Arab cuisine is defined as the various regional cuisines spanning the Arab World from Iraq to Morocco to Somalia to Yemen, and incorporating Levantine, Egyptian and others. It has also been influenced to a degree by the cuisines of Turkey, Persia, India, the Berbers and other peoples who either lived in the region before the invasions by Arab armies or settled afterwards.
There is a strong emphasis on the following items in Arabian cuisine:
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 Persian Gulf states.
In an average Persian 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.
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 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 chick peas garbanzo beans, garlic, lemon and olive oil is a popular working class breakfast as well.
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, lintel, bread or burgle 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 maraq, 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 may vary in its types and depending on whether guests are expected or not can it be from just some fruit (mainly watermelon, melon and grapes) with bread and cheese to a full meal similar to that of lunch. Pastries are also eaten for dinner, or charcoal grilled food such as kebab and shawarma. Other simpler meals can be just dipping za’tar or duqqa or dibs with bread and olive oil. After the meal, usually on special occasions, dessert is served. The most common dessert of Arab Cuisine is rice pudding. It is made from rice cream, rose water, sugar, and salt.
The main dish is mostly similar to what is usual for lunch, except that cold drinks are also served.
Levantine cuisine is the traditional cuisine of the Levant region. Though now divided into Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, the region was a more united entity before the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and shared most of the same culinary traditions. Although almost identical, there are some variances within the Levantine area. It can be divided into two basic sub-categories: Northern Levantine and Southern Levantine.
The northern area includes Lebanon as well as Syria, Jordan and Galilee cuisines. It includes 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.
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.
The southern parts have a much heavier cuisine. Musakhan is a common main dish, famous in the 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.
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 the West Bank and Jordan having roots from the Bedouin population of Jordan and the Judea. It is mostly cooked on occasions such as Eid, a birth or a large dinner gathering. Mansaf is cooked as a lamb leg or large pieces of lamb on top a markook bread that has been topped with yellow rice usually. A type of thick dried cheesecloth yogurt from goat's milk that's 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 Egypt, 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 as such or with dates especially during the month of Ramadan.
The most popular drink is green tea with mint. Traditionally, making good mint tea in 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.
The Cuisine of Somalia varies from region to region and consists of an exotic mixture of native Somali, Ethiopian, Yemeni, Persian, Turkish, Indian and Italian influences. It is the product of Somalia's rich tradition of trade and commerce. Despite the variety, their remains one thing that unites the various regional cuisines: all food is served halal.
Favorite Somali dishes include: Xalwo, a sweet hardened jelly; Soor, a soft cornmeal mashed with fresh milk, butter and sugar, and served with maraq (stew); and Sambuusa, a Somali version of the South Asian samosa.
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 their own variation, saltah (سلتة) is considered the national dish or Yemen. The base is a brown meat stew of Turkish (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.
Like other Arabs, 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.