Arab Cuisine in America
By Waverly Nohr/Arab America Contributing Writer
Arab foods are popping up everywhere you look! It’s quite common to wait at a food truck to devour a falafel sandwich. Hummus has become a household staple, almost monopolizing the vegetable dip industry. We even see dessert hummus in grocery stores beating their competition, the traditional American caramel and chocolate dips. The introduction of foods from the Arab world have begun to evolve and adapt from how they were originally made. Only gaining traction, these foods are more well known than ever. When you search the most popular foods to get from food trucks, falafel sandwich is now among the top items bought in metropolitan areas. This article will look at the establishment of restaurants and trucks as well as how American brands have started representing these foods. Through that, it becomes clear of why they have become so mainstream in today’s society.
How Arab Food Has Spread
While the cities of the U.S. rave with food trucks selling Middle Eastern foods, grocery stores gave also jumped on this bandwagon. There is no claim that these foods are anywhere as authentic as they are when made in their country of origin, however, masses of all Americans beg for them. Adaptation of foods has been a phenomenon when looking at so many restaurants, fast food franchises especially. Using an example, adaptations of Chinese food are extremely popular—hence Panda Express or P.F. Changs. As tasty as they might be, many don’t believe they pass the authenticity test. Nevertheless, we can observe the spread of the popular Arab foods within the last ten years alone. We see kebab restaurants, falafel trucks, and spots selling kunafa and Arab meatloaf, kiftet. To name a few of these Arab chains, we have seen the explosion in popularity of Cava and Taïm, both serving Mediterranean and Middle Eastern inspired food.
A Time of Opportunity
Making Arab dishes even more accessible while thousands of miles away from the Arab world has been achieved by grocers around the U.S. One network of grocery stores makes a little known food quickly a sensation. If we look at one typical grocery store, Trader Joe’s, we can see the Arab foods that they have helped to make mainstream. All three of these products we really would not have seen offered ten years ago.
- Kibbeh- Retailing for just $4.79 for 6 units, Trader Joe’s has made an Arab food attainable in frozen form. Without the hassle, this kibbeh can be ready in minutes with the help of a preheated oven. While Trader Joe’s labels this as “Middle Eastern Inspired,” consumers try and move outside their comfort zones with this dish.
- Labneh- this extra strained Middle Eastern style kefir cheese keeps customers intrigued because of it’s affordable retail price at just $2.29. While it is more unknown than falafel or hummus, labneh is next to other popular dips. Through this strategy, consumers become both intrigued and inclined to buy it.
- Za’atar- Trader Joe’s take on this seasoning blend has been tried by many Arab grandmothers in the Youtube video below. Most of them say it simply isn’t the real thing. Watch for hilarious responses and while Trader Joe’s tried their best, not everything from the Arab World can be replicated so easily.
Integration at Home
Along with grocery stores selling Arab goods, there have been a series of Arab and American food fusions. One example of this is chicken shawarma pizza. This creation came about from using the concept of pizza; a bread-like structure topped with vegetables and a sauce of some sort and of course, adding chicken shawarma on top. There may be many mixed reviews on it, but an American repurposing leftovers from last nights dinner is in their blood. A recipe for chicken shawarma pita pizza is found here!
While we can’t say that the frozen Arab foods are as authentic or fresh as those made in Beirut or Jordan, there are some food trucks that give Arab Americans their fix of foods from the Arab world. Grocery stores have tried to do it all, having many Middle Eastern inspired foods. Individuals have found a creative way to mash Arab and American favorites, hence chicken shawarma pizza. The secret is out in modern America—many Americans have begun and represent Arab foods in the national market. Discovery never tasted so good.
Check out Arab America’s blog here!