow Brains Seized By Customs Officials at Cairo Airport". 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  30. ^ "Egypt: Eating Kebabs in Cairo - DeafNation : Deaf News : Deaf Video : Joel Barish DeafNation : Deaf News : Deaf Video : Joel Barish". DeafNation. 2013-03-11. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  31. ^ "420 Pounds of Cow Brains Seized at Cairo Airport — Naharnet". 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  32. ^ "Cow brain seized at Cairo airport outrages animal rights activists - Bikya Masr". 2012-01-16. Retrieved 2016-01-08. 
  33. ^ "Meat | Egyptian Cuisine and Recipes". Retrieved 2016-01-08. 

External links[edit]