For centuries the Bedouins with their camel trains zig-zagged across the deserts of Jordan and Saudi Arabia carrying spices, silks and carpets for trade with southern Europe. As these caravans of traders came into contact with the tribes of the southern Mediterranean, they adapted some of the cuisines of Greece and Rome. As a result, the dishes of Christians, Muslims and Jews became entangled.
Arab cooks and homemakers take great delight in spending hours decorating a dish with a pattern of red pepper pieces, brown cumin and green parsley. Dishes are colored with saffron. Onions, peppers, eggplant and cucumbers are mixed with slices of beets and often displayed in restaurant windows.
The coastline of the Mediterranean teems with all types of fish — mullet, sea bass, turbot, swordfish and cod. These are grilled over charcoal, baked or poached. They are served with a creamy sauce of pine nuts, almonds and walnuts pounded with lemon juice and garlic. Lamb dominates the Arab cuisine. It is grilled over charcoal, baked or cooked with vegetables in robust stews.
Although countries of the Arab world share many dishes, there are also regional and national specialties. Ful medames, a dish of brown beans flavored with garlic, oil and lemon juice, is served at breakfast, lunch and supper in many Arab homes.
Let’s stop a moment and find out what was different about Arab cuisine, as compared with European or Far Eastern lifestyles and their foods. Islam originated among nomadic peoples, the Bedouin, of the deserts of Arabia. There were (and still are) endless drifts of sand with very little water or vegetation — completely different from the agriculturally fertile regions. There was no state — only tribal leaders or sheiks.