Arab cuisine

Arab cuisine

Arab cuisine is defined as the various regional cuisines spanning the Arab World, from Morocco and Tunisia to Saudi Arabia, and incorporating Levantine, Egyptian .



A group of Arabic spices and herbs in bowls, usually used in Medicine, and Arabic Cuisine
Coffee in Syria

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 yoghurt products, such as labneh (لبنة) (yoghurt without butterfat).

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

  • Meat: lamb and chicken are the most used, with beef and camel used to a lesser degree. Other poultry is used in some regions, and in coastal areas, pork is completely prohibited—for Muslim Arabs, being both a cultural taboo and prohibited under Islamic law; many Christian Arabs also avoid pork as they have never acquired a taste for it, although this is often not the case in Lebanon, where cold cuts of ham are frequently consumed in Christian neighbourhoods.[1]
  • Dairy products: dairy products are widely used, especially yoghurt and white cheese[disambiguation needed ]. Butter and cream are also used extensively.
  • Herbs and spices: mint and thyme (often in a mix called za'atar) are widely and almost universally used; spices are used much less than the Indian cuisine, but the amount and types generally varies from region to region. Some of the included herbs and spices are sesame, saffron, turmeric, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and sumac. Spice mixtures include baharat.
  • Beverages: hot beverages are used more than cold, coffee being on the top of the list, mostly in the Gulf countries. However, tea is also served in many Arab countries. In Egypt and Jordan, for instance, tea is a more important hot beverage than coffee.
  • Grains: rice is the staple and is used for most dishes; wheat is the main source for bread. Bulgur and semolina are also used extensively.
  • Legumes: lentils are widely used as well as fava beans and chick peas (garbanzo beans).
  • Vegetables and fruits: Arabic cuisine also favors vegetables such as cucumbers, eggplant (aubergine), zucchini (courgette), okra and onions, and fruits (primarily citrus) which are often used as seasonings for entrees. Olives as well as dates, figs and pomegranate are also widely used.
  • Nuts: almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts are often included.
  • Greens: parsley and mint are popular as seasonings in many dishes, while spinach and Corchorus (called "molokhia" in Arabic) are used in cooked dishes.
  • Dressings and sauces: The most popular dressings include various combinations of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, and/or garlic, and tahini (sesame paste). Labaneh, thinned yoghurt, is often seasoned with mint and onion or garlic, and served as a sauce with various dishes.

Notably, many of the same spices used in Arabian cuisine are also those emphasized 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 Gulf states.


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 Gulf 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 as well.

There are many regional differences in Arab cuisine. For instance, mujadara in Syria or Lebanon is different from mujadara in Jordan or Palestine. Some dishes, such as mensaf (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. Ground nut mixtures are common fillings for such treats. Saffron is used in everything, including sweets, rice and beverages. Fruit juices are quite popular due to the climate.

Structure of meals

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


Cafés often offer croissants for breakfast. Breakfast is often a quick meal consisting of bread and dairy products with tea and sometimes with 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'tar 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 garbanzo beans (chick peas), garlic, lemon and olive oil is a popular working class breakfast as well. Lablabi is another heavy garbanzo-based stew popular for breakfast in Tunisia.

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


Lunch is considered the main meal of the day and is traditionally eaten after the noon prayer. 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 maza (an appetizer) are served as side dishes to the main meal. The latter usually consists of a portion of meat, poultry or fish, a portion of rice, lentil, bread or bagel and a portion of cooked vegetables in addition to the fresh ones with the maza 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, Naque’e Al Zabib, Irq soos, Tamr Hindi as well as fruit juices. During the 20th century, carbonated beverages and fruit based drinks, sold by supermarkets, have also become very popular. In some Arab countries, such as Lebanon, alcoholic drinks are popular such as Araq or Almaza Beer.


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

Ramadan meals

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


Futuur (also called iftar, Afur in Somali) or fast-breaking, is the meal taken at dusk when the fast is over. The meal consists of three courses: first, an odd number of dates based on Islamic tradition. This is followed by a soup, the most popular being lentil soup, but a wide variety of soups such as chicken, oats, freeka (a soup made from a form of 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.


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

Regional Arab cuisines

Gulf states

The Arab Gulf cuisine today is the result of a combination of richly diverse cuisines, incorporating Levantine cooking, Yemeni cooking, and many items not indigenous to the Persian Gulf region, which were imported in dhows and caravans. Do not forget that Haris ,Haris Soup ,Kabsa or Makbus ,Fatah and many other dish are originally from the Gulf.


Sfiha originated in Syria and spread throughout the region
Main articles: Levantine cuisine, Lebanese cuisine, Syrian cuisine, Iraqi cuisine, Jordanian cuisine, Palestinian cuisine

Levantine cuisine is the traditional cuisine of the Levant 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 foods, such as Greek and Turkish cuisines.

Some of the basic similarities are the extensive use of olive oil, za'atar and garlic, and common dishes include a wide array or mezze of 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 or sautéed in olive oil; butter or cream is rarely used, other than in a few desserts. Vegetables are often eaten raw or pickled as well as cooked. While the cuisine doesn't boast a multitude of sauces, it focuses on herbs, spices and the freshness of ingredients.

Maqluba 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. Masgouf is a popular dish. 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 among others. Dolma is also one of the 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, Jerusalem and northern West Bank area. Its main component is Taboon bread that 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 Bulgar sauteed with olive oil. Mansaf is a traditional meal and the national dish of Jordan having roots in the Bedouin population of Jordan. It is mostly cooked on occasions such as Eid, a birth or a large dinner gathering. Mansaf is a leg of lamb or large pieces of lamb on top a markook bread that has been topped, usually, 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.


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 with in Egypt itself, for example, in the coastal areas like the coast of the Mediterranean and canal the diet of the people relies heavily on fish. In the more agriculture areas, the reliance on farm products is much heavier. Ducks, geese, chickens, 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; both of the national dishes of Egypt, Ful Medames, Ta'amia (also known in other countries as Falel) and kushari, are generally vegetarian. Fruits are also greatly appreciated in Egypt: mango, grapes, bananas, apples, sycamore, guava and peach are very popular, especially because they are all domestically produced therefore are available in relatively low prices.


Couscous is a Maghribi staple
Main articles: North African cuisine, Algerian cuisine, Moroccan cuisine, Tunisian cuisine

Spices are used extensively in western Arab food. Contrary to the rest of the Arab world, the most common red meat is beef. However, lamb is still the meat of choice, only avoided due to its higher cost. Dairy products are used less extensively than in other countries in the Arab world.

Among the most famous Tunisian , Moroccan and Algerian dishes are couscous, pastilla (also spelled bsteeya or bastilla), tajine, tanjia and harira. Although the latter is a soup, it is considered as a dish in itself and is served alone or with dates, especially during the month of Ramadan.

The most popular drink is green tea with mint. Traditionally, making good mint tea in Morocco and Algeria is considered an art form; the drinking of it with friends and family members is one of the important rituals of the day. The technique of pouring the tea is as crucial as its quality. The tea is accompanied with hard sugar cones or lumps.

Almost all dishes in the Maghreb, like chakhchoukha, couscous, pastilla, tajine, tanjia and harira are based on Berber cuisine.


Gashaato, a very popular coconut-based confection, set here to a backdrop of the Somali national flag

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 are: 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 pasty with meat and vegetable filling.


Shahan ful presented alongside olive oil, berbere, various vegetables, and a roll of bread.

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 flare. These stews are called in general "Mullah". So 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: Shahan ful, ful medames, hummus, Gurasa and different types of sweets. Generally, the cuisine of Sudan in the northern half of the country tends to be superior and more flavoured than the cuisine of Egypt.[citation needed]


The cuisine of Yemen is rather distinct from other Arab cuisines. Like most other Arab cuisines, chicken 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 usually being with cardamom or mint, and coffee with cardamom. Karakaden, Naqe'e Al Zabib and Diba’a are the most widespread cold beverages.

Although each region has its own variation, saltah (سلتة) is considered the national dish of Yemen. The base is a brown meat stew believed to be of Turkish origin (maraq مرق), a dollop of fenugreek froth, and sahawiq (سحاوق) or sahowqa (a mixture of chillies, 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 are: Aseed, Fahsa, Thareed, Samak Mofa, Lahm Mandi, Fattah, Shafut, Bint AlSahn, Jachnun.


See also

  • Muslim dietary laws
  • Halaal


  1. ^ Nabeel Y. Abraham. "Arab Americans," Encarta Encyclopedia 2007. Archived 2009-10-31.

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