Arabic Meals – A Comprehensive Guide to Middle Eastern Cuisine

Arabic cuisine is a diverse and flavourful journey through the culinary traditions of the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula. With a rich history influenced by numerous cultures, regions, and trade routes, these meals showcase the unique blend of ingredients, spices, and cooking techniques that are characteristic of this broad culinary style. 

From aromatic spices such as baharat and ras el hanout to traditional dishes like manakeesh and grilled halloumi, there is a world of flavours waiting to be explored.

As you delve into the realms of Arabic meals, you’ll discover an assortment of bread-based dishes, succulent grilled meats, and flavour-packed salads. 

Fattoush, for example, is a popular bread salad originating from the Levantine region, combining mixed greens with fried Arabic bread for a satisfying crunch. Other dishes, like the well-known kunafa dessert, exhibit the versatility of Middle Eastern cuisine with its many variations and creative ingredient combinations.

Embarking on this culinary voyage, you’ll not only expand your palate but also gain a deeper appreciation for the rich heritage and culinary artistry that defines Arabic cuisine. 

So, prepare your taste buds for a memorable gastronomic adventure, and let the delicious aromas and flavours of Arabic meals transport you to the enchanting lands of the Middle East.

The Origin of Arabic Meals

Arabic cuisine has a rich history dating back to the ancient civilizations of the Middle East. The Sumerians, Babylonians, Phoenicians or Canaanites, Hittites, Arameans, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Nabateans all contributed to the formation of the Arab kitchen. 

As you explore the origins of Arabic meals, you will find an intricate tapestry of flavours, techniques, and ingredients influenced by these diverse cultures.

When the Arabs from the Arabian Peninsula arrived on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean in the 7th century and went on to occupy North Africa, they encountered a wide variety of foods. 

Some of these gastronomic traditions had roots that can be traced back to the beginning of civilized history. The Arab settlers seamlessly integrated these indigenous culinary practices with their own, creating unique and delectable dishes that are still popular today.

In the medieval period, grains were a staple ingredient in Arab cuisine, used primarily to make porridge and pasta-type dishes. 

Two popular types of pasta in this era were itriya, a short dry noodle of Greek origin similar to orzo, and rishta, a hand-cut fresh noodle of Persian origin. These versatile staples are featured in a range of dishes, reflecting the creativity and resourcefulness of Arab cooks.

As Arab trade and cultural exchange grew, new ingredients were introduced to the Arab kitchen. Spices, nuts, fruits, and sweeteners became integral components of Arabic meals. The invention of rich sweets, such as baklava and basbousa, can be attributed to Arab influence and the dissemination of their culinary expertise across the Mediterranean.

In summary, the origins of Arabic meals are rooted in an intricate tapestry of ancient civilisations, regional influences, and dynamic cultural exchange. As you delve deeper into the fascinating story of Arabic cuisine, you’ll undoubtedly uncover a wealth of diverse and delectable dishes that have shaped the culinary landscape of the Arab world.

Diversity in Arabic Cuisine

North African Cuisine

In North African cuisine, you’ll find a rich blend of flavours and ingredients derived from native Berber, Mediterranean, and African influences. One of the most iconic dishes from this region is couscous, a staple made from steamed semolina that is often served with vegetables, meat, or fish. 

Another popular dish is tagine, a flavourful slow-cooked stew that combines various meats, vegetables, and spices, cooked in a traditional earthenware pot with a conical lid.

Levantine Cuisine

Levantine cuisine hails from the eastern Mediterranean, encompassing the culinary traditions of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan. In this region, you’ll find dishes that focus on fresh vegetables, herbs, and grains. One notable dish is tabbouleh, a refreshing parsley salad with bulgur, tomatoes, and onions, dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. 

Similarly, you’ll encounter hummus, a popular dip made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, best enjoyed with warm pita bread.

Gulf Cuisine

Gulf cuisine, originating from countries around the Persian Gulf like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, is characterised by the use of rice, meat (such as lamb and chicken), and aromatic spices. 

A noteworthy dish in this region is kabsa, a fragrant rice dish cooked with meat (chicken or lamb), various spices, and sometimes dried fruits and nuts. Also, there’s machboos, a dish similar to kabsa, but with the addition of diverse herbs, spices, and vegetables like tomatoes and onions, creating a unique flavour profile.

Throughout each of these regions, you’ll experience a wealth of flavours and diverse dishes, reflecting the vibrant history and cultural influences of the Arabic-speaking world. From the hearty stews of North Africa to the refreshing salads of the Levant and the spiced rice dishes of the Gulf, Arabic cuisine offers a rich tapestry of irresistible foods to enjoy.

Ingredients Common in Arabic Meals

In this section, we will discuss common ingredients found in Arabic meals. The ingredients are categorised into three subsections: Spices Used, Grains and Legumes, and Meats and Dairy.

Spices Used

Arabic cuisine is known for its rich and diverse use of spices. Some of the most common spices you will come across in Arabic meals include:

  • Baharat: A blend of 7 or 8 spices such as nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, paprika, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves. This spice mix is widely used across the Middle East and the Arabian Peninsula.
  • Ras el Hanout: A spice mix that includes a combination of different spices, with each family or vendor having their unique blend. Common ingredients are cardamom, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, coriander, and paprika.
  • Za’atar: A tangy seasoning made from ground thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds, often used in dishes like tabbouleh salad and falafel.

Grains and Legumes

Grains and legumes provide the basis for many Arabic dishes. These ingredients are fundamental in a variety of dishes, from salads to main courses. Some of the most common grains and legumes in Arabic cuisine include:

  • Bulgur Wheat: A staple in dishes like tabbouleh, a wonderful salad made of finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, fresh mint, and bulgur.
  • Couscous: Prevalent in the Maghreb region, couscous is a versatile base for many stews and salads.
  • Rice: Rice is a common grain in the Mashreq region and is used as the main ingredient in dishes like pilaf and maqluba.

Meats and Dairy

Arabic cuisine features a variety of meats and dairy, which are essential elements in many meals. Here, we will highlight some common meats and dairy products you may encounter in Arabic dishes:

  • Lamb: A popular choice of protein in Arabic cooking, lamb is often featured in kebabs, stews, and grilled dishes.
  • Chicken: Used in various preparations, from whole roasted chicken to marinated and grilled pieces, chicken is a versatile ingredient in Arabic cuisine.
  • Yoghurt: Dairy products, like yoghurt, are commonly used in Arabic cooking. Yoghurt is often served as a side dish, incorporated into sauces, or used as a marinade to tenderise meats.

Incorporating these ingredients into your cooking will give your dishes an authentic and aromatic taste of Arabic cuisine. Remember to always source high-quality and fresh ingredients to ensure the best possible flavour.

Popular Arabic Dishes

In this section, we will explore some popular Arabic dishes, categorised into rice dishes, meat dishes, and vegetarian dishes.

Rice Dishes


A traditional Arabian choice for a rice dish with meat, lentils, vegetables, and spices. The combination of ingredients makes Kabsa a delicious and flavourful option that you should not miss when in Saudi Arabia.


A popular Arabic dish consisting of rice, vegetables, and meat (typically chicken or lamb) cooked together. The dish is then flipped over onto a serving platter, revealing a beautiful layering of ingredients.

Meat Dishes


Thinly sliced marinated chicken, lamb or beef cooked on a vertical spit. Shawarma is often served in pita bread or alongside rice, accompanied by sauces such as tahini, garlic sauce, or hummus.


A traditional Palestinian dish that consists of roast chicken with sumac, caramelised onions, and pine nuts served on a bed of flatbread. This hearty and flavourful dish showcases the intricate balance of flavours for which Arabic cuisine is renowned.

Vegetarian Dishes


A creamy blend of cooked chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic, this versatile dip is an essential part of several Arabic meals. It can be enjoyed as a spread on bread, with fresh vegetables, or as a side dish to various meat dishes.


A delicious bread salad traditionally found in Levantine cuisine, common in Arabic countries such as Lebanon and Syria. Fattoush is made with mixed greens and small pieces of fried Arabic bread, giving some crunchiness and a unique taste profile.

Baba Ghanoush: 

A smoky aubergine-based dip, this dish is made by blending grilled or mashed aubergine with tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. Similarly to hummus, baba ghanoush can be served with pita bread, as a dip for vegetables, or as a side dish.

Desserts in Arabic Cuisine

Arabic cuisine is known for its wide range of delicious desserts. In this section, we will explore some of the most popular types of sweets that you can find in Arabic cuisine, focusing on pastries and puddings/cakes.


Arabic pastries are famous for their intricate designs and rich flavours, often filled with nuts and flavoured with fragrant spices like cinnamon and cardamom. Some popular pastries include:

  • Baklava: This well-known dessert consists of layers of thin, flaky pastry filled with chopped nuts such as pistachios, walnuts, or almonds. It’s usually sweetened with a syrup made from sugar, honey, and lemon, giving it a delightful balance of textures and flavours.
  • Kunafah: A favourite throughout the Arab world, this dessert is made with thin, shredded pastry dough called kataifi. It can be filled with sweetened cheese, nuts, or cream, and is soaked in a sugar syrup often flavoured with orange blossom or rose water.
  • Lgeimat: These saffron and cardamom-infused fritters are a popular treat in many Arab countries. The golden, crispy exterior gives way to a tender, slightly chewy interior, and they’re typically drizzled with a sweet syrup such as honey or date molasses.

Puddings and Cakes

In addition to pastries, Arabic desserts also include a variety of puddings and cakes, showcasing a combination of diverse textures and flavours. Some standout examples are:

  • Basbousa: A popular Middle Eastern treat known for its moist, semolina-based texture. This dessert is often flavoured with coconut and soaked in a fragrant syrup infused with rose or orange blossom water. Occasionally garnished with almonds or pistachios, basbousa is a delightful dessert enjoyed by many.
  • Moroccan Date Cake: This fruit-based cake is a must-have for afternoon tea times in Morocco. Incorporating unique flavours, it can be enjoyed with double cream, ice cream, yoghurt, or simply a cup of tea.
  • Mahalabia: A milk-based pudding, this dessert boasts a silky-smooth texture. Often flavoured with rose or orange blossom water and garnished with crushed nuts or ground cinnamon, it’s a delightful way to end a traditional Arabic meal.

As you explore Arabic cuisine further, you’ll no doubt find many more delicious desserts to tempt your taste buds. Whether you prefer the flaky layers of pastry or the smooth, creamy texture of a pudding, there’s a dessert perfect for satisfying your sweet tooth.

Beverages in Arabic Cuisine

In Arabic cuisine, beverages play a significant role in the overall dining experience. As you explore this unique culinary world, you’ll find that Arabs consume various traditional drinks, enhancing the flavours of their meals while also facilitating social bonds.

Arabic Tea is a popular choice with many variations across the region. Often infused with mint or other herbs, this beverage is considered a symbol of hospitality. Usually, you’ll find Arabic tea served sweetened with sugar, making it a refreshing drink to accompany a meal.

Another commonly enjoyed drink in Arabic cuisine is Arabic Coffee. Distinct from its Western counterpart, Arabic coffee uses finely ground, roasted coffee beans combined with aromatic spices like cardamom and saffron. 

Traditionally, it is served in small cups without milk or sugar, allowing you to appreciate its rich, unique flavour.

In addition to tea and coffee, Arabic Juices are popular across the Arab world. Some traditional options include lemon mint, tamarind, and pomegranate juice. These beverages add a refreshing twist to the bold flavours of Arabic meals, helping to cleanse your palate.

Furthermore, as traditional Arabic cuisine extends across a range of countries and regions, you might also find various local beverages served alongside your meal. Other popular choices include yoghurt-based drinks, such as Ayran or Laban, which offer a cooling and soothing contrast to spicy dishes.

When enjoying Arabic cuisine, don’t hesitate to explore these traditional beverages. They play a crucial role in the overall dining experience, complementing the bold and unique flavours of the dishes they accompany.

Arabic Meals and Cultural Significance

Arab cuisine is rich in history and cultural influences which can be explored and understood through its dishes. When you immerse yourself in Arabian meals, you become a part of a culinary tradition that has its roots in the Middle East and the Arab world. 

The traditional meals highlight the Arab people’s affinity for spices and unique flavour combinations.

You will find that the most common ingredients in Arab meals include rice, meat, and an array of spices. 

Some popular and widely used spices are baharat, a blend of 7 or 8 spices, such as nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, paprika, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves, and Ras el Hanout. The inclusion of these spices in various dishes is a testament to the region’s love for opulent flavours and aromas.

Fasting and Feasting:

One of the most significant aspects of Arab cuisine is its connection to religious practices. During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and break their fast with a meal called Iftar. 

The Iftar meal is often a social event shared in homes or mosques and is an essential part of the communal experience.

When you’re being hosted by a traditional Arab family, it’s essential to be mindful of certain cultural norms regarding dinner etiquette. 

For example, avoid bringing or consuming pork and alcohol, as they are not permitted in Islamic culture. Instead, opt for halal meat options, such as lamb, which is a safe and popular choice in Arab cuisine.

In conclusion, Arabian meals offer a glimpse into the Arab world’s rich cultural history and culinary traditions. As you explore this cuisine, remember to appreciate the significance of each dish and its role in the region’s social and religious practices. 

So, go ahead and enjoy the aromas, textures, and tastes of Arab cuisine while deepening your understanding of its cultural significance.

Modern Adaptations and Fusion Cuisine

In recent years, as the world has become more interconnected, fusion cuisine has emerged as a popular culinary trend. You may have noticed the prominence of Arabic flavours and ingredients blended with other cooking styles, creating unique and delectable dishes. 

This section will explore some examples of Arabic fusion offerings and the impact it has on modern dining experiences.

One of the primary ways that Arabic cuisine lends itself to fusion dishes is through its distinctive blend of spices and seasoning. 

For example, you may encounter spice blends such as baharat, harissa, ras el hanout, zhug, and za’atar finding their way into non-Arabic dishes, adding rich and complex flavours. The incorporation of preserved lemons, charred spring onions, and orange blossom water further adds to the diverse range of tastes offered in these dishes.

Fusion cuisine doesn’t just stop with spices. Other culinary traditions often borrow essential Arabic ingredients and techniques, while still ensuring that their original identity remains intact. 

One example is grilled meats and vegetable dishes, where the use of Arabic accents can enhance and elevate the dining experience for many food enthusiasts.

When it comes to popular fusion dishes in casual dining and take-away eateries, you’ll find an array of dishes combining Arabic food culture with other global cuisines. 

For instance, you may come across establishments that offer waffle tacos or Pad Thai pizza, showcasing the versatility and adaptability of Arabic flavours to other contexts.

The modern adaptations and fusion cuisine trend have played a key role in broadening the appeal of Arabic meals, garnering appreciation among a diverse range of food lovers. In today’s world, such innovative culinary explorations allow you to indulge and discover new dimensions in Arabic cuisine while simultaneously connecting you to the food heritage of other cultures.

Arabic Meals – Conclusion

In your exploration of Arabic meals, you have delved into a world rich with history, culture, and delectable flavours. This captivating cuisine reflects the Arab world’s diverse landscapes, from the Middle East to Morocco and the Arabian Gulf, making it a treasured gastronomic experience.

As you immerse yourself in the flavours of the Arab world, you will notice a harmonious blend of ingredients, techniques, and culinary traditions, a testament to the ancient trade routes and settlements that have shaped this cuisine. Many recipes showcase aromatic spices, fragrant herbs, and an abundance of fresh produce that reflects the region’s varied tastes.

Indeed, iconic Arabic dishes like hummus and shawarma, as well as the enchanting array of sweets, will entice your taste buds and leave you craving more. 

The generous and warm spirit of Arabic dining also awaits you, creating beautiful moments with family and friends as you gather around the table to enjoy these delicious meals together.

As you continue to explore Arabic meals, remember to embrace these experiences with an open heart and palate, allowing the history, culture, and flavours to transport you on a culinary adventure like no other.


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