Have you ever wondered what makes Syrian food so mouth-watering and delicious? The answer lies in a captivating blend of fragrant spices, fresh ingredients, and a deep-rooted cultural background!
The country has its fair share of historical monuments and iconic landscapes. But one thing that makes Syria different from others is its culinary association with local history. Over time, Syrian cuisine has developed from the Ottoman Empire, the Silk Road, and everything between the two!
What’s Special About Syrian Food?
Traditional Syrian food is the perfect blend of local ingredients and unconventional cooking techniques. It’s a fusion of Arab, Mediterranean, and Ottoman culinary traditions. This makes the gastronomy in Syria stand out in the Middle East.
Similar to several countries in the region, Syria also has the tradition of serving mezze. These are small, flavorful dishes that precede the main meal. Some of the most famous ones are classics like hummus, tabbouleh, and falafel.
Perhaps the best sight you’ll experience is underground cooking in Syrian food. Locals here are fond of cooking meats in underground makeshift stoves. Topped off with coals, dishes cooked like this pack an amazing smoky yet earthy flavor that’s hard to get somewhere else.
Stuffed dishes are also famous in Syria. Locals fill their pastries, pies, and even entire goats with all sorts of different fillings. This gives them the opportunity to play with all sorts of sweet and savory flavors, adding to the overall complexity of Syrian meals.
Most Famous Syrian Food
Syrian Shawarma (Grilled Meat Wraps)
If you’re a foodie, you must have had shawarma before. But did you know Syrian cuisine features a different form of shawarma that’s even better? The shawarma here is marinated hours before cooking.
The yogurt and traditional Syrian spices in the marinade go deep inside the meat, making it super tender and flavorful. Combined with crisp, fresh veggies, the first bite you take will pack a punch.
Syrian food is mildly spicy in general. So if you want to add extra spice to this shawarma, ask for the red sauce on the side.
You can also build your own shawarma by ordering a platter. It will come out as sort of a deconstructed shawarma with all your favorite toppings. You can then add whatever you like, as much as you like!
Traditional Syrian Breakfast Food
Ka’ak (Sesame Bread Rings)
Ka’ak is the Syrian version of the bagel you’re used to having, only more flavorful! A ton of sesame seeds shower these bread rings, making them super crunchy and decadent. They are ideal for grabbing a quick morning bite on the go.
You can also get an order of Ka’ak with some melted chocolate or coffee to dip the bread. This is a famous Syrian food, meaning you can find it pretty much anywhere in the country.
We loved having ka’ak for breakfast in various countries. The bread was so flaky and coated in sesame seeds, giving it the perfect crunch. Dipping it in coffee made for a tasty morning treat.
Manakish (Flatbread with Toppings)
Manakish starts with a soft and slightly chewy flatbread as the base; it is then topped with a variety of different ingredients. Common ones include za’atar (a blend of spices and herbs), cheese, minced meat, or a mixture of vegetables and olive oil.
Eating Manakish is easy; you can use your hands to tear off pieces of the flatbread or use a knife and fork, depending on your preference. The key is to savor the delicious combination of textures and tastes between the flatbread and its toppings.
Fatayer Jebneh (Cheese-Filled Pastries)
Fatayer Jebneh are Syrian pastries consisting of soft, doughy pockets filled with a creamy cheese mixture. The cheese used is typically a blend of feta and a mild white cheese, resulting in a savory and slightly tangy flavor.
When you see this pastry, you’ll notice their unique triangular shape that makes them easy to hold and eat without any fuss.
The fatayer jebneh we tried had the most delicious creamy cheese filling. The pastry was so flaky on the outside and then you get to the gooey cheese inside. Simply divine!
If you can find freshly made ones, those are the best. The first thing you’ll notice is the contrast between the crisp crust and the rich, cheesy filling.
Jajeek (Yogurt and Cucumber Salad)
Jajeek is the perfect Syrian breakfast item if you’re looking for something light to start your day. This salad is made by combining creamy yogurt with crisp, cool cucumbers.
You can further enhance the flavor by topping it with ingredients like fresh garlic, mint, dill, or lemon juice, depending on your taste preferences. The option to add the elements of your choice makes Jajeek a popular Syrian food among visitors.
We love the tanginess of the yogurt paired with the crunch of the cucumbers in jajeek. The combination of textures and flavors is incredibly refreshing, especially on a hot day.
Qatayef (Stuffed Pancakes)
Qatayef are like little folded pancakes or crepes, and they are filled with a variety of sweet stuffings. You can usually have them during special occasions, like Ramadan or other celebrations.
When you look at qatayef, you’ll notice they are usually round and folded in a half-moon shape. They have a slightly crispy outer layer and a soft inside.
Locals like to fill their Qatayef with a range of delectable fillings, such as sweet cheese, nuts, or a mixture of sugar and rose water. It’s always a delightful pleasure to enjoy.
To savor qatayef to the fullest, you can drizzle some syrup or honey on top for an extra touch of sweetness.
Traditional Meat Dishes In Syrian Food
Kibbeh (Deep-Fried Meatballs)
Kibbeh is like the Syrian national dish. You can find it everywhere, from street vendors all the way to high-end restaurants. The dish typically comes in the shape of small, elongated, or round patties.
The outer layer of bulgur wheat and spices is thin and crisp when fried, while the inside holds a well-seasoned mixture of ground meat, usually lamb or beef.
The highlight for us is the contrast of the crispy shell with the savory, seasoned meat inside. Yogurt sauce is a must for dipping, and you can even top it with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Kafta Kebabs (Grilled Minced Meat Skewers)
When you bite into a Kafta kebab, you’ll encounter a delightful medley of flavors. The minced meat is tender and juicy, filled with the enticing aroma of herbs and Syrian spices. The grilling process adds a hint of smoky char that enhances the overall taste.
You can enjoy Kafta kebabs on their own as an appetizer, often accompanied by a flavorful dipping sauce. But we prefer to stuff them in soft pita bread, creating a delectable sandwich. Adding some fresh vegetables and a dollop of tahini sauce will provide a delightful balance of flavors.
Kafta kebabs are perfect to share with family and friends, making them a great choice for gatherings or barbecues. You should get plenty of opportunities to sink your teeth into one.
Maqluba (Upside-Down Rice Dish)
Maqluba means “upside-down” in Arabic, and this Syrian food is called that for a reason! This flavorful meal is traditionally made by layering ingredients in a pot and then flipping it over before serving.
It is a beautiful dish with layers of rice, vegetables, and meat, all neatly arranged in a pot. The most common meat used in Maqluba is chicken or lamb, and the vegetables can include eggplant, tomatoes, and onions.
The rice often has spices like turmeric and cumin, giving it a rich flavor and a lovely golden color.
But we think the highlight for any Maqqluba though is watching them flip the pot over at the table to reveal the beautiful layers. Delicious, entertaining, and insta-worthy!
Dawood Basha (Meatballs In Tomato Sauce)
Dawood Basha is a meat-lover’s dream as it consists of tender meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. These meatballs are usually made from ground beef or lamb mixed with spices like parsley, onion, and sometimes a hint of garlic.
When it’s time to enjoy Dawood Basha, you’ll be greeted by a combination of flavors and textures. We still remember the first time trying it; just mind-blown.
The meatballs are tender and flavorful, while the tomato sauce adds a touch of sweetness and tanginess. It’s often served with rice, bread, or pita, making it a versatile and comforting dish.
Fatteh With Meat (Layered Bread And Meat Dish)
Fatteh is perhaps the only food in Syria that is strictly made with meat. Imagine tender pieces of meat sandwiched between crispy layers of pita bread; the texture makes this Syrian food a must-have.
The meat layer is followed by a layer of creamy yogurt, providing a cooling and tangy contrast to the savory meat. You can also drizzle a garlic-tahini sauce to give it a rich and nutty flavor.
Fatteh was a real treat – the crispy pita bread combined with the tender meat and cooling yogurt was incredible. A must-try Syrian dish!
To complete the dish, add a sprinkle of fresh herbs, like parsley or mint for a burst of freshness, and some toasted pine nuts or almonds for added crunch.
Traditional Vegan/ Vegetarian Food In Syrian Food
Wara’ Enab (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Wara’ Enab feature seasoned rice and sometimes meat wrapped in tender grape leaves. The grape leaves are carefully selected for their tenderness and then blanched to make them soft and pliable.
The filling typically consists of rice, finely chopped onions, fresh herbs like mint and parsley, and sometimes ground meat, often lamb or beef. While the texture and flavor can feel a tad weird at first if you are not used to it, you will quickly grow to like it. It’s now one of our favorite appetizers.
You can even enjoy these stuffed grape leaves with a drizzle of lemon juice or a dollop of yogurt for an extra burst of flavor.
Tabbouleh (Refreshing Bulgur Salad)
Tabbouleh is the perfect thing to have if you’re looking to eat a light and refreshing meal. This is also ideal as a side dish to cut all the richness of other Syrian foods. The key component of Tabbouleh is bulgur, a whole grain that’s been cracked and partially cooked.
It forms the base of the salad, adding a nutty and slightly chewy texture. You can serve it chilled and pair it with pita bread, grilled meats, or as a complement to other Syrian meals.
This is a great dish for potluck gatherings. It’s not hard to make and can be prepared beforehand. We regularly see it amongst our group of international friends.
Fasolia Bi Zait (Green Beans In Olive Oil)
In Fasolia Bi Zait, the green beans are the star of the show. They are usually trimmed and then gently simmered in a mixture of olive oil, garlic, and various seasonings. The green beans in Syrian dishes become tender and absorb the aromatic flavors of the sauce.
Sometimes, Fasolia Bi Zait is garnished with tomatoes, onions, and a squeeze of lemon juice for an extra layer of taste.
Fasolia Bi Zait is not only tasty but also a celebration of fresh, wholesome ingredients and the rich tradition of using olive oil in Syrian cuisine.
Mujadara (Lentils And Rice Dish)
Mujadara in itself is a comforting experience. Each spoonful offers a satisfying blend of textures and tastes, from the softness of the lentils and rice to the crispy goodness of the fried onions.
The lentils are tender and mixed with rice, creating a hearty base. Seasonings like cumin and sometimes fried onions add depth and flavor. The dish is typically garnished with additional fried onions on top, giving it a delightful crunch and a sweet, savory taste.
This is certainly one of the more filling dishes for vegetarians, so you can hardly go wrong with it.
Traditional Syrian Pastries In Syrian Food
Sfiha (Savory Meat Pastries)
Sfiha typically have a thin, flatbread-like base that’s shaped into small rounds or triangles. The filling is the star of the show, featuring a mixture of minced or ground meat, usually lamb or beef, along with a blend of aromatic Syrian spices and herbs.
The flatbread base is soft and slightly chewy, while the meat filling is rich, seasoned, and packed with flavors like garlic, onions, and spices. Sfiha is often served as an appetizer and is also a popular Syrian street food, but some like to enjoy it as a main course as well.
We always recommend having these savory pastries with accompaniments like yogurt, pickles, or a fresh salad to create a balanced and satisfying meal if possible. The rich, spiced taste and the convenience of enjoying it on the go make Sfiha a go-to option for us.
Zlabia (Sweet Fritters)
Zlabia features dough that’s deep-fried to golden perfection, resulting in a crispy exterior with a soft, sweet interior. It’s typically coated with a sticky syrup or dusted with powdered sugar, making it sweet and sugary to the taste.
We loved having zlabia as a nice treat while wandering the streets and markets. The outer layer is crunchy and may have a slight sugary glaze, while the inside is soft, airy, and sweet.
You can pair it with a cup of tea or coffee, some people even like to eat it with fresh fruit for added freshness.
Ras Asfour (Berry-Filled Pastries)
Ras Asfour are a burst of sweet refreshment. These are thin pastries, jam-packed with berry preserves. The tangy punch they pack takes your tastebuds on a rollercoaster ride. Syrians typically have Ras Asfour after a rich, fatty meal.
These berry-filled Syrian pastries are perfect for indulging in as a dessert, snack, or sweet treat to enjoy with a warm beverage like tea or coffee. They are often sprinkled with powdered sugar or drizzled with honey for an added touch of sweetness.
Barazek (Sesame Seed Cookies)
Barazek cookies are typically small and round, with a golden-brown color. What makes them special is the sesame seeds that generously coat the surface of the cookie. These seeds add a delightful crunch and a nutty flavor to each bite.
The flavor of Barazek is subtly sweet, with a hint of honey or orange blossom water in the dough, depending on the recipe. This sweetness is perfectly balanced by the earthy, nutty taste of the sesame seeds.
Traditional Syrian Desserts In Syrian Food
Sfouf (Turmeric Cake)
Sfouf stands out for its vibrant yellow color and unique blend of flavors. It gets its distinct color and flavor from ground turmeric, a spice known for its earthy and slightly bitter taste. The cake is typically moist and dense, often with a hint of sweetness.
You can enjoy this Syrian dessert at tea time, with a warm cup of traditional Syrian tea or coffee. The unique combination of turmeric, nuts, and a subtle touch of sweetness in this cake makes it a favorite among those who appreciate distinctive and comforting desserts.
Ghazal Beirut (Butter Cookies)
Ghazal Beirut are celebrated in Syrian sweets for their rich and buttery flavor, often enjoyed with a hot beverage. They are typically small and round with a crumbly texture.
You may also find some adorned with a single nut, often an almond, gently pressed into the center. These cookies are known for their melt-in-your-mouth quality, and the richness of the butter gives them a delightful and indulgent flavor.
Ghazal Beirut are a famous Syrian street food and the locals love this quick to-go bite that makes their day. Hey, we got to enjoy the little things in life.
Khushaf (Dried Fruit Compote)
Khushaf consists of a mixture of dried fruits, often including apricots, figs, raisins, and prunes. These fruits are soaked in water, allowing them to plump up and become tender. The soaking water absorbs the natural sweetness of the fruits, creating a delightful syrup.
It’s often the go-to option during the holy month of Ramadan, where it’s a traditional way to break the fast. You can also enjoy Khushaf chilled, making it a perfect choice for hot days.
Roz Bel Laban (Rice Pudding)
Roz Bel Laban showcases the simplicity of Syrian meals. It consists of primarily rice and milk and is loved for its smooth, velvety texture. The rice used in this dish is tender and well-cooked, and it blends seamlessly with the creamy milk.
The combination of the soft rice grains and the sweet, dairy richness of the milk creates a harmonious and satisfying dessert experience.
You can enjoy this Syrian dessert warm or cold, depending on your preference. Take a generous spoonful and savor its soothing creaminess
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Discovering Traditional Syrian Food
Syrian food tastes even better than it looks on the screen. The best way to know if you’ll love a country’s food is to look at the diversity of options they have. And as you can tell, Syrian cuisine caters to each and every one!
Among the most interesting facts about Syria is that locals will invite you to their home and feed you once they know you’re a tourist. Syrians are all about hospitality!
Having just the national dish of Syria is not enough. In order to fully experience the culinary richness of the country, try as many of their signature food as you can.