Why not? Do you remember the first time you tried TexMex, Indian or Thai? The initial apprehension is usually quickly overcome. Start with something that sounds familiar maybe something like a Kebab (which is usually minced lamb cooked on a skewer over a charcoal fire) which is probably not too far from the food you are already used to.
Read the menu carefully and ask the server questions if you are not sure, most servers are knowledgeable about the menu and are happy to discuss the details.
In general Middle Eastern food is based on a palette of herbs and spices, primarily cumin, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, mint and parsley. There are obviously regional variations in the herbs and spices depending upon what is locally available but as far as meat is concerned the Islamic bar on pork means that it is unlikely to see any pork based food in either the middle east or in restaurants in the west.
Wide spread use is made of lamb and mutton usually prepared on skewers and cooked over charcoal like the typical Egyptian food mentioned earlier, the kebab.
If you are still not sure, think about Hummus, Pita bread and Falafel, all names that are widely known in the west and that originated in the Middle East. It may well be that you have been eating Middle Eastern food without realising it!
In western countries, the ‘Mediterranean Diet’ that was popular in the 1990’s also included a lot of Middle Eastern foods
Where beverages are concerned, tea is the initial choice followed a distant second by coffee. Fruit juices are widely used, once again Islamic tradition derides the consumption of alcoholic drinks, but it is available in some Middle Eastern countries.
Strangely enough in Egypt has been brewing beer since before the Pharaohs became all powerful, a history dating back something in the order of 5000 years.
As far as dining etiquette is concerned this more connected to your location. If you are eating traditional Egyptian food in a restaurant in New York or London, then you can expect a very western set of dining rules. If you happen to be invited into a Middle Eastern family’s home anywhere then the rules will be different.
When in a traditional home or when eating in the middle east, the host may expect you to remove your footwear when entering, also consider that the culture is very male orientated and also greatly respects age, therefore always remember to pay attention to the elders of the family, they will expect to be acknowledged.
In Arab countries you may find that there are no utensils available, be prepared to eat with your fingers using your right hand only, even if you are left handed ! Also be aware that if you eat everything on your plate, your host may well refill it for you. When you are done, be sure to leave a little on the plate, otherwise you may end up continuously eating.
Above all remember to be polite, compliment the host on the food and enjoy a cuisine that has been developing for thousands of years.
This blog post was kindly written for Food Lovers Website by our team of guest bloggers.