Asia is a large continent that houses a large number of countries that offer a wildly diverse spread of food. So, it has been divided into somewhat similar regions and West Asia is one of them.
The countries in West Asia consist of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Territories, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, UAE, and Yemen. So, in a way this is the whole of Near East and the Middle East barring Egypt.
Now, as far as the cuisine is concerned, there cuisine is known for its earthy flavors and the lip smacking preparations like shawarma and kebabs that are relished by people across the globe.
West Asian Cuisine Facts & History
• It is one of the oldest cuisines in the World and is as rich as the heritage behind it.
• The cuisine is heavily influenced by European and South Asian Cuisines because of this being a budy trade route.
• With Arabic being a more or less common language, you will find Arabic names for most of the dishes.
• There are differences in the region with regards to the ingredients they use. While the Iraqi, Persian, and Gulf countries use a lot of meat, rice and Indian spices in their food, the Mediterranean cuisine uses huge amounts of grains, pulses, nuts, fresh herbs, and citrus fruits.
• Contrary to popular belief, West Asian food is actually healthy with most of it being baked, grilled and cooked in olive oil.
• West Asian cooking is more instinctive, whether it is with the measure of the spices or the cuts of meats or vegetables.
• Coffee and sweet pastries are also very prevalent in this region
West Asian Cuisine Menu
The breakfast items in the West Asian cuisine are varied and delectable.
One of the most popular pastry items in region is Fatayeh Jebner or Arabic cheese pies. You can easily find them in local bakeries, school cafeterias or neighborhood cafes. They make for a good breakfast item as much as they are a good evening snack. The pastry dough is filled with any salty cheese with the most commonly used are akkawi, kashkaval, and cheddar. Nigella seeds, cilantro, mint, or any other flavoring may be added to add another layer of flavor.
A very popular breakfast in West Asia, Shakshuka is as simple as it is tasty. It is an egg dish that is eaten with bread and is made by cooking eggs in a rich tomato sauce.
Kibbeh Meat Pie
A Lebanese delicacy, this one uses extra lean ground sirloin, along with pine nuts, cinnamon, lean lamb or beef, and black pepper. This can be stored for days and warmed up whenever needed.
This is a stuffed pancake that is very popular breakfast item in Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
No trip to the Republic of Georgia is complete without eating this freshly prepared cheese filled breakfast staple.
This is a Persian dish that cannot be found easily outside of West Asia. This is essentially a meat stew with lots of okra added to it. The recipe uses a lot of tomatoes and lemon juice. It is easy to make and is a true delight.
This Arabic delicacy can be made from anything from chicken, to goat, to fish. It uses eggs, tomatoes, long grain rice and baharat spice among other things. It is garnished with pine nuts and herbs before serving.
This is a Syrian fish dish. A seared piece of fish is served with spiced rice and caramelized onions.
Fesenjan Ba Ordak
A rare combination of duck and pomegranate seeds along with walnuts, this is a Persian delicacy that can only be found in homes.
This is the most popular dish in Azerbaijan and can be made with mutton, dried fruits, or any other ingredient combined with rice.
Koftas and Kebabs
Spiced meat is eaten throughout West Asia in different form. It can be minced to form meatballs or koftas or grilled on low heat to make kebabs.
These are delectable Lebanese meat pies that can be eaten at any time of the day, but make for a great tea time snack. This is a pastry dough that is filled with mince beef and spices like cinnamon, cardamom, Tahini, mint, labaneh, and so on.
This is not only a favorite in the West Asian region, but all across the world. It basically contains fried chickpeas, pita bread, hummus, salad and tahini sauce. They are a readily available hand held snack that is available at every corner.
Shawarma Sandwich/ Turkish Doner Kebab
This is another sandwich that has made its name across the globe. Shwarma is basically grilled meat basted in its own fat for long hours that is served in a bread with sauce. It is generally made with lamb, but they can be made with chicken as well.
This can be easily called the national dish of Bahrain. It is basically rice topped with any kind of meat or even tomato sauce.
Green Almond Stew
You can find this this dish prepared in home across Jordan and in some parts of Turkey as well. The exotic dish uses green almond and minced lamb meat, but it can be substituted with any other meat of choice.
There is no strict distinction between dishes for lunch and dinner and they can be eaten interchangeably.
Desserts of West Asia are one of the richest and most sinful desserts you will ever find. During Ramadan, there is an abundance of desserts of all shapes, sizes and sugar content. The most famous one include:
Baklava is not just one dessert, but it can be made in many ways and each country in West Asia has a version of their own. The most popular of them all is the Turkish baklava that is made out of filo pastry sheets, butter, sugar, and pistachios or walnuts.
To the uninitiated, Maamoul can be best described as a stuffed cookie. This is made from semolina, potato starch, butter, cinnamon, walnuts, pistachios and of course, sugar. Special molds are used to give maamoul its signature shape.
This is a popular family of confections that uses dates, hazelnuts, pistachios, and varied ingredients that are held together by gel of starch.
Made from semolina, sugar, pine nuts and turmeric, this cake-like dessert is a very popular item in Lebanon and other parts of West Asia.
This is a milk pudding, variants of which can be found throughout West Asia
Turkish coffee/ Syrian Coffee
It has to be one of the most well-known beverages found in the region. It is dark roasted and ground really fine. It is sometimes flavored with cardamom and sugar is served on the side. It is consumed like espresso in small cups.
It is a hugely popular drink in the region and is consumed after almost every meal. Samovars can be easily found in Persian households that are used to boil water to steep tea.
A popular Iranian refresher, it is made from lemon and mint leaves.
This is another Persian drink that is made from sour cherries of the same name.
The holiday menu is also pretty similar to the regular menu in West Asia. There are a lot of desserts and meat dishes. Some of them are:
Dolma is Stuffed Grape Leaves. Minced meat or vegetables are mixed with spices and rice and then rolled in grape leaves. An exotic dish, this one is a Syrian and Iranian favorite.
An Armenian delight, which is made with eggs, sour cream, sugar and lots of butter. This is very close to a baklava and can be found in any Armenian celebration. Of course, there is one or the other version of Baklava that can be found in any West Asian holiday menu.
This can be best described as an omelet made with herbs and is served with bread, rice or yogurt. This is part of Nawroz or the Persian New Year menu.
Most Popular Dishes
Shwarma, falafel and kebabs have to be the most popular dishes from the region. The choice of meat is lamb, but they can be made from beef or chicken as well. Breads like pita have become hugely popular in the world as well as have the side dishes from the region. These include hummus, baba ghannoush, and taboulleh.
Most Used Ingredients
• The most used ingredients in Wes Asian cuisine include:
• Meats – it can be lamb, beef, chicken or fish
• Spices – Cardamom, cinnamon, and other warm spices
• Olive Oil
Traveling Foodie – What to eat when you travel to West Asia
If you get a chance to travel to the West Asia region, you have to try:
• Kebabs – any and all kinds
• Local cheeses and breads (differ from country to country)
Are you from West Asia? Maybe you visited there? Please feel free to comment and add your own thoughts on West Asian ethnic food.