A local's guide to Middle Eastern food

If you think the cuisine starts and ends with hummus, shawarma, and falafel, you couldn't be more wrong.

Think hummus is just a bland, beige, paste with good PR? Don't worry, there's more to Middle Eastern food than gloopy dips and massive cylinders of rotating mystery meat. Dubai girl Vineetha Menon gives you the low down on the real stuff – so the next time you're in Dubai or Jordan with your girl, you know exactly how to order like a local.

Kibbeh

Okay, it doesn't look very appetising but give it a chance – how many times has your mom told you not to judge an edible ball by its cover? This fried croquette contains burghul (a kind of cereal), onions and minced meat. Trust us, it’s a winner. And if nothing else, you can always use its torpedo shape to launch into an innuendo-laced conversation with your date. Would you like to taste my balls? No seriously, don't do that.

Shish kebab

You won’t be able to enter a restaurant in the Middle East that doesn’t serve this delicious treat. The skewered meats come in different forms and are bathed in different spices before usually being grilled fresh. Kebab halabi is the safest option and while it has many variants, you won’t be disappointed by any of them. For something a little more adventurous, bite into the Iranian favourite joojeh kebab, where chicken is marinated with lemon juice and saffron. Mmmm.

Sujuk

This delicious sausage is a favourite in Turkey and across the Middle East too. It consists of ground meat (usually beef or pork) with various spices, including cumin, garlic and sumac, added in and then allowed to dry for weeks. It is often served on top of mini pizzas and this salty, dry treat works great on a manakish (Arabic pizza) as well.

Koshari

This is Egyptian street food at its charming finest. Koshari is all vegetarian and all delicious. A bit like dal chawal but so much more interesting when done right. Imagine rice and lentils mixed with chickpeas and macaroni pasta and then topped with tomato sauce and fried onions. It’s usually served with two different types of sauces – one made from vinegar and oil, and the other from spicy red peppers. Even sworn carnivores won’t know what hit them.

Samboosak

You can take the man out of the country...you know how the saying goes. If you can’t live without grandma’s garma garam samosas, these tiny triangular pastries will have you reminiscing in a savoury way. They come in several varieties, so you can choose from among meat, spinach or even cheese samboosaks. Be warned: they are ridiculously small; Grandma needn’t ever feel threatened.

-Vineetha Menon

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