Herby fried morsels made from beans like garbanzos and fava, falafel can be found all over Middle Eastern markets, from Egypt to Jordan. Served on its own with dipping sauces, over salads, or tucked into pitas and wraps, falafel is a crispy, hearty, and super flavorful snack or main dish you’re bound to find in any and every street food corridor.
Creamy, garlicky, lemony…hummus is more than just a grocery store staple – it’s a Middle Eastern street food marvel. Garbanzos and tahini are blitzed into a perfect velvety sauce and served by vendors all over the region. Whether it’s swiped onto a pita or sprinkled with za’atar or paprika, the origins of hummus are debated throughout many Middle Eastern countries. But one thing is certain: it’s simply delicious.
Whether it’s lamb or chicken, or being prepared in Lebanon or in Israel, shawarma is by far one of the most popular street foods throughout the Middle East. Big chunks of meat are cooked slowly on spits, shaved off into thin slices, and served in warm fluffy pita bread with variations of veggies, pickles, sauces like hummus and tahini, and sometimes even a handful of french fries.
4. Shish Kebabs
A close second in the meat family is the Middle East’s grilled shish kebab (or “shish tawook”). Think juicy marinated chicken or herby lamb skewers with tomatoes, onions, and peppers, cooked over fiery coals. Kebabs fill the air of Middle Eastern street food markets with their delicious smell. The chargrilled morsels are eaten fresh off the grill, in different flatbreads, or alongside salads. Don’t forget to add a healthy dollop of hummus.
5. Kofta Kebabs
With kofta, ground beef or lamb is mixed up with onions, spices, mint, and parsley, and shaped into torpedoes or spheres. It’s then skewered and grilled up like a shish kebab. Kofta kebabs, or shish kofta, with their fragrant spices like cinnamon or clove, are usually served with salads and pitas throughout the Middle East or even with spicy sauces. The stick form makes it especially easy to chow down on in the street.
Take a fresh or day-old pita, stuff it with ground meat like lamb, beef, or even kofta mixture, bake until crispy, and wallah — you’ve got yourself a traditional Middle Eastern arayes. Some cooks even add tomato paste or spicy chili pastes for extra bold flavor. The textural contrast of these guys is totally addicting and the hand sized shape makes it a practically perfect street food.
Also referred to as manakish or manqousheh depending on the country, you can’t take a trip to the Middle East without trying manakeesh. Street vendors usually sell these flatbreads fresh out of a traditional brick oven, tossing in the cheesy, olive oil-laden doughs with loads of za’atar spice (or even ground meat) and serving them to their on-the-go customers. Manakeesh are often rolled up or sliced like pizza, and are served as a quick breakfast or for lunch. Closely related is a flatbread called sfiah that is also laden with za’atar but is usually also topped with pine nuts.
Whether it’s Turkey, Syria or a handful of other Middle Eastern spots, these spinach and cheese (or meat) pocket pies are the perfect handheld street food. You’ll find them shaped into triangles or little boat-like forms and served at food markets or with a lovely mezze spread of small dishes to share.
Also referred to as kubbeh, kibbeh is a mixture of ground lamb, camel, or beef with bulgur wheat, onions, nuts, and traditional Middle Eastern spices. The mix is then rolled into balls or football shapes and deep-fried to perfection. The texture is fairly similar to falafel, but the inclusion of meat makes it richer. Kibbeh’s reach is so far and wide that in the 19th century, it made its way to Brazil with migrants from the Middle East and has since become a very common snack throughout the country.
A staple in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries, tabouleh is a must-eat when visiting the Middle East. The ultra-refreshing vegetarian dish is made of bulgur wheat, tomatoes, onions, mint, loads of parsley, and a delicious drizzle of lemon and olive oil. Tabouleh is served cold like a salad along with other dishes like falafel, hummus, or grilled meats and pita.
11. Cultivated Meat
With such an affinity for street food — from spicy grilled meats to fresh vegetarian marvels — the bustling street food scene of Israel is the ideal place to showcase cultivated meat. As technology develops and the world grows hungry for alternative and sustainable protein sources, cultivated meat will be at the forefront. And Middle Eastern markets across the globe are prime spots to debut such a world-changing culinary phenomenon.
The next time time you’re traveling through Israel, head to the street food stalls and keep your eyes peeled for cultivated meat offerings. You’re certain to sink your teeth into a cultivated meat shawarma much sooner than you think.