The Middle East has a strong culinary history behind it with so many uniquely aromatic dishes, healthy and fresh vegetarian options, rich bakes, and wholesome meals. The popularity of Middle Eastern food has been growing in Canada and the United States in recent years. As a matter of fact, globally, more people are introducing themselves to Middle Eastern cuisine with so many finding new favourites among the range of tastes and baked goods. In Toronto, good Middle Eastern food – like manakeesh and baked goods – is sometimes difficult to find. Authentically prepared Middle Eastern food in Scarborough and Toronto is almost non-existent – at least until we opened.
Al’deewan Bakery is proud of its commitment to preparing Middle Eastern foods in the most authentic ways, using an open flame oven for its manakeesh. Though we fixate on manakeesh and baked goods, there are a wide range of Middle Eastern foods out there, ranging from the more rustic to slow-cooked lentil stews, sprinklings of spice, and traditional family meals. Needless to say, at Al’deewan Bakery, we know good Middle Eastern baked goods and we think we do manakeesh better than anyone in Toronto. Celebrating the opening of GTA’s best place for authentic Lebanese food, we would like to share the top nine Middle Eastern foods that Canadians love. Though not all these foods are available through Al’deewan Bakery, if you’re interested in more authentic Lebanese foods, these products are a great place to start.
For those that don’t know what it is, manakeesh is sort of like a Middle Eastern pizza. Usually a round bread, it’s sprinkled with cheese, ground meat, and/or herbs. Similar to North American pizza, manakeesh can be sliced or folded to eat. In traditional Lebanese families, women would bake the dough for a manakeesh in a communal oven in the morning and using this throughout the day to serve as bread for their families. Manakeesh is most popular in regions like Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine, and many cities throughout the world where Middle Easterners have settled. Typically used as a family breakfast dish or for lunch, find the best manakeesh in Toronto from Scarborough’s Al’deewan Bakery. Choose from cheese manakeesh, cheese and beef manakeesh, zaatar manakeesh, beef manakeesh, and more.
Hummus is a chickpea spread that’s used on everything from traditional hot pita breads to burgers, baked potatoes, and more. There are different variations on classic Middle Eastern hummus that may be worth exploring. In many cases, the best hummus is that which comes with sufficient garlic included in its recipe. Methods of preparation involving cooking and mashing chickpeas, and then, blending them in with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and other ingredients as needed. Hummus is one of the most popular Middle Eastern food products in Canada and the United States.
Grilled halloumi is somewhat similar to grilled cheese but with Middle Eastern flavours cooked in. Halloumi is semi-hard, brined cheese made typically from goat’s milk or sheep’s milk. With a high melting point, it can be easily fried or grilled. Unlike other cheeses, halloumi is prepared with no acid or bacteria in its processing. Why we recommend grilled is it’s no doubt the healthier option. Grilled halloumi is known predominantly in the Middle East however in the past decade, substantial interest in halloumi has grown. Throughout the UK in particular, halloumi is a very popular dish.
Ful medames is made from a mix of fava beans, olive oil, parsley, onion, garlic, and lemon. Cooked together, ful medames is extremely popular in regions of the world like Egypt. Across Arab, Middle Eastern, and African cuisine, ful medames is a notable dish. Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen are some of the regions where it’s commonly eaten. The presentation of the dish may not seem particularly appealing to North American audiences but believe us when we say the taste is nothing short of delicious.
Falafel is well known across Canada and the United States as a healthy Middle Eastern snack. Fried chickpeas with some herbs is a standard go-to in how to make these. They can also be a deep-fried ball, doughnut or patty made from fava beans or a combination of these beans and chickpeas. Commonly served in a pita or wrapped in a flatbread. To some Canadians, falafel refers to the sandwich which is prepared in this way. Falafel balls can be mixed into salads, vegetables, hot sauces, or drizzled with different Middle Eastern sauces.
Tabbouleh is an amazing Lebanese salad consisting predominantly of a mix of parsley with tomatoes, mint, onion, cracked wheat, and usually seasoned with olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper. There are some various on traditional Middle Eastern tabbouleh which also use lettuce, garlic, or sometimes couscous. Remember, you don’t need to be a vegetarian to appreciate what’s in store for you with tabbouleh. With more dishes like this in the marketplace, some Canadians may even be tempted to go vegetarian.
Baba ghanoush is an extremely popular Lebanese dish consisting of mashed eggplant mixed with tahini, olive oil, and a mix of seasonings. The traditional method of preparing baba ghanoush involves baking or broiling the eggplant over an open flame prior to peeling. This gives the pulp an unmistakable soft and smoky taste. Baba ghanoush is a famous starter or appetizer in North American culture, usually eaten with pita bread and/or added on the side with other dishes.
Fattoush is a Lebanese bread salad made from toasted or fried pieces of Arabic flat bread. These cuts are then combined with a mix of green vegetables, radishes, and tomatoes. Fattoush is manipulated according to season in the Middle East, meaning that depending on the time of year, the veggies and herbs used change. Another great Middle Eastern salad, it’s a great way to get in some light carbs while sticking to a predominantly vegetarian manner of eating.
Just on its pronunciation alone, umm ali sounds absolutely delicious. This Egyptian dessert can come in various combinations. Usually, it comes in the form of a pastry divided into pieces and blending together with pistachios, coconut flakes, raisins, and sugar. Milk or cream is sometimes poured over the mixture, sprinkled with cinnamon. For Canadians looking to compare umm ali to something, it’s similar somewhat to bread and butter pudding.
That’s our list of the top Middle Eastern foods that Canadians have grown to love. As a major Toronto-based Middle Eastern bakery and the source for GTA’s top manakeesh, Al’deewan Bakery hopes to continue to play a role in opening up Canada to more Middle Eastern foods!