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Feast from the Middle East: The Basics

In hummus, baba ghanoush, and lebni I trust. Photo taken during Margaux’s trip to the Middle East, December 2013.

Margaux Anbouba has spent a lifetime of summers living in Syria and traveling the Middle East. She’s tried almost everything that Arabic food has to offer – including the Middle Eastern versions of Kentucky Fried Chicken, something that claimed to be “Chinese food,” and one hundred and one types of hummus. When she once asked her dad if she had eaten camel before, he laughed and pleaded the fifth. 

For my sixteenth birthday, my parents threw me a Middle Eastern-themed party at a popular Dallas Arabic eatery. To my surprise, most of my friends knew little about the culture I had grown up in—especially when it came to the food (of course, they knew all about belly dancers though). Eight years later, not too much has changed.

“So what exactly does this entail?” a friend recently asked me after I invited her to dine on Arabic food. “It’s pretty easy,” I responded. “All we need is to don our togas, find a sacrificial goat to slaughter, cover ourselves with blood, and get ready for dinner time.”

Jokes aside, it’s time for the Middle Eastern food superstars of Dallas to bask in the limelight. I’ll be hitting the pavement in my stretchy pants, trying out all the baba ghanoush, kibbeh, and other Arabic delicacies that I can find. But first up, it’s time for a little education. There are a few Arabic staples, defined below, that I’ll be looking for in the restaurants I judge.

Baba ghanoush: I have dreams about this dip. Colloquially known as eggplant dip, it’s made from a charred eggplant, olive oil, tahini sauce, and some lemon.

Grape leaves: Take rice, spices, onions, and (sometimes) meat, stuff into a grape leaf, and steam. One of the more difficult Arabic dishes to make, a lot of restaurants serve canned grape leaves to patrons. These can be spotted because they are short and very wide — and are typically covered in some sort of weird slime.

Hummus: Do you live under a rock? No? Okay, so you probably know what hummus is then.

Kibbeh: My favorite dish, Kibbeh is the national dish of Syria and can be served raw, fried, or baked. It’s made with bulghur (cracked wheat), onions, pine nuts, and some sort of meat (beef or lamb typically). When fried it’s similar to a croquette, when baked it’s like a lasagna, and when raw (which I’ve never seen in the US) it’s like a tartar.

Lebni: The Middle Eastern version of yogurt, this rounds out the holy trinity of Arabic dips (in baba ghanoush, hummus, and lebni I trust). It’s similar to Greek yogurt, with a thicker, sourer taste, and can be made with either cow or goat milk.

Rice: The standard side to any Arabic meal, there are a variety of rices across the Middle East. Typically, white rice with vermicelli noodles is served.

Sish Taouk: Chicken kabobs with veggies. It’s as easy as that.

Bonus: Here’s a gratuitous camel photo from 2008, taken in one of my tourist spots, Palmyra.


Where are your favorite Arabic spots in DFW?

  • DemigodH

    Hands down Dean’s Afghani and Persian cuisine at 75 and Belt Line. Best hummus in town (followed by Sultan Cafe) and have the addition of Persian food like gormeh sabzi and more.

  • SoukieSue

    I love this…great picture too. I look forward to hearing about your food discoveries. I’m intimidated by these kinds of restaurants.

  • Gipson

    I believe Ali Baba in Richardson serves raw kibbeh at dinner, but I’ve never ordered it.

    This is also my favorite Lebanese joint. I actually prefer their lunch buffet, which lets me overeat on a little bit of everything: hummus, fried cauliflower, gyro, zatar bread, falafel, baked kibbeh, chickpea stew, kafta … the list goes on. I know people who swear by their dinner entrees only, but I actually think the buffet quality is just as good, so I choose that for the variety.

  • Gipson

    Edit: should have added that the one thing really missing from their buffet is their chicken shwarma, which is fabulous and only available at dinner.

  • plm

    I really love the baba ganoush @ Baboush. Haven’t tried a lot, but I crave this one.

  • Margaux Anbouba

    Gipson – Ali Baba is where I had my birthday party! I spent my childhood chowing down at the Lower Greenville (original) location!

  • twinwillow

    I enjoyed Dean’s but my favorite is still Afrah. I used go to Ali Baba when they first opened years ago on lower Greenville Avenue. Their roast chicken was incredible! I’m also eager to try Nora.

  • NotJosephB

    Ok so the author knows her Arabic foods. Bra. Vo. More important question: can she catch? Discount Double Check wants to know.

  • allison

    I really loved the place that was there before Dean’s (Tovi), and haven’t had a chance to check out Dean’s yet. Now I will. Is it still buffet like the previous two tenants?

  • FoodieFun

    Let’s not forget G&G Sevan on Greenville Ave! Incredible hand-chopped tabolueh, baba ghanoush with a delectable smokey flavor, BYOB and no cork fee. They are the real deal and I am hungry just writing about them.

  • carly

    Andalous on MacArthur in Las Colinas is FABULOUS! Everything is homemade, good, quality ingredients. Really great food!

  • Carol Shih

    I have dreams about that buffet.

  • Lissa

    The best mid-eastern food is always at my friend’s house. She cooks wonderful Iranian food which includes the crunchy rice at the bottom of the rice pot. You have to be lucky enough to have friends from everywhere!