Decoding The Growing Popularity Of Middle Eastern Food In India

It’s tough to zero in on one big reason for the growing popularity of Middle Eastern cuisines in the country; it could be the abundance of breads, the large shareable platters which are astonishingly low-carb or it could just be the sheer diversity in flavour. “I think why desi foodies love Middle Eastern food is because it’s so familiar to Indian flavours, yet not quite the same,” says Revati Danyal, a Lucknow-based chef. 

“The abundance of spices, nuts and pairable elements are what keep the cuisines of Middle East so interesting, and I thnk it’s the same for several Indian regional cuisines,” she adds. As the popularity of shawarmas and hummus peaked in casual and fast food segments, desi foodies realised how much more there is to Middle Eastern cuisines. 

“The growing popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine across India has been very evident over the years. This trend is exponentially growing with Indians traveling and exploring a lot of Middle Eastern regions for their holidays or events for work and investments. The love for this cuisine can be attributed to its highly palatable flavours and textures,” says Aasim Shah, who with his brother Adeeb Shah, introduced Bengaluru to the modern Turkish diner, Öz by Kebapci, last year.

Amongst other things, the diner is serving the famous Testi Kebab, also known as Pottery kebab, which is a traditional kebab variety from the Cappadocia region of Turkey and is slow-cooked in clay pots for over 5 hours. “We have also noticed a great preference towards the usage of high-quality spices and unique herbs that are authentic to Turkey,” says Adeeb Shah.

Plates or platters?

It’s easy to see why hot and cold mezze platters and charcuterie-style hummus boards would appeal to larger parties, especially who are not exactly looking to fill up. It’s a great way to start a meal, particularly if you don’t know if you’re really hungry! “I think people see the merits of an elaborate bread and dip platter more clearly now, because everyone is more mindful about their meals. But there’s something so wonderfully fresh and seasonal about a well-made mezze platter, it’s the perfect kind of indulgence,” remarks Danyal. 

“We have observed that both small plates and larger plates have their charms and appeal to different sets of customers. While some guests enjoy the sharing experience and variety of flavours that small plates offer, others prefer the direct complete meal experience provided by the large plates like our Eastern Turkiye Lamb Mandi. Ultimately, it depends on the occasion, the group size, and preferences,” shares Shah.

So, are the easy-to-share spreads the reason behind the success of Middle Eastern cuisines across different segments? It’s hard to say considering how fine diners dedicated to Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian and Irani cuisines and thriving. 

“We have an elaborate menu, unlike the normal Lebanese or Arabic restaurants in the country. We have dishes from around 7 to 8 countries on the route of the Arabian Bay. It ranges from small to large platters, soup to desserts and cold mezze to hot mezze. While large groups and families prefer to go for large platters, small and individual families and groups try many ala carte items from the menu,” says Aji Nair, Chief Advisor and Consultant at Bayroute, which launched its first outlet in 2017 at Mumbai’s Cuff Parade and has opened up outlets in several other parts of the city.

Nair also believes that Middle Eastern and Indian food share some very common traits in terms of flavour and production. “The ingredients, the preparation methods and the overall process of food production have similarities between Indian and Middle Eastern food,” he shares.

“This is also another reason why Indians love the food. With new age trade, business and economic relations and developments, the connection and travelling between the Middle Eastern countries and India has grown a lot and this resulted in huge growth in the demand for Middle Eastern food in India,” explains Nair.

The sweet secret

There’s no point splitting hairs about the widespread rise of Middle Eastern desserts and sweets; from delicious, melt-proof Turkish ice creams and flaky and fragrant baklavas to indulgent basbousas, Middle Eastern sweets have captured the hearts of desi foodies. 

Bengaluru’s Anand Sweets & Savouries introduced baklavas in 2018 and is set to feature some more Middle Eastern desserts on its menu, such as kunafa, Turkish delight and lokum. “With the globalization of food culture, there's a growing appreciation for diverse dessert palates, contributing to the surge in popularity of baklavas,” says Arvind Dadu, the Managing Director of Anand Sweets & Savouries.

“By blending traditional Middle Eastern flavors with familiar Indian ingredients and spices, we have created a baklava that resonates with the Indian palate,” he adds. Danyal feels most Middle Eastern confections promise more elegance than run-off-the-mill Indian sweets.

“If you look at how kunafa or baklavas are made, they are so skill-oriented; they are delicate and yet so complex in flavour. I think we associate them with premium desserts because they seem so decadent. Not to mention, the abundance of nuts is a great addition for us because it’s so fsmiliar to us in terms of flavour,” she remarks.