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Arab cuisine is defined as the various regional cuisines spanning the Arab World from Iraqmarker to Moroccomarker to Somaliamarker to Yemenmarker, and incorporating Levantine, Egyptianmarker and others. It has also been influenced to a degree by the cuisines of Turkeymarker, Afghanistanmarker, Iranmarker, India, the Berber and other cultures of the peoples of the region before the cultural Arabization brought by genealogical Arabians during the Arabian Muslim conquests.


Originally, the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula relied heavily on a diet of dates, wheat, barley, rice and meat, with little variety, with a heavy emphasis on yogurt products, such as labneh (لبنة) (yoghurt without butterfat). As the indigenous Semitic people of the peninsula wandered, so did their tastes and favored ingredients.

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

  1. Meat: lamb and chicken are the most used, beef and camel are also used to a lesser degree, other poultry is used in some regions, and, in coastal areas, fish. Pork is completely prohibited—for Muslim Arabs, it is both a cultural taboo as well as being prohibited under Islamic law; many Christian Arabs also avoid pork as they have never acquired a taste for it.
  2. Dairy products: dairy products are widely used, the most of which is yogurt and white cheese. However, butter and cream are also used extensively.
  3. 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.
  4. Beverages: hot beverages are used more than cold, coffee being on the top of the list, mostly in the Gulf countries, although tea is also served in many Arab countries. In Egypt tea is the more important hot beverage than coffee for instance.
  5. Grains: rice is the staple and is used for most dishes; wheat is the main source for bread, as well as bulgur and semolina, which are also used extensively.
  6. Legumes: Lentils are widely used as well as fava beans and chick peas (garbanzo beans).
  7. Vegetables and fruits: this cuisine also favors vegetables such as cucumbers, aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), okra and onions, and fruits (primarily citrus), are often used as seasonings for entrees. Olives are a large part of the cuisine as well in addition to dates, figs and pomegranate.
  8. Nuts: almonds pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts are often included.
  9. Greens: Parsley and mint are popular as seasonings in many dishes, while spinach and Corchorus (called "molokhia" in Arabic) are used in cooked dishes.
  10. 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 yogurt, 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 between the two regions, and of the current state of affairs in the wealthy oil states, in which many South Asian workers are living abroad in the Arab Gulf states.


Essential to any cooking in the Arabian Peninsula is the concept of hospitality. Meals are generally large family affairs, with much sharing and a great deal of warmth over the dinner table. Formal dinners and celebrations generally entail large quantities of lamb, and every occasion entails large quantities of Arabic coffee.

In an average Arab Gulf state household, a visitor might expect a dinner consisting of a very large platter, shared commonly, with a vast mountain of rice, incorporating lamb or chicken, or both, as separate dishes, with various stewed vegetables, heavily spiced, sometimes with a tomato sauce. Most likely, there would be several other items on the side, less hearty. 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, from sweets, to rice, to beverages. Fruit juices are quite popular in this often arid region.

Structure of meals

There are two basic structures for meals in the Arab world, a regular structure and a structure 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.

Traditionally, however, breakfast used to be a much heavier meal especially for the working class such as lentil soup (shorbat 'adas), or heavy sweets such as knafa. Foul, which is fava beans cooked with garbanzo beans (chick peas), garlic, lemon and olive oil is a popular working class breakfast as well.


Lunch is considered the main meal of the day, traditionally eaten after the noon prayer. It is the meal where the family groups together and, when entertaining, it is the meal of choice to invite guests.

Rarely do meals have different courses, however, salads and maza are served as side dishes to the main meal. It 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. Usually the vegetables and meat are cooked together in sauce (often tomato, although others are also popular) to make maraqmarker, which served on rice. Most households would 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, Coca-Cola and similar drinks have also become popular.


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), 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. Then soup would be served, the most popular is lentil soup, but a wide variety of soups such as chicken, freeka (a soup made from a form of whole wheat and chicken broth), potato, maash and others. The third course would be the main dish, usually eaten after an interval where Maghreb prayer is conducted.

The main dish is mostly similar to what is usual for lunch, except that cold drinks are also served.


Is the meal eaten just before dawn when fasting must begin.

Regional Arab cuisines

Image:Döner kebab slicing.jpg|Shawarma شاورماFile:Ful.jpg|Ful Medames فول مدمسImage:Shish-kebab-MCB.jpg|Shish kebab كبابFile:Maqluba.jpg|Maqluba مقلوبهFile:Couscous-1.jpg|Couscous كوسكوسيFile:MoroccanlemonS.jpg|Pickled Lemon ليمون مخللImage:Dolma.JPG|Dolma ضولمةFile:Sfiha2.jpg|Lahm Ba'ajeen لحم بعجينFile:Za'atar bread.jpg|Manakish مناقيشFile:Kabsa.jpg|Kabsa كبسةFile:Kebbeh.JPG|Kebbeh كبة-كبيبةFile:Date Maamul, Pistachio Baklava and Coffee - Moroccan Soup Bar.jpg|Ma'amoul معمولFile:Matboha.jpg|Matboha مطبوخةFile:Baba Ghanoush.jpg|Baba Ghanoush بابا غانوجFile:Hummus from The Nile.jpg|Hummus حمصيةFile:ShahanFul.jpg|Shahan ful فول شاحنFile:Armeniadoma.jpg|Waraq Enab ورق عنب - ملفوفFile:Basboosa.jpg|Basbousa بسبوسةFile:Labneh01.jpg|Labneh لبنةFile:Knafe on a plate.jpeg|Kanafeh كنافةFile:Arabkaak.jpg|Ka'ak كعك - كحكImage:Baklava - Turkish special, 80-ply.JPEG|Baklawa بقلاوهFile:Cofee1.jpg|Coffee قهوةFile:Driedhibiscus.jpg|Hibiscus Tea كركديه - عنآبFile:Bottle of Arak Rayan.jpg|Arak عرقFile:Arabic coffee cup.jpg|Arabic Coffee قهوة عربيةFile:Loukoumades.jpg|Luqmat al-qadi لفمة الفاضيImage:PistHalva.jpg|Halva حلاوةFile:Ataef.jpg|Qatayef القطائفFile:Shish taouk.jpg|Shish taouk شيش طاوكFile:Toum.jpg| Toum توميةFile:Fattoush.JPG|Fattoush فتوشFile:Samosa 1.jpg|Sambusak سمبوسكFile:Falafel.JPG| Falafel فلافل - طعميةFile:Kleicha.jpg|Kleicha الكليجة - كعب الغزال

The Levant

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. Though now divided into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Israel, the region was a more united entity historically, 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 Mediterraneanmarker 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 an entire repertoire of sauces, it focuses on herbs, spices and the freshness of ingredients.

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 Bankmarker, the Gaza Stripmarker and Jordanmarker 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 the Jerusalemmarker 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 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 of both Jordanmarker and the West Bank having roots in the Bedouin population of Jordan and Southern Palestine. 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.


Egyptian cuisine is in a category all its own. Unlike the surrounding Arab cuisines, which place heavy emphasis on meats, Egyptian cuisine is rich in vegetarian dishes; both of the national dishes of Egyptmarker, Ful Medames and kushari, are generally vegetarian.


Spices are used extensively in western Arabs 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 than in other countries in the Arab world.

Among the most famous 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 and 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 the quality of the tea. The tea is accompanied with hard sugar cones or lumps.


Main article Somali cuisine

Somali cuisine varies from region to region and consists of an exotic mixture of native Somalimarker, Ethiopianmarker, Yemenimarker, Persianmarker, Turkishmarker, Indianmarker and Italianmarker culinary influences. It is the product of Somaliamarker's rich tradition of trade and commerce. Despite the variety, there remains one thing that unites the various regional cuisines: all food is served halal.

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 pasty with meat and vegetable filling.


In comparison to its North African and Levantine neighbors, the cuisine of Sudanmarker is generally characterized as being stingy on rice but generous on spices, Sudanese food is a fusion cuisine of Egyptian cuisine and Ethiopian cuisine, both of which are very popular in the Western world. Popular dishes include Shahan ful, ful medames, injera, hummus, and baklava.


Main article Yemeni cuisine

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 others, cheese, butter and other dairy products are less common, especially in the cities and other urban areas.

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.

As with other Arab cuisines, the most widespread beverages are tea and coffee, tea usually with cardamom or mint and coffee with cardamom. Karakaden, Naqe’e Al Zabib and Diba’a are the most widespread cold beverages.

See also


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

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