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Mediterranean mosaic

Middle Eastern food stands for fresh ingredients, astringent and piquant spices, olive oil, and some meat and the food is almost guaranteed to be delicious and fulfilling.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2011 01:08 IST
Rupali Dean

One of the delights of the Middle Eastern food is its diversity. Whatever the country, the cuisine may vary, the common point is; fresh ingredients, astringent and piquant spices, olive oil, and some meat and trust me the food is almost guaranteed to be delicious and fulfilling.

Souk stroll
A stroll through the Souk in Aqaba in Egypt intoxicated me with the myriad of colours, mesmerising aromas of spices like Zattar, which normally consists of dried thyme, sesame seeds and salt, and Sumac, which is deliciously lemony and tangy. I loved the fragrance of mint which is used in flavouring the tea. Being a foodie, I tasted everything, running the gamut from freshly baked bread, grilled meats to delicious sweets. And also if you have ever visited the touristy Egyptian Bazaar in Istanbul, you will know what I mean. The aroma of food wafting through adds a unique touch.

Traditions
Though the Middle East is very modern in nature, meals are not served in courses like in the West. There is a splendid array of appetisers to be enjoyed throughout the Mediterranean, known as Mezzeh, which are the inexhaustible and highly flavoured range of irresistible nibbles served as either appetisers or as a meal itself. Hummus, rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves, mashed beans, hot and cold salads, grilled seafood and meats and pickled vegetables being the most popular. The other accompaniments like the Kebabs and Bread are usually brought together with the Mezzeh on the table from which you can help yourself with your hands, sort of a community style eating. Later of course, you can wash your fingers in orange flower oil warm water. In a few places, Islamic laws are against having alcohol with the meals, so the locals enjoy water, light teas, a lemon mint refresher or Carcade, a yummy sweet and sour drink made from tangy flowers.

Interesting utensils
Tadjine is a glazed terracotta Maghreb cooker, which consists of a large diameter and thick low base with a conical lid. Another utensil I found interesting was Keskes, a metal double cooker, where the meat or vegetables are cooked in a broth below and the
couscous is steamed in a covered basket which fits firmly on top.

Top 5 Indian favourites from The Middle East
Egypt - Falafel and Samak Kebabs
Jordan - Shawarma, Hummus and Khubz Bread.
Turkey - Tasty Kebab & Baklava
Lebanon - Grilled Chicken, Kibbeh, Tabouleh and Pita Bread
Morocco - Couscous and Tagine

Some interesting names
Eggplant salad - Zaalouk
Aubergine with garlic and olive oil - Moutabel or Babaganouj
Barley pudding- Balila
Sesame - Tahina
Coconut cake - Basboussa
Lamb with apricots - Khabli Palau
Fava bean croquettes - Falafel
The priest fainted - Imam Bayildi
Semolina cakes - Ghoriba
Pistachio cakes - Baklava