Arab cuisine of the Persian Gulf
Arab cuisine of the Persian Gulf includes cuisines that are shared by the population in the coastal region of Eastern Arabia. Seafood is a very significant part of the diet of the inhabitants of the coast of the Gulf. Fish is very popular, usually eaten with rice. The cuisine of eastern Arabia is different from the cuisine of the Arabs of Hejaz, Najd and other parts of Arabia. Harees is also a very popular dish in the region.
Originally, the Arabs of the Persian Gulf relied heavily on a diet of dates, wheat, barley, rice and meat, with little variety, and with a heavy emphasis on yogurt products, such as "leben" (لبن) (yogurt without butterfat). Globalization and contact with ancient civilizations such as the Romans, Persians, and later on with the Ottomans brought the Arabs in close contact with dishes of several other cultures, as well as introducing several new ingredients in their diet.
As with most Asian cultures, the culinary heritage can find its root in either Persian, Indian, or Chinese cuisine. In fact the food structure of Persian-Arabian civilization began with cooking techniques innovated in ancient Persia and carried forward by Persians during the Sassanid Dynasty. With subsequent development and growth of the Ottomans (Turkish empire), Arab culture came in contact with the Ottoman empire; Turkish contributions to the Arabian culture included "kebabs", which were originally part of the cuisine of the early Persians, but were heavily favored by the Turks.
This multicultural inclusion in part, became possible, after advent of Islam, and with the growth of Arabian influence after invasion of Persia, Balkans, and North Africa, making it possible for merchants of different nations to travel long distances coming into contact and being influenced by or influencing local cuisines they encountered. The exchange of customs and food was bidirectional, with Arabs also exporting their dietary preferences such as dates, figs, and lamb to the areas they traveled to or conquered including the Persian empire and the Turkish population of Balkan. This interchange of goods and ways of life, was significant in forming the current modern Arab diet. Interestingly, Arabs later on transferred these newly gained cuisines on their conquests to Africa, and as far as North Africa, West Africa, and South of Spain. In fact, certain Spanish desserts such as polvorones, tocino de cielo (custard and caramel) and yemas de San Leandro (marzipan based) are heavily influenced by the Moors. Though these influences were not carried out by the original Arabs of the Arabian sub-continent, their west ward expansion into Egypt, and Morocco led to dissemination of Chinese, Indian, Arabian, and Persian cuisines and eventually their vicarious adoption by the North Africans.
Arab cuisine of the Persian Gulf today is the result of combination of diverse cuisines, incorporating Persian, Indian, Lebanese and Chinese cooking styles, and many items not originally indigenous to the Persian Gulf region, which were most probably imported on the dhows and the caravans. In addition, the cuisine is heavily dosed with spices, from hot sauces to every variety of pepper, to tea. This cuisine also favors vegetables such as cucumbers, eggplants, and onions, and fruits (primarily citrus). Notably, many of the same spices used in eastern Arabia cuisine are also those emphasized in the Indian cuisine. This is a result of heavy trading between the two regions, and of the current state of affairs in the wealthy oil states, in which many South Asian workers are living abroad in Arab states of the Persian Gulf.
Essential to any cooking in eastern Arabia is the concept of hospitality. Meals are sometimes family affairs, with much sharing and a great deal of warmth over the dinner table. Formal dinners and celebrations generally entail large quantities of food, and every occasion entails large quantities of coffee.
There are many regional differences in Arab cuisine. For instance mujadara in Syria or Lebanon is different from mujadara in Jordan or Palestine. Some dishes such as mensaf (the national dish of Jordan) are native to certain countries and rarely if ever make an appearance in other countries.
Unlike in most Western cuisines, cinnamon is used in meat dishes as well as in sweets such as Baklava. Other desserts include variations of rice pudding and fried dough. Ground nut mixtures are common fillings for such treats. Saffron is used in everything, from sweets, to rice, to beverages. Fruit juices are quite popular in this often arid region.
The following cuisines have influenced, or have been influenced by the Arab cuisine of the Persian Gulf, either due to trade (mostly maritime from the far east), or as a result of ancient contact:
- Persian cuisine
- Indian cuisine
- Chinese cuisine
- Pakistani cuisine (including Balochi cuisine)
- Turkish cuisine
- African cuisine
- Japanese cuisine
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