10 Must-Try Halal Middle Eastern Dishes

By Zainab Shabbir | 21, Feb, 2018
10 Must-Try Halal Middle Eastern Dishes

Traveling to the Middle East can be for one of the two main reasons; to live amongst a forest of skyscrapers in a sea of dessert sand or to devour the uncountable delectable local dishes that have made the Middle Eastern cuisine a go-to for comfort meals to be shared with loved ones on any occasion.

Locate the best Arabic restaurants on your stay and enjoy the wholesome, rich and freshly prepared meal at a reasonable price. What’s more special about this mouthwatering cuisine is that, by tradition, each portion ordered is enough for a gathering to feast on with a pile of food being served and the table decorated wholly with Middle Eastern salads and the obligatory mezze platter that comes with most dishes on their menu.

Middle Eastern cuisine is the cherry on top of all Halal cuisines a diner could ask for. The best authentic Arabic and Middle Eastern dishes serve the perfect combination of flavors, colors and beyond a doubt fulfill the living dream of all foodies.

Here is a list of the ten yummiest hence most popular Arabic dishes (a list which was difficult to cut short)-

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1) Hummus

A creamy and smooth blend of mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Hummus is served as either a dip with the traditional pita bread and vegetables, but it also works its wonder when spread in a burger, or even with baked potato.  Its flavor is combined with other Arabic dishes when used as a condiment. Hummus is more of a staple dish; this mouthwatering and healthy appetizer found in nearly all Middle Eastern restaurants is the best pick to start off your foody-ride.

Foodie Tip! For the diners who are more experienced in attacking Middle Eastern dishes, ask to add in more garlic to get a taste of the true, local tang.

Recommended restaurant

Picture Credit - facebook.com/AbuShukriRestaurant/

Address: Abu Shukri, Via Dolorosa near Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, Israel
Opening Hours: 8am -4.30pm (sometimes later on Saturdays) 
Tel.: +972 2 627 1538

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2) Shawarma

Picture Credit - Peteravivangel, commons.wikimedia.org

A ridiculously tasty bundle of goodness. The Arabic version of the Greek gyro, with the exception of tender meat, is slow cooked on a turning spit preserving the juiciness and incorporating the rustic flavors of smokiness, the highlight of the Middle Eastern variant. This wrap of laffa / hot pita bread filled with smoky meat together with sauces, cream, veggies and the earthy, authentic Arabic spices, which make every bite of this Middle Eastern dish leave you craving for more.

Foodie Tip! Shawarma is more commonly found made with either chicken or beef although the traditional option; lamb is a must-try specialty.

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Recommended restaurant

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Address: Hashipudia (Yeudit), 6 Ha-Shikma Street, Jerusalem, Israel.
Opening Hours: Sunday - Thursday 11am to 11pm
Contact: +972 2-625-4036
Tel: +972 2 625 4036

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3) Baba Ghanouj/ Ghanoush

Found alongside the famous hummus on a mezze platter, Baba Ghanouj is often described as the best eggplant dish - a succulent eggplant dip and a vegetarian favorite. Although spelled in countless ways, this dip delivers similar deliciousness all across the Middle East with a combination of flavors from roasted eggplant, garlic, Arabian spices and the famous sesame seed paste- tahini. Like most dips, Baba Ghanouj is used as a condiment in Middle Eastern cuisine, sharing its wholesome flavor with more dishes on the menu. 

Foodie Tip! When ordering Baba Ghanouj, ask for it to be spiced up with chili for the real Arabic zing.

Recommended restaurant

Address: Zest, One&Only The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Opening Hours: Breakfast: 7.00am to 11.00am / Lunch: 12.00pm to 6.00pm / Dinner: 6.00pm to 11.00pm (last order 10.45pm)/ Brunch: Friday & Saturday 12.00pm to 4.30pm
Tel: +971 4 440 1010
Website: https://www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-the-palm-dubai/cuisine/zest

 

4) Halvah

Picture Credit - deror_avi, commons.wikimedia.org

Much like the name suggests, in Arabic, Halvah means a sweet confection and is most likely the most popular Middle Eastern sweet. Halvah is much like a layer cake generally shaped as a cheese wheel. The main component of grain based halvah is glutens like wheat, or semolina and are spongy in texture, while the main ingredient of nut based halvah is tahini paste; sesame seeds and sugar. Although the unique flavor of plain halvah tastes excellent, it is often flavored with pistachio or chocolate.

 

5) Tabbouleh

Picture Credit - cyclonebill, commons.wikimedia.org

Tabbouleh, a cocktail of herbs, parsley, mint, bulgur (cracked wheat) and a handful of vegetables, onions and tomatoes, is the best appetizer for not only the vegetarians out there, but also for the health-freak foodies who love to chomp but are calorie-conscious. This Arabian salad is refreshing and bright, however it'll leave some green stuck between your teeth, so be cautious.

Foodie Tip! To the meat lovers; this delicious salad has the ability to make you switch teams, so watch out for it yumminess.

Recommended restaurant

Picture credit - kitchico.com

Address: Cairo Restaurant, Al-Malek Talal Street, Amman, Jordan
Opening Hours: 8am to 10pm
Tel: +962 6 462 4527

 

6) Baklava

Similar to the Greek baklava, this Middle Eastern sweet pronounced as baklawa is made with lots of love and layers of thin sheets of buttery filo dough, filled with a mixture of coarsely ground nuts and Arabian spices. Unlike the Greeks who use honey, this mixture is bound together with sugar syrup and either rose water or orange blossom. Drizzled with honey to top off the unique dessert, baklava is made in interesting shapes. For example, the shape of birds’ nests, though cylinders and triangles are more common.

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Foodie Tip! Pistachio and walnut baklavas are the easiest to find, however, look out for the fruity version for an alternative experience that you’ll be glad you had.

Recommended restaurant

Address: Karaköy Güllüoğlu, Rihtim Cad, Kati Otopark Alti, 3-4 Karakoy, Istanbul.
Opening Hours: Monday - Wednesday: 7am to 12am / Thursday - Saturday: 7am – 1am / Sunday: 8am - 1am
Tel: +90 212 249 96 80 
Website: http://www.karakoygulluoglu.com/ 

 

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7) Labneh

Picture Credit - stu_spivack, flickr.com

This low-in-calories Middle Eastern alternative to traditional cream cheese is not too sour or strong in flavor, and is easily made from cow’s milk. Labneh is a creamier, thicker and denser variant of the Greek yoghurt, often found alongside hummus and tahini on the mezze platter. A great dip for za’atar pita bread, your favourite veggies, and even fruits, the versatile Labneh dip is best to share among the flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Foodie Tip! Sprinkle authentic Arabic spices on labneh to enjoy the more exciting version.

 

8) Falafel

A globally recognized Middle Eastern dish, the falafel sandwich is much beloved and appreciated in the foodie empire. The traditional falafel sandwich is a gigantic pita bread wrapping of the falafel patty along with tangy pickles, fresh vegetables and tahini spread. To best compliment a falafel sandwich, order a salad to go with it.

The most interesting aspect of the savoury doughnut is that the falafel patty has a crispy exterior when freshly fried, contrasting to its soft and fluffy interior composed of ground chickpeas, onions and a decent amount of herbs and spices blended in to enhance the simplicity and flavor of the dish.

The falafel perfectly fills in for the protein on a vegetarian’s menu and as with hummus, is a staple on the obligatory mezze platter.

Recommended restaurant

Picture Credit - instagram.com/booksatcafe_jo/

Address: Books@Cafe, 'Umar Ibn Al Khattab, Amman, Jordan
Opening Hours: 9am - 2am
Tel: +962 6 465 0457
Website: https://www.booksatcafe.com/

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9) Mansaf

Picture Credit - Ji-Elle, commons.wikimedia.org

Jordan’s national dish, mansaf is culturally meant for feasts and celebratory gatherings. Mansaf in Arabic, literally translates to “large tray” and therefore is served as such, enough to cater to a small foodie nation! This Middle Eastern resemblance of an enormous pizza looks rather intimidating for vegetarians. Chunks of lamb cooked in broth of Jameed (a variety of cheese made from fermented yoghurt), dressed with yummy yoghurt and garnished with almond and pine nuts are on display placed on a heap of white rice served on an oversized platter of flatbread.

Initially a Jordanian dish, Mansaf migrated to Palestine, Iraq and the Saudi Arabia to mark its deliciousness. 

Recommended restaurant

Picture credit - jabri.com.jo

Address: Jabri Restaurant, Wasfi Al-Tal Street, Amman, Jordan.
Opening Hours: 9am to 11pm
Tel: 
+962 6 568 1700
Website: http://www.jabri.com.jo/

 

10) Pita with za’atar

Picture Credit - N. Saum, commons.wikimedia.org

A staple component of Middle Eastern cooking, the warm and versatile pita bread is served in nearly every meal. Za’atar pita's specialty is that the dough is generously sprinkled with a blend of Middle Eastern spices which include thyme, oregano and marjoram to uplift the sensory experience of the flavorsome bread dipped in any appetizer off the mezze platter. The original za’atar plant, rather endangered, is protected by the government to preserve the rare and authentic Mediterranean flavor, however, the addition of herbs doesn't detract from the original taste of the za’atar pita. Hence the purchase of a jar of this herb mixture is worth it if you want to try the za’atar pita crisps recipe in the comfort of your home.

Since the next dish was frequently mentioned on the list of 10 Must-Try Middle Eastern dishes, it felt unfair to leave it out:

 

11) Tahini

Picture Credit - jules, flickr.com

The tahini dip, spread or condiment is made from a base of toasted and ground sesame seeds ground to a paste and is essential to, if not all, many Middle Eastern dishes. Tahini collaborates well with sweet as well as savory flavors, and is hence a highlight on the mezze platter. An uncommon, yet palatable combination is tahini and halvah, so be sure to have a go at it when possible.

Buckle up for a flavorsome ride on Middle Eastern cuisine, serving wholly satisfying food and leaving you wanting more of the Mediterranean goodness. Amongst the uncountable delectable dishes on their menu, try out the dishes listed above on your next visit to the Middle East!

Check out our Travel Blog on the Middle East