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11 Tasty Middle Eastern Dishes To Eat

Learn about Middle Eastern cuisine with these traditional meals.

Are you interested in popular Middle Eastern foods? From Egypt to Iran to Turkey, the Middle East is home to some of the best cuisine in the world. 

Classic kebabs with tabbouleh salad, traditional middle eastern or arab dish

Most Middle Eastern dishes center around chickpeas, pita bread, and rice.

Unique spices like cumin, garlic, and paprika are also a feature of Middle Eastern cuisine. These spices help these popular Middle Eastern foods get their signature robust, savory flavors.

Below, I list the most popular Middle Eastern foods and break down the ingredients of each.

Popular Middle Eastern Food

With this list, you can travel to the Middle East, and you will already be familiar with the popular foods. You will also be prepared to visit Middle Eastern restaurants in your town or cook the recipes at home.

Falafel

Falafel balls are a deep-fried street food from the Middle East. These fried balls include chickpeas or beans and are customary in Egypt.

Falafel is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, and you will find it in street markets throughout the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean region.

Falafel is a simple recipe, but it has many variations. Some common ingredients include:

  • Chickpeas
  • Fava beans
  • Broad beans
  • Peas
  • Pita bread
  • Cumin
  • Onion
  • Parsley

I like making falafel at home, but it’s easy to find it at many restaurants. Visit your local Egyptian or Mediterranean restaurant to try authentic falafel.


Hummus

Hummus is a chickpea dip, and it’s one of the most popular Middle Eastern foods.

It has also become popular in the United States, and you can find everything from chocolate hummus to avocado hummus at the supermarket. However, the traditional recipe is more pared down.

Hummus consists of chickpeas, tahini, olive, and spices. Mix it up and try fresh herbs with traditional spices like onion powder and cumin.

Hummus is easy to make at home. Blend the ingredients in a food processor and serve with pita bread, carrots, or apples.

I love adding lemon juice and roasted garlic to my hummus to give it a deep, layered flavor.


Shakshuka

Shakshuka is a dish native to Egypt, but the city of Tel Aviv is the best place to visit for authentic shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a tomato-based dish in one pot, and it features poached eggs on top. 

Traditionally, it’s a breakfast food, but you can make it for dinner. Try it with feta cheese and fresh herbs.

Whether you order shakshuka or make it yourself, it will probably include:

  • Eggs
  • Onion
  • Crushed tomatoes
  • Paprika
  • Red bell pepper
  • Garlic
  • Cumin

The central component of shakshuka is the metal pot. All the shakshuka ingredients go in a single skillet, and people also serve it out of the metal dish.


Pita 

Pita is central to many dishes in the Middle East. It’s a hearty bread, often in the shape of a pocket. 

The bread is yeast-leavened, and bakers cook it at a high temperature. The high-heat oven makes the bread puff upwards.

It forms a pocket shape, making it perfect to load other ingredients inside.

Making pita is simple, and you can do it at home. Or visit your local Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurant and try it alongside one of their dishes. Ingredients include:

  • Flour
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Yeast

Pita is a popular Middle Eastern food because it’s simple and delicious. I love filling a pita with falafel and hummus and serving it with tabouleh on the side.


Baba Ghanouj

Baba ghanouj is widespread in the Middle East as an appetizer or snack.

While it’s similar in appearance to hummus, Baba ghanouj has eggplant puree instead of chickpeas.

Making Baba ghanouj is a lengthy process, but Middle Easterners have practiced it for centuries.

It’s traditionally a starter dish, and you might see it alongside pita bread before a meal.

First, the chef cooks the eggplant in an open-flame fire. After the eggplant is cooked and soft, the chef peels it and blends it into a puree. 

The chef then combines the eggplant puree with several ingredients, including:

  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Tahini
  • Garlic

The end product is slightly nutty, with a savory umami taste.


Turkish Coffee

There is a unique way of preparing coffee in the Middle East called Turkish coffee.

You use unfiltered, finely ground coffee beans when making Turkish coffee.

I like to make Turkish coffee at home with a cezve. A cezve is a small copper pot with a long handle. 

You can use a grinder to make the coffee beans into a fine powder, then transfer the powder to a cezve full of boiling water. Allow it to cook for about two and a half minutes. 

Next, remove the foam from the cup and boil the coffee again. Remove the cezve from the stove and pour the mixture into a cup to serve.


Baklava

Baklava is a pastry dessert from the Middle East. It’s flaky, crunchy, and will leave your fingers sticky with honey.

The tradition of making baklava dates back hundreds of years, and it was a staple food of the Ottoman Empire.

Baklava is unique because it uses phyllo dough, a layered pastry dough used in the Middle East. In between the phyllo dough layers, there are several ingredients, such as:

  • Honey
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Chopped hazelnuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Butter

You can buy phyllo dough at most supermarkets and make baklava at home, or leave it to the professionals and order baklava from a Turkish bakery.


Tabouleh

Tabouleh is a salad from the Middle East. It has cracked wheat and parsley, and the salad is a standard side dish.

Tabouleh is easy to make, and it requires no cooking. You can throw it together in minutes or order it at a restaurant. 

Bulgar wheat is an ingredient in tabouleh made from wheat berries. It’s unique to Middle Eastern recipes and is central to tabouleh dishes.

Soak the bulgar wheat in water before adding it to the tabouleh.

Some other ingredients in the salad are:

  • Red onion
  • Parsley
  • Tomatoes
  • Mint leaves
  • Lemon juice

I love tabouleh as it’s a light dish that always tastes so fresh.


Pilaf

Pilaf is easy to make. Rice pilaf is a hearty meal, and it often includes vegetables and spices.

Make it with seasonal vegetables and fresh herbs, and if you visit the Middle East, you can try a pilaf dish with fresh ingredients local to the region.

Pilaf has Turkish origins, and it usually has Basmati rice, but you can use Jasmine or white rice.

Some Middle Eastern chefs may use different rice depending on the region. Cook the rice with broth for a rich flavor.

Other common pilaf ingredients are peas, sliced almonds, carrots, and dried fruit. This dish is versatile and is loaded with nutritious ingredients.


Fried Kibbeh

Fried kibbeh is a deep-fried dish from the Middle East. Like tabouleh, it has bulgar wheat, but you might also see versions with rice. 

Fried kibbeh is delicious alongside pita bread or dipped in hummus. My favorite Middle Eastern dishes always include a side of fried kibbeh.

Common ingredients include:

  • Ground beef
  • Onion
  • Rice
  • Bulgar wheat
  • Pine nuts

Fried kibbeh is simple to make. First, a chef combines bulgar wheat or rice with meat and seasonings.

The beef or other meat must be a fine consistency. Then, the chef forms the mixture into balls and fries the balls in oil.


Kebabs

Kebabs are great for barbeques, dinners, and parties. You will often see them as side dishes in the Middle East.

Traditional Turkish kebabs have chicken and garlic, but you may see other kebab ingredients in the Middle East, including:

  • Lamb
  • Tomatoes
  • Sirloin
  • Onion

Middle Easterners may sometimes call kebabs kofta, so look out for kofta on the menu if you want to order kebabs.

I like charred vegetables on my kebabs, but the possibilities are endless.

If you want to make kebabs, you will need wooden or metal skewers. Chop vegetables and meat into slices and slide them onto the kebab. You can cook them in an oven or on a grill.


Popular Middle Eastern Food

  1. Falafel
  2. Hummus
  3. Shakshuka
  4. Pita 
  5. Baba Ghannouj
  6. Turkish Coffee
  7. Baklava
  8. Tabouleh
  9. Pilaf
  10. Fried Kibbeh
  11. Kebabs

Final Thoughts

These are some of the most popular Middle Eastern foods. The Middle East has delicious cuisine, which is full of distinctive flavors like paprika, garlic, turmeric, and cumin.

When traveling to the Middle East, you will be well-prepared to navigate a Turkish or Egyptian restaurant menu. And, make sure to give these foods a try at home. Many recipes are simple to put together, and you could be enjoying tabouleh and baba ghanouj in no time.

From spicy chicken kebabs to pitas stuffed with falafel and hummus, the cuisine of the Middle East is worth your while.

Learn about similar cuisines like Persian food or popular Lebanese dishes.

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Written by Erin Elizabeth

Erin lives in East Passyunk and enjoys checking out the local restaurants in South Philly and beyond. Her favorite restaurants are those with spicy food and outdoor seating so that she can bring along her dog, Miss Piggy.