Deciphering the Middle Eastern Menu – Foodle, a Google for food

So you’re living dangerously and trying out the latest Turkish/Moroccan/Syrian hotspot in town. The reviews are spectacular and their instagram page is simply mouthwatering. You can’t wait to get stuck into a new foodie experience and the excitement builds as the waiter seats you and brings over the menu. You open it up and turn the pages with great expectation and you’re…… stumped!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to a middle eastern restaurant and just been too confused to make a decision. In some places the waiters are a great help. In others there is often a language barrier or sometimes not enough knowledge. It can be frustrating.

In the last 3 years in South Africa there has been an influx of Turkish and middle eastern eateries. This is great for the Muslim market because most of them are halaal. But deciphering the menu… eish! So I’ve compiled a list of common menu items and terms to help you along your food journey. A Google for foodies. Let’s call it… Foodle.

I’ll kick off with Turkish and Syrian menus. I’ll do a series of these posts and will do Moroccan and even Indian (though it’s familiar for many, it will be useful for some). Do tell me what other cuisines you’d like a Foodle for and I’ll work on it for you guys.

Enjoy this list and if you find it useful please share.

Common Terms or Dishes

Meze – A selection of small dishes served as appetizers which may include:

Tahini – Ground sesame paste

Hummus – Dip made with blended chickpeas, tahini and garlic

Mutabbal – eggplant, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and tahini

Falafel – a deep-fried ball or patty-shaped fritter made from ground chickpeas, spices and herbs

Tzaziki – Cucumber yogurt dip

Kebab/Kabab – Refers to a great variety of meat-based dishes and encompasses not only grilled or skewered meats, but also stews and casseroles.

Shawarma/Doner Kebab – The term shawarma actually refers to the meat and not the wrap. Meat or chicken cut into thin slices, stacked in a cone-like shape, and roasted on a slowly-turning vertical rotisserie or spit.

Kunefe/Kunafa – Dessert made with spun pastry called kataifi, soaked in syrup, and typically layered with cheese and nuts

Baklava/Baklawa – Layered filo pastry dessert filled with chopped nuts and syrup or honey

Kibbeh – A mixture of minced meat, bulgar or rice, and seasonings, typically served in the form of croquettes stuffed with a filling.


Tavuk – Chicken

Et- Meat

Kuzu – lamb

Biftek – Beef

Kavurma – Sautéed meat with peppers and spices

Adana kebab – kebab with hand-minced meat mixed with chili on a flat wide metal skewer (shish); associated with Adana region although very popular all over Turkey

 Alinazik kebab – Ground meat kebab sautéed in a saucepan, with garlic, yogurt and eggplants added.

Beyti kebab – Ground lamb or beef, seasoned and grilled on a skewer, often served wrapped in lavash and topped with tomato sauce and yogurt.

Iskender kebab –Shawarma or doner kebab topped with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread and generously slathered with melted butter and yogurt.

Durum – Turkish Wrap

Nazik – Meat served on a bed of yogurt and aubergine puree

Sote – A sautéed dish of meat, chicken or vegetables

Pide – Leaf shaped pizza with upturned edges to hold the toppings

Corba – Traditional lentil soup

Manti – Turkish style ravioli stuffed with beef mince and topped with yoghurt

Menemen – Turkish scambled eggs with tomato & peppers

Saksuka – Eggplant cooked withzucchinis, garlic, tomatoes and chilli

Paynir – Cheese

Lahmacun- Traditional thin base flatbread with spicy beef mince

Ayran – Refreshing drink made with yoghurt

Sahlep – Milk & cinnamon drink

Cay – Turkish Tea

Kahve – Turkish Coffee

Sutlac – Creamy rice pudding

Find halaal Turkish Restaurants here.


Dajaj – Chicken

Lahm – Meat

ManousheA round baked bread spread with cheese, meat, zaatar, or tomato sauce, looking much like a pizza

Baba Ganoush – Dip made with roasted eggplant, onion, tomato, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley

Yabrak – Vine leaves stuffed with rice and meat

YalanjiVine leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables

Maqluba -Meat, rice, and fried vegetables placed in a pot which is flipped upside down when serve

Fattoush – Salad with pita chips, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, mint, parsley, and vinaigrette.

Tabbouleh – Salad with bulgar wheat, fresh parsley, cucumber, tomato, olive oil, and lemon juice.

Barazek -This Damascene specialty consists of flat round biscuits filled with pistachios, sesame seeds and mahlab (a spice made from the seeds of a type of cherry).

Harisi – A dense semolina cake

Basbousa – A sweet cake made of cooked semolina or farina soaked in simple syrup

Find halaal Syrian restaurants here.

Related: A guide to Asian food names


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