If you seek to savor something different, a meal not usually on the menu but at the same time, not too extreme – what would you be willing to try? Middle Eastern cuisine is among the most varied in the world, and arguably among the most delicious. The variety of the ingredients utilized, in addition to the frequent and generous addition of spices renders Middle astern dishes quite unique. The content of the cuisine is largely determined by the geographical location of each country. Therefore, dishes consumed in Algeria may differ from those consumed in Syria or Yemen. Countries close in proximity have similar cuisines, and many of these dishes are consumed in several Middle Eastern homes. Furthermore, mealtimes are an important part of Middle Eastern traditions, and guests are always welcome and expected to join a household during a meal. Below are five Middle Eastern dishes for the strong of heart.
Ras Neefa (Lamb’s Head)
Lamb head is what it sounds like – quite literally a head of lamb that is stripped to the meat and boiled with onions, spices, and lemon rinds. This dish is not for the squeamish, and unless you have no qualms eating the head of a lamb staring right back at you with its (delicious) eye, it’s worth the experience. The taste is likened to that of fresh pistachios, and depending on the part of the head consumed, the meat is either very lean or very fatty. The head is prized for the consistency of the meat; it cuts clean and is never chewy. It is accompanied with bread and dakka, a mix of salt and spices specifically eaten with this dish. Ras neefa is not an everyday meal, and is mostly consumed by older generations.
Shankleesh (Fermented Cheese Balls)
Shankleesh is a staple dish in Lebanese and Syrian homes, and is typically enjoyed throughout the year. It comes in a variety of textures, and ranges from soft, plain, and creamy with a mild aroma, to hard and aged with an especially sharp, pungent smell. It can be rolled in thyme or pepper flakes, and is eaten with bread and olive oil. Shankleesh has a quite pungent and discernible odor, and although it is delicious, its aroma is usually likened to the smell of sweaty feet.
Shorbat El Karaeen (Sheep Shank soup)
Sheep shanks are the signature dish of winter cooking in the Arabic home. Sheep shank soup is touted as a hearty alternative to chicken noodle soup, and involves thorough cleaning, copious amounts of spices, and a vigilant cook to ensure that the dish is prepared correctly. The ingredients include carrots, chickpeas, bay leaves, onions, lemon juice, and cinnamon, and although it does not seem to be visually appealing, and tastes a bit crunchy due to the cartilage, it is considered to be a very healthy dish, and similarly to Ras Neefa, is declining in popularity with younger generations.
Fiseekh is an aged, salted mullet, a popular dish consumed in Egypt for thousands of years. Popular during cultural celebrations, Fiseekh’s trademark is its very strong smell, likened to that of rotting garbage. An acquired taste, Fiseekh is made by catching the fish and only cleaning them from the outside. They are then packed in salt and placed in wooden barrels for over a month, allowing them to dry. The process does not remove the innards, and there have been several deaths due to poisoning by Fiseekh consumption. In fact, the Egyptian government does not condone its consumption, but the dish, passed down by the ancient Egyptians nearly 7,000 years ago, remains widely consumed.
Fawaregh (Stuffed Sheep Intestines)
Sheep intestines are notoriously resilient, and this makes them an excellent encasing for stuffing. Sheep intestines require a significant amount of thorough cleaning for obvious reasons; and the preparation process is rigorous. If not cleaned properly, they smit an unpleasant smell. The intestines are cleaned until they become almost transparent. Aside, a mixture of rice, ground meat, chickpeas, and spices is prepared as the stuffing. After they are stuffed, the sausages are then literally sewed together and boiled in spiced water with halved onions. Finally, the sausages are placed in an oven or cooked over a skillet in butter, and are served in their broth. Due to its rigorous process, this dish is not made often, but it is a well-loved favorite.02