The Middle East refers to an area of land surrounding the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, spanning Europe, Asia, and parts of Northern Africa. This part of the world is often left untouched by travelers in favor of more touristy areas like Western Europe and Southeast Asia. However, it’s clear that foodies should flock to the Middle East, specifically these 10 cities, for some of the best cuisines in the world.
10 Jerusalem, Israel
As the capital of Israel, Jerusalem is home to incredible history and important religious sites for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The abundance of top-notch restaurants and cuisine options is not necessarily immediately apparent in this beautiful Middle Eastern city. Jerusalem is a foodie’s paradise with countless hummus dishes, falafel, shawarma, and sabich (Israeli sandwich on a pita) to try. For fine dining, travelers can’t miss Machneyuda, which is widely regarded as the place to eat in the Holy City.
9 Beirut, Lebanon
Beirut is the capital of Lebanon and is a beautiful city with a rich history, but beyond the beautiful architecture is a trendy art and café scene that appeals to a younger crowd. Lebanese cuisine centers around whole grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood, and lean white meats, like poultry. Lebanese food incorporates fresh herbs and spices, and when red meat is used, it’s typically goat or lamb. Falafel, hummus, shawarma, fattoush (a fried bread salad), and tabbouleh (a bulgar salad) are the top dishes to try in Lebanon for an authentic taste of the local cuisine.
8 Amman, Jordan
Jordanian cuisine features many small mezze dishes making up a meal along with larger dishes that are rice and meat-based. It’s common for Jordanian meals to be served with yogurt, and everything, including the rice, is seasoned to perfection with mouthwatering herbs. Food lovers will thrive in Jordan, starting the day right with a traditional Jordanian breakfast, including pita bread, za'atar, oil, yogurt, jam, and cheese.
7 Istanbul, Turkey
Turkey is the place to be this summer for travelers, but especially for foodies who can eat as much as their stomachs can handle here where prices are low, and food is abundant. Taking a food tour led by a local while visiting Istanbul, the country’s capital, is a bucket-list-worthy experience that is sure to satisfy your taste buds and broaden your horizons. A traditional Turkish breakfast is an impressive spread of olives, cucumbers, eggs, fresh cheeses, tomatoes, bread, jams, honey, sweet butter, and more. Other dishes to try while in Istanbul include Köfte (Turkish meatballs), manti (dumplings), and Doner.
6 Muscat, Oman
Oman is an up-and-coming destination in the Middle East, attracting travelers to its capital and beyond. Omani meals typically look like curry with rice, meat, and vegetables, or in many cases, a soup. The food is savory and rich in flavor and seasoning. Travelers must try Shuwa, the national dish, a slow-cooked marinated goat or lamb dish seasoned with spices and served on rice. For a dessert or a sweet snack, try the local combination of dates and coffee.
5 Erbil, Iraq
Iraq doesn’t have a popular reputation in the travel world, but the city of Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan and is starting to gain traction as a desirable destination in the Middle East. When visiting Iraqi Kurdistan, travelers should try the national dish of Iraq, Masgouf, which is a type of barbecued fish. Iraqi dolma is also a delicacy to try here, a local take on the dolmas dish that is popular in many countries throughout the Middle East. Meat lovers should try Iraqi Kebab and Quzi, which is a roasted lamb dish. Erbil is known as the culinary capital of the region because of its unique fusion of Arabic and Kurdish flavors and recipes.
4 Dubai, UAE
Dubai is a futuristic city in the United Arab Emirates that is known for its vibrant nightlife and ultra-modern architecture. Skyscrapers and luxury gold finishes may come to mind when picturing this destination, but it’s worth visiting for the food alone. Luqaimat (sweet dumplings), Knafeh (sweet cheese pastry), and camel meat are top national dishes. Samboosa (savory fried triangles) is another must-try, and for a sweet meal, sample chebab, which are Emirati pancakes.
3 Tunis, Tunisia
Parts of North Africa are often considered to be part of the Middle East, and Tunisia is worth mentioning when discussing the top food destinations in the region. Tunis, the capital city, has plenty of restaurants to explore, serving couscous (a popular local dish) and masfouf, the sweet version of couscous. Other top Tunisian dishes are Omek Houria (a spicy carrot salad) and shakshouka, an egg and tomato dish with Harissa spices.
2 Cairo, Egypt
Cairo is the expansive capital city of Egypt, set on the infamous Nile River. As a massive Egyptian city, there is no shortage of local restaurants to try and dishes to sample when visiting. Foodies traveling to Cairo should put Ful wa Ta'meya (Egyptian falafel), Hamam Mahshi (stuffed squad), and Fiteer Baladi (Egyptian flatbread) at the top of their list. Don’t forget the national dish, Kushari, which is often served as street food. It combines pasta, rice, and brown lentils with zesty tomato sauce and vinegar.
1 Doha, Qatar
Doha, Qatar’s capital, is located on the Persian Gulf and has a unique local cuisine that is influenced by Northern Africa, India, and Bedouin culture. This combination results in a delicious blend of spices and slow-cooked recipes that are hearty, flavorful, and satisfying. Machboos, sometimes called kabsa, is a popular Qatari dish featuring spiced chicken leg on rice. Travelers who crave the combination of sweet and savory will want to try balaleet while in Doha. This dish consists of sweetened vermicelli noodles with rose water, saffron, and cardamom, topped with a fried egg or omelets.