What makes Middle Eastern desserts different from the rest is the fact that they even smell good with its floral ingredients such as rose water. And they are soaked in sweet syrups making them an absolute feast in your mouth. Well, Middle East is just not about the kebabs, there’s more to it, and trust me, you just cannot afford to miss out on them.
Although there are a lot of debates around the origin of this yummy crispy pastry, it is majorly believed that this invention took place in the Ottoman Empire. Others believe it originated from Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. On the 15th day during the month of Ramadan, huge trays of Baklava were presented to the Janissaries in Baklava Alay, which was a ceremonial procession and that’s how Baklava came to be. It is beautifully multi-layered with nuts and filo dough and is cut usually into a diamond shape. A syrup can be poured on its top such as honey or rosewater to heighten the taste. It is absolutely crunchy and nutty, making it the most beloved dessert in the Middle East.
Apparently, Halvah in the 7th century was a reference to mashed dates mixed with milk. This dessert was adopted by the Ottoman Turks and the first-ever known recipe for it was in an Arabic Kitab al-Tabikh which is a book of dishes. It is in the cultures of the Middle East to prepare halvah during the ceremonies of Muslims. There are varieties of halvah across the Middle East and even the flours used are different in each variety. It is highly dense and perfectly blended with nuts.
Kunafeh is an epitome of a dessert that is extremely crunchy on the outside and on the inside it has gooey cheese that will melt in your mouth. It is sweetened with syrup and some nuts and it is going to blow your mind. You wouldn’t believe it but Kunafeh was actually prescribed by the doctors during the month of Ramadan to satisfy the hunger of the caliphs. Antakya in Turkey also holds a record of making the largest tray of Kunafeh. It is one of the middle eastern desserts that is adored by everyone.
Hailing from Shiraz in Iran, it is now popular in many parts of the globe. Faloodeh consists of vermicelli noodles in syrup and is accompanied by ice cream. The Mughals introduced this to India during their rule. Now, there are varieties of falooda and its combinations across the world. In Iran, Faloodeh is served with lime juice and it is available at any ice cream shop. This is literally noodles as dessert and is extremely delicious and flavorful, making it one of the most beloved middle eastern desserts.
5. Umm Ali
Umm Ali means ‘mother of Ali’ in Egyptian, as it is from the Egyptian cuisine that this dessert originates. It was created during the rule of the Ayyubid Empire wherein the wife of the ruler used to make it for her husband. But some say history is more violent than you think, so let us not get into that. It is in its basic sense, bread and butter pudding. This tasty golden brown dessert is actually the national dish of Egypt. Interestingly, it can be eaten both hot and cold.
Most popular Middle Eastern Cake although it is made differently across Middle Eastern countries. It is simply a semolina cake soaked in a sweet syrup that originated in Egypt. It is called differently in different Middle Eastern counties, Hareeseh or Nammoura in Arabic and Samali in Persian. It is a popular dessert in Egypt where it is served during Eid and Ramadan. Baklava and Basbousa look the same when kept on a tray cut into diamond shapes, but obviously the process and taste vary a lot. It is rather cute that Basbousa in Arabic means ‘a small kiss’.
If you are in the Middle East, you got to talk about dates. So here it is, a cookie filled with dates and nuts. This is like a common basic Middle Eastern dessert that families prepare over the weekend. It is amazing that they have special molds made that are carved in wood and they are pretty. It is again, a must during Easter and ‘Eid. Ma’amoul, fascinatingly, is used as a tool of personification on a lot of occasions.
About Eid, it is said that Ma’amoul is a way to remind you that fasting can be hard but it has a sweet reward because the cookie is mild outside and sweet on the inside. The Jews eat Ma’amoul during Purim that commemorates the salvation of the Jewish people in Persia to personify that the bland cookie actually hides a nutty strong filling on the inside.
It is going to melt in your mouth like butter. This dish basically shouts Ramadan more than any other sweet dish in Egypt. From all the other Middle Eastern desserts, this one is the most significant. It is a pancake dumpling in the shape of a crescent filled with nuts and other sweet stuff. No wonder they are called the pancakes of the Middle East. Qatayef in Arabic means ‘pick up.’ This is also mentioned in the Kitab al-Taibikh by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq during the 10th century.
It is legendary in terms of its taste and in its history as well. A Persian cook served this dessert to an Arab general named Al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra and he loved it, therefore, ending up naming it after him. Muhallebi is a milk pudding. Traditionally, in some parts of the Middle East, it was also made with shredded chicken. Sometimes, it is used for breakfasts on Yom Kippur which is a Jewish holiday and is eaten during weddings to symbolize the sweetness of life. This Turkish dessert is topped with rose water adding to the fragrance and the taste.
A ball of sweetness, Luqaimat is crunchy on the outside and soft and airy on the inside, often dipped in date syrup. Luqaimat in Arabic means ‘bite-size’, it makes sense because the way to eat it is to put one whole ball-shaped dumpling into your mouth and savor it all. The flavors will explode in your mouth and it’s a feeling you do not want to miss. It is a gateway to the world of Emirati desserts. In Qatari homes, you can see Luqaimat during tea time as well.
It is part of the Ottamon cuisine originating from Levant. The batter is deep fried and then soaked in syrup. Often eaten when hot, but it is served cold on the occasion of Hanukkah in some Middle Eastern countries. Tulamba in Turkish means ‘pump’. It tastes best when it is fresh. When you have the first bite, the sweet syrup gushes out and it feels like heaven. It is a common street food where the vendors prepare it fresh and hot and serve it garnished with some pistachios. And a toothpick is used to eat it, no forks. Enjoy!
12. Halawet El Jibn
Popular in Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, Halawet El Jibn is a sweet roll filled with cream and cheese topped with sugar syrups and pistachios. In Arabic Halawet El Jibn means ‘sweetness of the cheese.’ The other name for it is Shebeshle. This is literally cheese for desserts and it looks beautiful and tastes incredible. It has very few ingredients and yet tastes so intense. If you have a sweet tooth, this will surely satisfy you.
Kadaif is shredded filo dough which looks noodle-like. It is a classic Bosnian dessert that also has walnuts in it and is soaked in lemon syrup, enhancing the taste to another level altogether. They say it tastes even better the next day because by then the syrup is soaked into the dessert completely. Kadaif is often accompanied by Bosanska Kahva which is the Bosnian coffee. It is the best combination and will leave your eyebrows raised with absolute surprise and pleasure.
14. Turkish Delight
These are small delicious cubes dusted with powdered sugar. Turkish Delights have various other Arabic names that mean ‘throat comfort.’ It is an addictive confection that has so many varieties of flavors. A shop opened in 1777 by Haci Bekir Effendi and he is the creator of this wonderful dessert. Turkish Delight is chewy and often scented with some fascinating flavors. This dessert got popular after the book ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis. They look absolutely colorful when arranged in shops according to flavors. So let it comfort your throat.
15. Bastani Sonnati
Popularly called the Iranian Ice Cream, Bastani Sonnati was traditionally fruit ice made to bare the summers. Apparently, fruit ice was Alexander the Great’s favorite and he enjoyed it with honey. Flavored with rose water and saffron, it brings out a yellowish color and is exotic in flavors. The ice cream is often served between two wafers like an ice cream sandwich. It is the most favorite dessert to make during Nowruz which is the Persian New Year. Bastani Sonnati is definitely a feast to your senses.
Middle Eastern desserts have beautiful names, are flavorsome and over the years, have proved to be among the best desserts to end your meal or to satisfy your sugar cravings. So savor it all.