Three must-try Middle Eastern foods energize the palate


Ahmed Altuhafi photographed by Isabella Kneeshaw.

Ahmed Altuhafi, Staff Writer

Having made a recent visit to the Middle East, specifically Bagdad, Iraq, I was reminded of the many delights Arabic cuisine has to offer. If you’re a meat lover, you won’t hesitate when it comes to their food. It reflects our old and traditional trading of baharat, herbs and meats. For me, they make visiting the Middle East an exciting experience to try foods that are out of my comfort zone and remind me of childhood favorites that became comfort foods while growing up. 

Here’s my list of the top three must-try foods if you ever visit the Middle East, or just while visiting any Arabic restaurant. 

Topping my list is an appetizer at many restaurants, or a main dish if you can’t get enough of it:  the iconic Dolma. Dolma is any vegetable, normally grapevine leaf, that is wrapped with a lemon flavored mixture of rice, ground lamb and frequently other diced vegetables. It’s the backbone of Arabic cuisine, being easy to cook, wrap and serve. It becomes a main dish when more vegetables are stuffed with rice, such as onions and peppers. What makes this dish so special is that it differs from family to family and from country to country; there is no one way to make Dolma. Having said that, every Arabic kid will be biased towards their parents’ way of making it, myself included. 

It wouldn’t be a Middle-Eastern food list without kebab. Kebab is a long piece of meat roasted or grilled on a skewer that’s normally served in high quantities alongside a Lebanese pita. Not only is it the most flavorful piece of meat your taste buds will ever come across, but its ability to soak up all the rich marinade juices makes it a one-of-a-kind dish. But many Middle Easterns would argue that the best aspect of kebab is its ability to bring the family together to make a pretty hands-on dish that takes time to prepare and make. Nothing beats some grilled kebab alongside the beach in the midst of summer while chilling with all your relatives. 

I’m sure a lot of people have already had this, and it’s not because of any big coincidence, as this Middle Eastern food has made a global reach because of its universal and familiar taste: Shawarma. Shawarma consists of lamb or chicken cut into thin slices from a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie rod that is well cooked all throughout yet still holds a good amount of juice, similar to kebab. The meat isn’t the best thing about it, as it’s normally served with a garlic sauce that’s specific to chicken Shawarma called toum. If I had to choose a food that you need to try from this list, it would be Shawarma without a doubt. 

Honorable mentions go to falafel, hummus, and manakeesh, solid foods that almot made the list although I highly recommend every food I’ve mentioned already. Some old favorites that I always visit to have these foods are Al Hawr in downtown Portland that has a western spin or Oasis Lebanese Cuisine in Beaverton if you’re looking for a closer location.  I will always suggest going out of your comfort zone to try foods that seem interesting to you, even ones that are from different regions of the world.