The Syria of today offers tourists as much a cultural experience as a sightseeing one, where ancient history provides a fascinating backdrop to everyday life on the streets                          

 


A B C Arabic Cuisine

Arabic cuisine has its roots in tent cookery. Nomadic tribes could use only transportable foods such as rice and dates, or ambulatory stock like sheep and camels in their recipes - which tended to be rough sketches rather than strict formulae.

As the caravans journeyed throughout the Middle East, new seasonings and vegetables were discovered and added to the existing repertoire. Each new discovery was incorporated into the diet in quantities palatable to a particular tribe - a fact that many cooks believe is responsible for the anomalies found in some Arabic dishes today.

The nomadic Bedouin influence is broadened by other cuisines from the Arab world, notably from Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, resulting in a highly diverse food and drink culture.

Lebanese contributions have been the greatest influence on modern Middle Eastern cuisine, in no small part due to the entrepreneurship of the Lebanese that has helped to spread Arabic cuisine throughout the world from its centre in the Levant in such areas as Aleppo, Damascus, Beirut and Nablus. Lebanese culinary influence and business skills provide the framework for the exotic cuisine recognised internationally as Arabic.

Hospitality in the Arab world is second to none, and nowhere is it better expressed than in the age-old custom of serving freshly-brewed coffee or mint tea to every guest, whether the gathering be business or social.

The foreigner who takes time to learn and experiment with this excellent cuisine will be immediately won over and rewarded with many wonderful surprises. Arabic food can rival any international gastronomy for originality and good taste, and, because it basically comprises simple, natural and easily digested foodstuffs, it ranks high in nutritional value with today's fitness-conscious society.

Glossary of Arabic Cuisine

Arabic Bread (Khubz Arabi, pita)

Flat, round bread, which can be easily split to make a sandwich, or broken apart and used as a utensil for scooping food

Arayess

Deep-fried lamb sandwich

 
Ataif (gatayef, kataif)

Small pancakes stuffed with nuts or cheese and doused with syrup

 
Baba Ghanoush

Char-grilled eggplant, tahina, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic purée - served as a dip

 
Baharat (bjar)

Arabic mixed spices

 
Bamia

Baby okra and lamb in tomato stew

 
Baklawa (baklava)

Dessert of layered pastry filled with nuts and steeped in honey-lemon syrup - usually cut into triangular or diamond shapes

 
Basboosa

Semolina tart soaked with syrup

 
Bukhari Rice

Lamb and rice stir-fried with onion, lemon, carrot and tomato paste

 
Burghul (bulghur wheat, bulgar)

Parboiled and dried wheat kernels processed into grain, used in tabbouleh and mixed with lamb in kibbeh

 
Cardamom

Aromatic spice, member of the ginger family, used to flavour Arabic coffee, yoghurt and stews

 
Coriander (cilantro)

Lacy, green-leaf relative of the parsley family with an extremely pungent flavour akin to a combination of lemon, sage and caraway.

 
Ejje

Arabic omelette

 
Falafel

Small deep-fried patties made of highly-spiced ground chick-peas

 
Fatayer

Pastry pockets filled with spinach, meat or cheese

 
Fattoush

Salad of toasted croutons, cucumbers, tomatoes and mint

 
Foul (ful)

Slow-cooked mash of brown beans and red lentils, dressed with lemon, olive oil and cumin

 
Gahwa (kahwa)

Coffee

 
Haleeb

Milk

 
Halwa (halva)

Sesame paste sweet, usually made in a slab and studded with fruit and nuts

 
Hamour

Red Sea fish of the grouper family

 
Hommus

Purée of chickpeas, tahina, lemon and garlic - served as a dip with Arabic bread

 
Jarish

Crushed wheat and yoghurt casserole

 
Jebne

White cheese

 
Kabsa

Classic Arabian dish of meat mixed with rice

 
Kebab

Skewered chunks of meat or fish cooked over charcoal

 
Kamareddine

Apricot nectar used to break fast during Ramadan

 
Khubz Marcook

Thin, dome-shaped Arabic bread

 
Kunafi (kunafah)

Shoelace pastry dessert stuffed with sweet white cheese, nuts and syrup

 
Kibbeh (kibbe)

Oval-shaped nuggets of ground lamb and burghul

 
Kibbeh Naye

Raw kibbeh, eaten like steak tartar

 
Koshary

Cooked dish of pasta, rice and lentils to which, onions, chillis and tomato paste are added

Kouzi

Whole lamb baked over rice so that rice absorbs the juice of the meat

 
Kufta (kofta)

Fingers, balls or a flat cake of minced meat and spices that can be baked or charcoal-grilled on skewers

 
Laban

Tangy-tasting sour milk drink widely used in cooking as a substitute for milk

 
Labenah

Thick creamy cheese, often spiced and used as a dip

 
Lahma Bi Ajeen

Arabic pizza

 
Loubia (fassulya)

Green beans cooked in tomato sauce

 
Ma'amul

Date cookies shaped in a wooden mould called a tabi

 
Makloubeh

Meat or fish with rice, broad beans and cauliflower

 
Mai

Water

 
Mantou

Dumplings stuffed with minced lamb

 
Markok

Lamb and pumpkin stew

 
Mehshi

Means stuffed - aubergines, courgettes, vine leaves or cabbage may be stuffed with a mixture of minced meat, rice and onions

 
Melokhiyyah

Green, spinach-like vegetable

 
Mezze (mezza, meze, mezzah)

The Arabic word for appetiser

 
Mish mish

Apricots

 
Mouhammara

Mixture of ground nuts, olive oil, cumin and chillis, eaten with Arabic bread

 
Moutabel

Eggplant dip made with tahina, olive oil and lemon juice

 
Mubassal

Onion pancakes

 
Muhalabiyyah

Silky textured semolina pudding served cold

 
Musakhan

Chicken casserole with sumac

Mutabak

Sweet or savoury pastry turnovers usually stuffed with cheese, banana or meat

 
Najil

Saddle-back grouper

 
Rocca

Aromatic salad green with a peppery mustard flavor, used in salads or mixed with hot yoghurt

 
Sambusek

Triangular pies filled with meat, cheese or spinach

 
Sayyadiya

Delicately-spiced fish dish served on a bed of rice

 
Seleek

Lamb and rice dish where the rice is cooked in milk rather than the juice of the meat

Shai (chai)

Tea

 
Shaour

Red Sea fish from the emperor family

 
Shawerma

A cone of pressed lamb, chicken or beef roasted on a vertical spit where the meat is shaved off from the outside as the spit keeps turning. Saudi Arabia's most popular sandwich is Arabic bread filled with shawerma meat, salad, hot sauce and tahina

 
Sheesha (hubbly bubbly)

Pipe for smoking tobacco leaves or dried fruit through a water filter

 
Shish Taouk

Skewered chicken pieces cooked over charcoal

 
Shourba

Soup

 
Snober

Pine nuts

 
Sukkar

Sugar

 
Sumac

Ground powder from the cashew family, used as a seasoning

 
Tabbouleh

Salad of burghul, tomato, mint and parsley

 
Taklia

Spice consisting of ground coriander and garlic

 
Tahina

An oily paste made from ground sesame seeds, used in hommus, moutabel and baba ghanoush

 
Tamr

Dates

 
Taratour

A thick mayonnaise of puréed pine nuts, garlic and lemon, used as a sauce or dip

 
Um Ali

'Ali's mother' is a pastry pudding with raisins and coconut steeped in milk

 
Warak Enab (warak dawali)

Stuffed vine leaves

 
Yansoon

Hot spiced tea, used for medicinal purposes

 
Zatoon

Olives

 
Zattar

Blend of spices including thyme, marjoram, sumac and salt

 
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