Exploring North and West Asian Cuisines

Photo by Joanne Heo from Pixabay.

Although food from some Asian countries such as India, China, and Japan are commonly known, they are only representatives of East and South Asia. Other parts of Asia, such as North and West Asia, aren’t as well-known in Western cultures but still have fantastic dishes of their own.

Iraq — Quzi

Quzi consists of rice and a whole roasted lamb. Usually, the lamb is stuffed with vegetables and a spice mixture which includes cardamom, cinnamon, and baharat. But occasionally, the lamb is stuffed with nuts or raisins. After the lamb is stuffed, it is cooked or roasted in an underground oven. Once the lamb is finished cooking, it is served on a bed of rice.

Variations of quzi are commonly enjoyed in multiple Arab countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, where it is more commonly known as khuzi, qouzi or ghuzi.


In Yemen, mandi is the national dish, which is native to the Hadhramaut province. Mandi consists of either lamb or chicken, along with fragrant basmati rice and a spice mixture. If lamb is the chosen protein, the lamb should be as small and as young as possible; this further enhances the lamb’s flavor.

Mandi is cooked in a tandoor. A tandoor is a specially-designed hole in the ground that is covered with clay and charcoal, which acts as an oven for the meat placed on top of it. After placing the meat inside, it is then closed which prevents any smoke from escaping which subsequently flavors the meat.

SyriaHalawet el-jeben

Halawet el-jeben are sweet cheese rolls that are commonly served for dessert in Arab and Levantine countries, although it is said to have originated in the city of Hama, which is located in Syria. 

Traditionally, it is made with semolina, rose water, water, sugar, and Akkawi or Majdoola cheese, but modern versions usually contain mozzarella instead. All of the ingredients are heated and combined until they make a soft, pliable dough that is rolled into thin sheets. The filling is made of ashta (thick clotted cheese) which is piped on before the sheets have been rolled into their log shape. The logs are cut into small bite-size pieces and topped with syrup and then garnished with rose jam and ground pistachios. 


Gata is a sweet pastry with a shiny glazed crust. Gata is a very diverse dish; some variations are either plain or with an intricate design on top, which are commonly enjoyed at weddings and festive occasions. The type of gata you will receive varies by which town or region you’re in. A basic gata recipe contains only five ingredients: eggs, butter, flour, sugar, and matsoni (Armenian yogurt).

Gata is made all throughout the year and on every important Armenian holiday. It is also specifically prepared for Candlemas (Feast of the Presentation of Jesus). The most popular variation of gata is khoriz, which is a pastry that contains a single-layer filling made of sugar, flour, and butter.


Mansaf is served on a large platter that is meant for communal eating. This dish combines tender meat, paper-thin flatbread, and piles of fragrant rice. After it’s cooked, it is garnished with toasted nuts and eaten with flatbread and bowls of jameed (tangy yogurt). 

The traditional meat of mansaf is lamb or camel, but some restaurants opt for a lighter version made with chicken.


Ma’amoul is a traditional cookie that is filled with nuts and fruits such as walnuts, dates, and pistachios. These cookies are normally made for celebrations such as Easter. They are typically made into dome-shaped balls. Different fillings mean that the cookie has a different shape. For instance, date ma’amoul is made into a dome with a flat top, whereas pistachio ma’amoul is made into a long oval shape.

Ma’amoul is often topped with powdered sugar for extra sweetness and served with tea or coffee throughout the day.

AfghanistanKabuli Pulao

It has often been said that kabuli pulao was created by the upper class in Kabul because they were the ones who could afford this elaborate meat and rice dish. However, with time, pulao spread across the country and its name became kabuli pulao. This comes from the word “qabil,” which means capable, as it was said that true skill is required to make a good Afghan-style pilaf (a steamed rice dish often paired with meat).

Traditionally, this dish consists of steamed long-grain rice that is then mixed with caramelized carrots, almonds, raisins and lamb meat, although some use beef or chicken.


Harees is a staple in many West Asian countries during Ramadan. Because harees has spread all over West Asia, many of these countries have created their own variations which employ their local ingredients. Usually harees is made with coarse ground wheat that has been mixed with water, butter and meat, which is then left to soak overnight.

If you want to try some of these foods, you should visit Kabul Afghan Cuisine in Seattle, Afghan Cuisine in Bellevue and Farvahar Persian Cafe in Seattle.