8 Strange Tastes of the Middle East
One of the top lures of the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt and, indeed, the Arab world and Levant as a whole, is the food. Or the foods, to be more precise. The smells of the markets and suq stalls, the skillful use of spices, the gorgeous artistry and care that props up the most elaborate of banquet platters, tiny of sweets and simple cups of tea or coffee. Without question, the expression “eat well” in the Middle East is almost redundant.
Yet while meze classics like hummus, baba ghannuj, olives and labnah are abundantly familiar, some other edible traditions, both old and new, are less so. The popular use of affordable, visceral animal cuts, for example, or the harsh sting of certain condiments and spirits. In acknowledgement of the fact that “strange” is a relative term and in humble deference to all culinary cultures, discover an oddball octet of strange tastes from the United Arab Emirates to Cyprus.
Camel Burger, Dubai – Photo credit
Abu Abdullah stall, Jidda, Saudi Arabia
Al Balad Suq
The Abu Abdullah stall in old town Jidda/Jeddah is just where to go for that Saudi breakfast of champions: a stir-fry of lamb offal and vegetables in ghee.
Where to stay: Le Meridien Hotel Jeddah
Farahat Restaurant, Cairo, Eqypt
126 Azhar Street, Al Hussein
Pigeon, or squab, is a staple upscale protein source in North Africa, most notably in the Moroccan delicacy pastilla/bisteeya. For pigeon Cairo style, home in on Farahat Restaurant in the ‘hood of Al Hussein.
Where to stay: Four Seasons Hotel Cairo At The First Residence
Local House, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Bastakiya, Bur Dubai or the Walk, Jumeirah Beach Residence
Camels play a huge practical and cultural role in desert climes. They also make a tasty burger. Local House in Dubai is a legend for delectable dromedary.
Where to stay: Residence & Spa At One&Only Royal Mirage Resort Dubai
Al Safadi, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Al Safadi serves all the culinary faves of the Lebanese comestible spectrum, from hummus to fattush to, gulp, lamb’s brains with lemon.
Where to stay: The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort Abu Dhabi
Sabich Tchernichovsky, Tel Aviv, Israel
In comparison to offal and other less desirable animal parts, mango paste seems like a rather innocent condiment to put in a pita sandwich. Yet the Mizrahi Jewish sabich is not for everyone, what with the inclusion of eggplant, eggs, hummus, tahini, tomato, cucumber, potato and parsley. A delicious mess and Sabich Tchernichovsky makes the best.
Where to stay: Isrotel Tower Hotel Tel Aviv
Barbar, Beirut, Lebanon
This wildly popular grill shop makes kebabs from every possible animal part, from filet mignon to sheep’s testicles.
Where to stay: Phoenicia InterContinental Hotel Beirut
Zivania is Cypriot firewater. The potent distillate made from grape pomace tastes a bit like raisins but with the fierce hind-leg-kick of a mule.
Where to stay: Mon Repos Hotel Apartments Ayia Napa
Nino’s, Manama, Bahrain
Al Aali Mall, Seef
Is this pizza, Manama-style? Nino’s makes a quattro stagioni with chips, beef, green beans, capsicums, aubergines, onions and baby corn. Now that is strange.
Where to stay: Fraser Suites Seef Bahrain