While the Middle East is vast and diverse, similar culinary traditions can be found across the region. They have been formed by the Mediterranean climate, commercial routes to Europe, Asia and Africa, and the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
North African cuisine, Balkan cuisines and Central Asian cuisines are similar, influenced by a common Turkish heritage from long-term Ottoman rule on the one hand (Balkans, Middle East, North Africa) and Turkic culture on the other (much of Central Asia).
Iranian food, with its common use in savory dishes of pomegranate molasses, cherries, plums, almond paste and various distinctive herbs and spices, has some commonalities with Levantine food but is in many ways quite a distinct cuisine, and it's also different though somewhat related to the cuisines of the Indian Subcontinent.
Yemeni cuisine also has much in common with the cuisines of the Indian Subcontinent as well as the Levant, reflecting its long history of maritime trade. Many dishes include a spice mixture related to Indian masalas, and spices also commonly used in India, including cumin and fenugreek, feature in Yemeni cuisine.
As being a chef is traditionally considered to be a low-class job in the Gulf, and the oil-rich Gulf states provide their citizens with a comprehensive welfare state, cuisine from the Gulf is very hard to find in restaurants even in their respective countries. If you wish to try cuisine from the Gulf, your best bet is to befriend a local and get invited home for a meal.
- Meat: Beef, goat, lamb and poultry are ubiquitous. Pork is taboo in Islam and Judaism, but is eaten by local Christians as well as in immigrant/expat communities. Products such as bacon and gelatin are usually provided from beef or lamb.
- Gyros, döner kebab and shawarma are essentially the same dish.
- Seafood: While non-fish seafood is not kosher for Jews, it is accepted by other religions. Domestic production is rather small, though, and fresh seafood is hard to come by.
- Chick peas are a common protein source, popular with vegetarians, and the base for dishes such as falafel and dips such as hummus.
- Fava beans (ful) are also appreciated and often used as a meze.
- Various forms of rice with meat and spices, similar to Indian biryani, are the staples of many Middle Eastern cuisines.
- Bread/ pita, especially flat wheat bread (naan in Persian, lavaş in Turkish), is ubiquitous.
- Couscous and bulgur are similar ingredients, based on wheat.
- Dates are usually offered to guests in homes and meetings, as a token of hospitality.
- Common spices and herbs are saffron, basil, sage, allspice, mint, and pepper. Sumac is a staple in Iran. Cumin and fenugreek are commonly used in Yemeni food.
While alcoholic beverages are taboo in Islam, alcohol is available in more liberal Muslim cities and countries such as Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Turkey. Even in countries where alcohol is sold, binge-drinking and drunkenness are frowned on. Judaism and (most varieties of) Christianity are fine with alcohol, however, and even in some majority Muslim countries, alcohol production and consumption by and for minorities is tolerated.
The restrictions on alcohol and the warm climate make soft drinks and juices popular. A halal restaurant in the Middle East can have a juice list as extensive as a European restaurant's wine list.