The Middle East has loads of unique culture, much like any region in the world. Each country’s sights are different, the people have their own traditions, and the food can vary from country to country and even city to city. But while the differences can be seen when traveling through, there are many similarities. Take Middle Eastern food for example. You may be thinking hummus and pita bread when thinking of the cuisine style, but there is so much more than that you may not be familiar with, each better than the last. The foods I discovered in Egypt and Jordan are some of the best examples of these culinary treats, and I highly encourage you to try them all!
Moussaka – Eggplant Done Right
What can I say about moussaka? It is the perfect Middle Eastern dish. The base ingredients in moussaka are eggplant and tomato, but could also include minced meat, peppers, onions, and more depending on the region you are in. Think of it like a Middle Eastern lasagna. Instead of layers of noodles, you have layers of eggplant, and the fillings are of your choosing. Each time you order this dish you’ll get something a little different, and that adds in to the allure. How can you go wrong with a dish that looks so right?
Stuffed Pigeon – Find the Meat
Paying attention? I ordered stuffed pigeon purely because it was on the menu. I didn’t think an actual headless pigeon would arrive on my plate a few minutes later; but there it was, stuffed with rice and ready to be eaten. Stuffed pigeon actually tastes really good. The only complaint is that it is still a pigeon, and pigeons are small. You actually spend a great deal of time working the meat off the bird, about equal to the amount of time it takes to eat it. But still, with a view of the pyramids in the background when eating it like I had in Cairo, you can’t really complain!
Kushari – Yesterday’s Leftovers
Okay, okay. Kushari isn’t really yesterday’s leftovers, but the taste is oddly reminiscent of mixing together a few days worth of leftover meals in one great combination. Prior to visiting Cairo, I had never heard of this dish. Our tour guide asked us if we wanted a local meal and our group jumped on the chance. Heading a few blocks away from our hotel we stopped at a small stall and ordered our kushari without knowing much about what it was. All we knew is that it was cheap (about 5 Egyptian Pounds, $1), and what ever it was, it looked tasty.
Kushari is a combination of rice, lentils, fried onions, chickpeas, macaroni, and tomato sauce. If you are wondering if this combination works well together, well, there is a reason I called it yesterday’s leftovers. The taste is familiar. Nothing that jumps out at you as being extraordinary, but it is something you recognize. Maybe something you had in college when mixing a few things together without having much else in the house, or maybe there is just one ingredient you have a fond memory of. In either case, Kushari is a novelty that you just have to try to understand.
The Amazing Dipping Sides
Although the purpose of this post is to shy away from the traditional pita and hummus talk, it is really hard to talk about great Middle Eastern food without mentioning it. It is all so much better than anything you can have at home. Just made pita bread brought to your table, plate after plate of dipping sides like hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanouj, and several others that you have never heard of before (or again) appear in front of you almost every single night. With a nearly endless supply of pita bread, how can you say no?
Mix Them Together for Perfection
What do you get when you put pita, the street food staple of falafel, and moussaka together in one devious wrap to go? You get a concoction that is only sold by a few street vendors across the street from Luxor Temple. This dish does not have a name, and in fact I can only describe it to you based on the three main ingredients that were previously mentioned. The busy street carts are always packed, and you’re right to buy from the one with the biggest line. You don’t really get a choice at what you order, but rather the quantity. You know its good when the only thing you have is a number. At about 50 cents each, you’ll be going back for more. For the record – I had four.
Did we miss your favorite Middle Eastern delicacy? If so, comment below to let us know about it!