Finding the ‘Middle Eastern’ ground

Shakshoukas, baklavas, falafels, and basboussa — say marhaba to some interesting dishes in Middle Eastern fare
Updated on Jul 16, 2019 06:37 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRuella Philips

Strap: Shakshoukas, baklavas, falafels, and basboussa — say marhaba to some interesting dishes in Middle Eastern fare

As a country that was ruled by Middle Eastern kingdoms, we have disappointingly minimal knowledge of their culinary treasure. More often than not, we end up confusing Mughlai food, which is an amalgamation of North Indian and Persian, with Middle Eastern. But Middle Eastern fare is so much more than biryani, shawrmas and kebabs.

Anshuman Bali, executive chef, JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai, explains, “There is a vast difference between both cuisines, though the origins would be same. Mughlai cuisine evolved within historic India when Mughal invaders came. They brought in their food, raw materials, spices, cooking techniques and eating habits and with the influence of Indian cuisine, that was prevalent that time, it gave birth to Mughlai food.”

Kanafeh Baklava at JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai.
Kanafeh Baklava at JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai.

Elaborating some more on the difference, Mufiz Rakhangi, director, Maffy’s Pan Arabian Bistro, Colaba, says, “Mughlai cuisine has a lot of curries, spices, charcoal cooking, cooking mostly done in ghee, Butter, tandoor, and mostly heavy meals. Whereas, Middle Eastern cuisine is light, uses olive oil, more of grilling, steaming, mild spices, cold plates or mezze, has saffron, dates and fruits.”

With a host of restaurants that exclusively serve authentic Middle Eastern fare such as Bayroute, Maffy’s and Beirut, to name a few, opening in the city over the last couple of months, we wonder what created the buzz and why the cuisine has garnered such popularity in a short span of time. “People are well-travelled and are visiting different countries exploring new traditions, cultures and cuisines. So, they are more open to experiment and understand foreign cuisines. Also, awareness about culinary ingredients, foreign cuisines has increased due to travel, food shows, food exhibitions, etc. Restaurateurs also want to explore and experiment with different cuisines,” says Rakhangi.

Lamb Tagine at JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai
Lamb Tagine at JW Marriott Sahar Mumbai

Some specific qualities that distinguish Middle Eastern cuisines from others include the skilful combination of sweet and sour ingredients, and the liberal use of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, peppercorns, tamarind, ginger, turmeric, chilies, and allspice.

Their manner of serving food is unlike the usual way that we are used to. Middle Eastern meals are not served in courses. A mezze, an inexhaustible platter of highly flavoured range of irresistible nibbles served as either appetisers or as a meal itself, is served. 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.

Vegetarian options galore

One might assume that this cuisine might not have much options for vegetarians. But taht is not the case in reality. Arjun Raj Kher, brand head at Bayroute, highlights this aspect, he says, “The primary food from the Middle East is vegetarian in its base. Biggest example is the entire cold mezze range and of course hummus and falafel. These are all favourites and they are vegetarian. There is by no means a shortage of vegetarian food in this region. To name a few, we have koshari from Egypt, moussaka from Greece, tagine from Morocco, hummus and falafel from Lebanon and gozleme from Turkey. It is just a little hard to understand the names of dishes but once you know the name, you will never forget them. Middle Eastern Cuisines are not just for the meat eaters, in fact is more loved by the vegetarians!”

In house arabian breads at Maffy’s
In house arabian breads at Maffy’s

Tantalise your taste buds with some different flavours. If you’re in the mood to try something new, head to any of these restaurants in the city that serve a vast array of Middle Eastern food:

Bayroute, Cuff Parade and Juhu

Maffy’s, Colaba

Beirut, Versova, Andheri West

Shaku Maku, Bandra West

Mabruk, Sahara Star, Santacruz East

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Wednesday, January 19, 2022