Best Middle Eastern Food: 12 Dishes to Try

BY: Andy Seifert |Jan 24, 2018


If you want to dive into Middle Eastern food, use this article as a bucket list for the best Middle Eastern dishes you have to try. While some of them are quite popular in America, some of them might be a little trickier to find in the States—but they're well worth the effort.

1. Hummus

What is it? The most-widespread dish of the Middle East. Almost any self-respecting Middle Eastern restaurant will have this dip consisting of mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and lemon juice. Try it with pita bread (or other Middle Eastern breads).

Where to try it? Anywhere. Find Middle Eastern restaurants near you.

2. Manakeesh


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What is it? Also spelled "manakish" or "man'ousheh," manakeesh is the Middle East's answer to pizza. It's a flatbread with topped with olive oil, thyme, and cheese, but you can get all sorts of other toppings, including sesame seeds and minced lamb.

Where to try it? Lebanese, Syrian, and Jordanian restaurants. Find Lebanese restaurants near you.

3. Halloumi

What is it? A semihard cheese that's often fried or grilled. Originally from the island of Cyprus, halloumi spread to the other parts of the Middle East, including Turkey, Palestine, and Israel, as well as Greece, where you can try it as the decadent dish of saganaki.

Where to try it? Jewish, Turkish, and Greek restaurants, among others. Find Greek food near you.

4. Falafel

What is it? Typically (but not always) served inside a warm pita, falafel is chickpeas and/or fava beans, grounded and mixed with herbs and spice (usually parsley, garlic, or cumin), and then fried as a ball or patty shape. It's a staple–considered one of the best Middle Eastern dishes and universally available throughout the region.

Where to try it? Anywhere. Find Middle Eastern restaurants near you.

5. Baklava

What is it? The quintessential Middle Eastern dessert. Baklava combines nuts, honey, and multiple layers of flaky filo dough, packed together into a sticky sweet delight. The pastry was born in Turkey, but has since spread all over the region.

Where to try it? Anywhere. Find Middle Eastern restaurants near you.

6. Tabouleh

What is it? A minty salad packed with tomatoes and cracked wheat, sprinkled with parsley and onion, and topped with olive oil and lemon juice. Served as a side or an appetizer, tabouleh's minty flavors almost work like a palate cleanser.

Where to try it? Jewish, Turkish, and Armenian restaurants. Find Turkish restaurants near you.

7. Fattoush


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What is it? There can be all sorts of vegetables in a fattoush salad, but all fattoush have mixed in a sour-tasting bread (often pita). This bread is often toasted and fried, then drenched in a tasty sumac dressing.

Where to try it? Iraq, Jordanian, and Lebanese restaurants. Find Lebanese restaurants near you.

8. Baba Ghanoush

What is it? This thick spread is second only to hummus as the Middle East's most-beloved dip. A smoky mixture of garlic, sesame, olive oil, and eggplant (grilled or broiled), baba ghanoush makes for a delightful appetizer.

Where to try it? Anywhere. Find Middle Eastern restaurants near you.

9. Shawarma


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What is it? Ever seen a restaurant where there's a large piece of meat on a vertical spit where every once in a while a cook comes over to slice off little pieces? That was probably shawarma, a slow-roasted chicken, lamb, or beef dish that's often served inside pita bread, where it makes acquaintances with fattoush or tabouleh (see above).

Where to try it? Anywhere. Find Middle Eastern restaurants near you.

10. Dolma

What is it? Dolma refers to large swath of foods, but for the most part, a dolma will be a dish that's been stuffed with vegetables or meat. What's being stuffed and what it's being stuffed with will vary, but popular versions include stuffed peppers or grape leaves.

Where to try it? In addition to most Middle Eastern countries, dolma can be found in restaurants specializing in Mediterranean and central Asian cuisine (it's especially a big deal in Azerbaijan). Find Mediterranean restaurants near you.

11. Kofta

What is it? Basically, meatballs. Only instead of meatballs on top of spaghetti and drenched in tomato sauce, kofta is made from a blend of herbs and onions, and served as part of a stew or by itself.

Where to try it? It's a specialty in nearly every Middle Eastern country's cuisine, plus that of the Balkans and India. Find Middle Eastern restaurants near you.

12. Döner kebab

What is it? Similar to shawarma, döner kebab might be the world's most-beloved street food, especially in Europe. Using a rotisserie chicken spit, döner kebab street vendors serve their sandwiches with cabbage, tomatoes, mayo, or tzatziki (unlike shawarma, which sticks with tabouleh, fattoush, tahini, or hummus).

Where to try it? The best thing to do is book a flight to Germany or Turkey, find a street-food vendor, and try it there.