Top 5 Fun Foods in the Arab World
By: Joyce Behrens/Arab America Contributing Writer
Fun foods can mean several different things. It can be foods that don’t involve a lot of elaborate cooking, comfort foods that are made from either your home kitchen or street vendors, or delightful tastes and textures. These are the qualities that best describe the term “fun foods.” We’ll look at the top five fun foods from the Arab world. This list goes from hot and fulfilling cuisine to sweet and delicious pastries. The criteria are based on non-heavy cooking; these are quick go-to foods that are popular in Arab culture.
1. Manakeesh, A Lebanese Pizza
Manakeesh, or Manakish, is known as a Lebanese pizza. This is a popular specialty that is considered street food. Manakeesh starts with freshly made dough, topped with either za’atar mixture, cheese, or minced meat. Based on how you roll the dough, it is important to have the right consistency. If the dough is rolled out very flat and thin, then the finished product will not be delicious. The reason for that is that thin, hot cooked breading dries out quickly, becoming crunch-like. This wouldn’t be the best texture for the manakeeseh. The perfect consistency of dough is when there is a quarter-inch of fluffiness on the inside.
Then, it’s cooked in the oven. It is served either as a whole circle or folded in half. In the mornings, the zaatar manakeesh is usually served for breakfast. Zaatar is known for improving your concentration as well as your memory, which is a great start for the day. Cheese and meat manakeesh can be served for lunch, dinner, and even as a late-night snack.
2. Shawarma, an Arab Gyro
Now, the shawarma is different from the Greek Gyro in terms of flavors. This is basically the Arab world’s version of fast food. Shawarma rotates slowly on a heated spit. Small pieces of meat (whether beef or chicken) are shaved off from the spit. If you choose beef, then have the beef cooked to well-done on the spit. It can be served by itself, but the best way to eat shawarma is stuffed inside pita bread. Also inside are tomatoes, lettuce, onions, pickled turnips, and French fries. Yes, French fries can be added to the inside of a shawarma, not as a side dish. A rich bite of charred meat mixed with chopped vegetables is finished with a light drizzle of tahini sauce on top.
3. Falafel, Chickpea Fritters
Falafel is a common snack that cannot be forgotten in Arab cuisine. It is a great appetizer paired with tabbouleh or hummus. Also, a nice component to a mezze platter. When you bite into it, it has golden, fried crust on the outside, but the inside is nice and fluffy. The best way to describe the flavor is nutty with a slight earthiness to these small fritters. Chickpeas are the main ingredient for both structure and flavor. Falafel also includes parsley for freshness.
4. Shish Tawook, Chicken Skewers
An easy and delicious chicken meal. This is the perfect meal to enjoy on a relaxing day with family and friends. The preparation for this food is typically made on the grill outside. It’s comprised of cubed cuts of chicken, marinated in garlic, yogurt, and lemon juice. Spices added to the marinate will bring another element in the chicken.
When the flavor is soaked in the chicken, you can start inserting skewers. Usually, four to five pieces of chicken per skewer. It is also paired with sliced bell peppers and onions (either white or red). Once the shish tawook prep is done, just place the skewers on the hot grill. The cook time can be between ten to eighteen minutes. When you are ready to eat, some garlic sauce on the side will add another flavor with the spiced shish tawook.
5. Knafeh, Arab Cheesecake
Also known as Kunafa. Knafeh is like a cross between cheesecake and pudding, but the texture is denser. This dish is very popular throughout the Arab world. Most countries, such as have put their own spin on this well-known dessert, such as Egypt and Syria. The foundation of knafeh is a semolina dough base, which is naturally sweet. You then add rosewater syrup for some extra sweetness and flavor. It’s not a complete dish until you add the rosewater. To accompany your knafeh, add chopped pistachios for some crunch.
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