Middle Eastern flavors and foods continue to trend, with chefs putting modern spins on the classics and chains beginning to make hummus bowls, falafel and pita sandwiches a mainstream favorite. The popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine falls on the heels of the very trendy Mediterranean cuisine movement, with its plant-based focus on fresh vegetables, healthy fats, beans and legumes as more consumers clean up their diets.
Favored by Younger Consumers
Thirty-five percent of all consumers would like to see more Middle Eastern and North African influences on restaurant menus. Those percentages increase for members of Gen Z and Millennials, with 47 percent and 46 percent, respectively, showing an interest in more Middle Eastern and North African food influences. Twenty-four percent of consumers, but significantly more Gen Zs (41 percent) and Millennials (37 percent), seek different regional Middle Eastern and North African cuisine experiences, such as Tunisian and Yemeni cuisines. Source: Technomic
Middle Eastern- and Israeli-inspired Restaurants
There has been an influx of modern Middle Eastern- and Israeli-inspired restaurants in New York City and Brooklyn over the past few years. Here’s a sampler of three:
- Bar Bolonat The restaurant bills itself as a celebration of modern Mediteranean and new Israeli cuisines with dishes that include chickpea gnocchi, kibbeh with spiced beef, pine nuts and preserved lemon yogurt, and merguez kebabs.
- Kubeh The name stems from a dumpling enjoyed in the Middle East. The restaurant serves it stuffed with different fillings like Syrian cod and cilantro, slow-cooked beef or Iraqi vegetables. The signature dish, seen top right, is boiled and served in broth.
- Timna A modern Israeli/Mediterranean restaurant with fresh-baked kubaneh bread, burratush (fatush with burrata), lamb belly katayeif. Pictured at bottom right is the seared scallop with mushroom ragout and sunchoke puree topped with a deep-fried poached egg.
Trending Modern Middle Eastern Foods:
- S’khug — a Yemeni hot sauce enjoyed throughout Israel with cardamom, cloves, cilantro, red chile peppers, and many other ingredients
- Labneh — strained yogurt “cheese”
- Za’atar — spice blend with sumac, dried thyme and sesame
- Live-fire grills
- Wood ovens for fresh pita and Israeli breads
- Mortar and pestle for spice blends
- Food processors for hummus and other sauces
Concept Closeup: Naf Naf Grill
Israeli-born Sahar Sander founded the Chicago-based Naf Naf Grill chain, which now plans to open more than 30 units in five states. The Middle Eastern-inspired menu features build-your-own hummus bowls, pitas, rice platters and salads, accompanied by falafel and shawarma, colorful slaws and salads, customizable sauces and finishing touches.