Written by Vidal Dcosta.
I did not know what to expect from the cuisine when I embarked on a trip to the Middle East (a tour of Israel and the Holy Land of Jerusalem) with my family. I thought the food would either be too bland or not too spicy. However, it turned out to be a great culinary experience and yes, it did turn me into a hummus and pita addict. I can’t guarantee you won’t be back from your vacation without a hankering for the priced chickpea dip and the flatbread that goes with it, but here are a few dishes which you must try while there.
While the whole world is already familiar with this mouth-watering dish comprising of stacks of thin slices of meat (either beef, chicken, goat, turkey or lamb) which are infused with a succulent marinade of exotic spices and then slowly roasted on a spinning rotisserie/spit and finally wrapped up in pita bread along with additional ingredients such as hummus, pickles or even veggies and delicious tahini sauce which is a sesame seed-based sauce staple to Middle Eastern cuisine, there is no beating the original. Shawarmas are also great on the go snack if you do not have much time to sit down for a proper meal or are in a rush to catch an early morning flight.
If you are a vegetarian, then fret not, because falafels are a yummy and vegetarian fix for you and very filling as well. Falafels are deep-fried balls made from fresh herbs, some mild spices and chickpea meal and can be found on every street corner of the Middle East. They are not only for light snacking however and can e be eaten paired with a salad, tahini, hummus, pickles and other fillings while wrapped in pita, similar to shawarmas and sandwiches and they also make for a great meal at dinnertime or lunchtime.
3. Peter’s Fish
Also referred to as the John Dory fish and tilapia, the St. Peter’s Fish derives its name from a distinct dark spot on its side which resembles a thumbprint, often associated with St. Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples.
A delicious fish with white flaky and succulent flesh, it can be eaten baked, sautéed, fried or steamed along with baked potatoes and a lemon that needs to be squirted on the fish to provide added flavour. The best place to try it, of course, is at the namesake ‘St. Peter’s Restaurant’ in Israel which not only affords one a gorgeous view of the Sea of Galilee but it is also known primarily for this dish, although it does serve other non-vegetarian dishes like steamed chicken breast as well. However, do not leave without relishing their famous fried ‘St. Peter’s Fish’ which is very filling indeed as the fish is served whole- head, skin, bones and even fins.
Of course, no meal would be complete without this paste that can be found in most superstores and delis nowadays, but what better way to experience its tantalizing taste than in the place from where it originated.
Hummus is a creamy spread made from mashed chickpeas which are soaked overnight, garlic, lemon, salt, olive oil and tahini, and can be found even served alongside most dishes in restaurants in the Middle East as a dip as it goes well with bread like pita and lends a unique flavour to a meal without overpowering it. It is also a healthy snack and very filling too.
5. Pita Bread
Pita is unleavened bread which is found and relished in every Middle Eastern household and restaurant as it goes well with any dip or sauce and can be stuffed with various meats or with falafels and even with salads to create a meal or snack that will leave you stuffed, but also wanting more! It comes in many different varieties and wholemeal. It is a must at dinner, breakfast, lunch, brunch and of course, as an evening or midnight snack.
6. Sycamore Nuts
Israel, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, et al are dotted with as many sycamore trees as they are with olive and orange trees and stalls can be found selling sycamore nuts which are covered in a sweet and savoury batter and honey-roasted. These can be eaten as a snack on the go if your tummy is still growling. The stalls also sell dates and other dry fruits and nuts, aside from these crunchy delights. A must whenever one visits the Middle East.
Every meal must, of course, be ended with dessert and what perfect sweet dish to complement a Middle Eastern feast of Shawarma, falafels, Pita bread and sycamore nuts than the succulent and sugary Baklava.
This dessert is made from rich and sweet filo pastry which is then filled with various chopped nuts, ranging from walnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts and more which is all then held together by a dense sugary syrup made from honey.
Wash it all down with some traditional Israeli coffee which can be found coexisting alongside Turkish tea and freshly squeezed orange juice in the many cafes that dot Israel. While the traditional coffee is flavoured with cardamom, the cafes also serve other variations of the caffeinated beverage, such as ‘Café Hafuch’ which translates to ‘upside-down coffee’ in Hebrew and comprises of an espresso base along with warm and foamy milk and iced coffee. It is also called ‘barad’ in Hebrew and it closely resembles a coffee slushie.
Another version of the iced coffee is Café Kar which is made using 3% milk and is essentially an ice-cold espresso. Other beverages include Cider Cham which is often made using freshly juiced apples and topped with a cinnamon stick and is also known as hot spiced cider.
If you prefer chocolate to coffee or tea, the cafes also serve Chocolate which is a warm and rich chocolatey sludge and it resembles chocolate sauce due to its thickness.
So, when in the Middle East, don’t think twice and try everything from the bread to dips and even the beverages and treat your taste buds to the most appetising, yet healthy food fiesta yet!
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Vidal D’costa is a self-published author on Amazon in the sci-fi and romance genres & amp; currently an English major. She lives & amp; loves to write about anything & everything. She’s into a lot of authors but could read Wilde, Poe, Dahl & Ruskin Bond till the end of time. She is also a movie buff who hopes to hit it big as a screenwriter someday.
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