In the Middle East, the meal is
not a simple act of nourishment, but it is social gathering and a place for
interaction. Foods are associated with ceremonies, rituals and myths. Fasting
is a big part of the religious culture and breaking the fast is a big celebration.
Cakes are given at the birth of a child; eggs, a symbol of eternity, are
associated with funerals; and animal sacrifices accompany religious festivals
or marriage (Yassine 52).
Mezze are little bits of food to
accompany drinks. They are not meant to fill you up but to stimulate the
appetite and open up the palette. The
making of yogurt, an essential part of the Middle Eastern diet, used to be a
regular activity in any Middle Eastern household. Daily consumption of yogurt is believed to
have medicinal and therapeutic qualities, helping to ensure a long and healthy
life (Roden 10). Yogurt is eaten hot and cold in soups, salads, marinades and
used as the main liquids in dishes. Fresh
vegetables are also a staple of the Middle Eastern diet and Pancar Salatasi, or
beets and yogurt, is a popular, simple, healthy and inexpensive mezze to
prepare. Root vegetables are abundant in this area and they are not expensive.
Another healthy vegetable Mezze
dish is Msoura, or carrot salad. This dish is made with orange blossom water,
which is also used as a perfume, air freshener, and skin moisturizer as well as
in food preparation. The orange is one
of the three main varieties of fruit grown in the Middle East. Palestinian
farmers first produced the Jaffa orange.
Jaffa, called the City of Oranges, now has a joint Palestinian/Israeli
cooperation to export oranges, which is a rare thing in that part of the world
Falafel, a food adopted by the
Israelis as their national snack, which in turn created an outright war with
other Middle Eastern countries, is made from chickpeas, other beans and spices
(Liora intro). It is a protein and eaten
on pita bread with an assortment of vegetable toppings and tahini sauce. It can
also be a croquette of mashed chickpeas and spices. Tabouleh is also eaten with
pita and has a nutty taste because of the bulgur’s natural flavor. These simple
Mezze dishes illustrate a cuisine that is made from healthy and local
ingredients that are relatively inexpensive. These dishes are made to stimulate
the appetite and open the pallet.