Eat your way around Africa & the Middle East with these 15 dishes

With aromatic spices, fragrant rice and stews, delicious sandwiches and a deep love of grilled meat, you’re in for a real foodie treat when you travel around Africa and the Middle East. From the Middle Eastern icons like hummus, falafel and shawarma, to the African treasures like biryani, braai and potjiekos, we take you on a tastebud-tingling journey around the best of African and Middle Eastern food. 

1. Pap en vleis / Shisa nyama

You can’t go far in Southern Africa without coming across the beloved combination of pap en vleis, which literally means maize porridge and meat. The dish includes any kind of braaied (barbecued) or stewed meat and a starch, and it’s usually served with other sides like relish and gravy. It’s particularly popular in South Africa, where the treasured ‘braai’ takes barbecuing to another level.

Shisa nyama, meaning ‘burn meat’ in Zulu, is the same delicious concept and often refers to a celebratory ‘bring-and-braai’ event. Whether you like steak, chops, chicken, kebabs, boerewors (spicy sausage), or even fish, you can have almost anything braaied. Pair it with any kind of maize porridge like krummelpap (crumbly porridge) or suurpap (soured pap), and you’ve got South Africa in a dish. 

Taste the real deal in South Africa

You can experience a real braai and a taste of pap en vleis/shisa nyama when you travel to South Africa with Trafalgar. We’ll take you on a special Be My Guest experience with locals in the whale-watching town of Hermanus. You’ll enjoy a traditional braai with all the classics like boerewors, pap and melktert (a sweet South African dessert), all washed down with superb homemade wine.

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You can also take part in a classic South African braai at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, enjoying traditional grilled meats while surrounded by the magical sounds of nature in the African wilderness. 

2. Falafel

Falafel has got to be one of the most famous Middle Eastern foods of all time. The exact origins of falafel are fiercely debated among Middle Easterners, but wherever you enjoy these fried balls of chickpeas and spices, you’re certainly in for a treat.

If you’re in Egypt, you’ll even get a slight variation on the iconic falafel. Here it’s made with crushed fava beans instead of chickpeas, and known as ta’meya. Mixed with herbs and spices like cumin, coriander, parsley and dill, and typically served with tahini, salad and aish baladi (Egyptian bread), falafel is always a crowd favourite.

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3. Biryani and pilau

From Southern Africa to Eastern Africa and everywhere in between, biryani and pilau are true Swahili staples. These dishes were originally brought to the African continent by Indian migrants and have been given a uniquely African spin.

In South Africa, biryani originated from the Cape Malay culture. It’s made with meat like goat or chicken, lentil, potatoes, tomatoes, parboiled rice and spices like ginger, garam masala and chilli powder.

Further east, Kenyans and Tanzanians love their chicken biryani, made with chicken, spices, dried fruit and basmati rice. Pilau is another famous rice, infused with a gorgeous blend of spices like cinnamon, cumin, ginger, cardamom and cloves.

Taste the real deal in Zanzibar

There’s no better place to try biryani and pilau than the stunning island of Zanzibar, famed as the ‘Spice Island’. When you travel with Trafalgar, we’ll take you to visit to a shamba (spice farm) with a local guide. You’ll get to smell and taste all kinds of spices, herbs and fruits, and learn how generations of farmers have been growing these incredible foods for centuries.

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4. Shawarma

As one of the world’s favourite street foods and the ultimate Middle Eastern sandwich, you can’t go past the shawarma. The star of this dish is shavings of tender, spit-roasted meats. Depending on where you are, your shawarma will be served in a wrap, pita bread or burger bun, and topped with pickled vegetables, tahini, tabbouleh, or tangy sauces.

You’ll find variations all over the region, with countries like Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey and Egypt all hotly contesting who makes the best shawarma. You’ll just have to try them all to find your favourite!

RELATED CONTENT: Eight Foods to Try on Your Trip to The Middle East

5. Pap / Ugali

You can’t visit Africa without trying this famous starchy staple. It’s known as ugali in Eastern Africa, nshima in Zambia, sadza in Zimbabwe, phaleche in Botswana, pap in Southern Africa, and there are even more names out there. Whatever you call it, one thing is for sure – pap is the king of meals in Africa. 

It’s made by boiling cornmeal until it becomes a dense slab, and it’s eaten by tearing off a piece, rolling it into a ball and using it like an edible spoon to dip in stews, soups, curries and sauces. Similar to a doughy porridge, the sign of a good pap is that it won’t stick to your fingers!

Taste the real deal in Tanzania

You can get a taste of pap, or ugali in Tanzania, when we take you on a  walking tour of the village of Mto wa Umbu in Tanzania, learning about village life as you stroll through farmlands and markets. You’ll get to learn how the local banana beer is made (and try it for yourself), before sitting down to an incredible feast of traditional dishes prepared by the local ladies. 

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6. Hummus

plate of hummus Middle Eastern food

When you think of Middle Eastern food, you probably think of hummus. This iconic chickpea dip is eaten all over the world and is a staple across North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Each region even offers up its own special twist on this beloved dish.

Hummus is typically made from mashed chickpeas mixed with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. It can be eaten as a dip, as a sandwich spread, or any way you like! 

While hummus is the godfather of Middle Eastern dips, you also can’t go past tahini, the classic sesame paste used as a dip, a spread, or a base for many Middle Eastern foods. There’s also baba ghanoush, a vegetarian icon made with roasted eggplant and tahini. With so many delicious options, you’re sure to go dip-crazy in the Middle East!

7. Potjiekos

If you love a good stew, you’ve got to try potjiekos, the beloved dish of Southern Africa, particularly Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Potjiekos is an Afrikaans term that translates to ‘pot food’, and refers to the stews that are slow-cooked in the traditional three-legged cast-iron pot that originated from the Netherlands.

There are many ways to cook a superb potjie, but the general rule is that it takes several hours of simmering for the food to cook to perfection. There are also many different kinds of meat you can use for your potjie, with the most popular being mutton, beef and chicken.

Taste the real deal in Namibia

Want to try a traditional Namibian foodie experience? We’ll take you on a special Be My Guest experience to meet the third-generation Seifart family on their farm and some of the resident cattle, sheep and goats. You’ll learn all about Namibian farm life, before tucking into a tasty buffet lunch of homemade Namibian specialities. Yum!

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8. Tagine and couscous

traditional tagine and couscous Morocco Arabic food

Tagine is one of the icons of North African and Arabic food, and you can’t visit this part of the world without trying it! It’s a stew-like dish made with vegetables and meat like chicken or fish, all slow-cooked in a tagine, a special North African clay or ceramic cooking pot.

You also can’t forget about couscous (known as sikuk or seksu), the wildly popular staple of North Africa, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. These little steamed balls of semolina are a national dish from Algeria to Morocco and a traditional Berber dish. While you might have tasted couscous before, you’ve got to try it the authentic way, flavoured with spices like saffron and cinnamon, and served with a heartwarming stew.

Taste the real deal in Morocco

If you want to try the best tagine and couscous, travel to Morocco with Trafalgar! We’ll take you to a special Be My Guest dinner in a traditional Riad with a local family, where you’ll indulge in Moroccan specialities and wine.

We’ll even take you into the mountains and valleys of Morocco to experience the legendary Berber hospitality. Enjoy the delicious Berber cuisine, then witness an unforgettable Berber show of tribal dances and horseman skills.

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9. Jollof rice

Jollof rice is the king of West African cuisine, found in homes and restaurants across Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Togo, Liberia and Sierra Leone. There’s even a fierce rivalry between the West African countries as to who makes the best, with Ghananains claiming to have the most delicious jollof rice. 

Essentially, jollof is a one-pot dish made with rice cooked in a flavour-packed, tomato-based broth. The rice soaks up the juices and transforms into a bright red or orange colour. Paired with grilled meat, stews or vegetables, jollof is perfect for a regular night in or a special celebration. It’s simple, scrumptious, and is sure to become your new favourite African comfort food.

10. Mansaf

Mansaf is the beloved national dish of Jordan, and you won’t get far in this country without being tempted by this mouthwatering Middle Eastern food. It’s made with lamb cooked in a sauce of jameed (a special fermented goat yoghurt), and spices like cumin, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaves. It’s then served over layers of manook bread and saffron-spiced rice or bulgur and topped with roasted pine nuts. 

Along with being super tasty, this dish runs deep through the heart of Jordanian culture. It originated from the Bedouin tribes who lived nomadically in the Arabian desert and often used the dish to resolve conflicts between tribes. Today, mansaf is always served at special occasions like weddings, graduations, births and funerals. 

Taste the real deal in Jordan

When you travel Jordan with Trafalgar, we’ll take you on a special Be My Guest dinner with a local family in Amman, where you can try mansaf along with other Jordanian delicacies.

We’ll also take you on an unforgettable experience to a traditional Bedouin camp, where you’ll meet members of the tribe and share a traditional dinner of Bedouin specialities under the starry night sky.

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11. Koshary

As an Egyptian favourite, koshary is one of the most unique African and Middle Eastern foods. It’s a genius combination of rice, black lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, spaghetti, and vermicelli, covered in tomato sauce, fried onions, garlic, vinegar sauce, chilli, and whatever else gets tossed in!

It may sound unusual but it is utterly delicious and an explosion of flavours and textures. Found in homes and restaurants around Egypt, this is the ultimate comforting carb-fest. You’re sure to find yourself going back for koshary again and again on your Egypt trip.

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12. Nyama choma

Nyama choma, which literally means ‘burned meat’ in Swahili, is one of the most beloved dishes of Eastern Africa. It’s similar to a barbecue, but even better, with meats like chicken, goat, beef or fish, slow-roasted over hot coals until the tender meat melts in your mouth.

It’s particularly common in Kenya, and the most popular variety is roasted goat, served with rice and kachumbari, a tangy salsa. You’ll find nyama choma everywhere, from street-side stalls to fine dining restaurants.

Taste the real deal in Kenya

You’ll get to experience a traditional Kenyan barbecue when you travel with Trafalgar. Head into the wilderness of the Maasai Mara and relax by the campfire under the stars, all while the chef prepares your selection of meats over the charcoal grill. Tuck into a Bush Banquet, with roasted meats, fresh salads, desserts, and vegetarian options, before enjoying a special performance by Maasai dancers. 

RELATED CONTENT: In conversation with: Dedan, a Massai safari guide for Trafalgar

We can even arrange a private barbecue for you and three others in the remote bushland of Samburu. You’ll get to enjoy slow-roasted meats, all while surrounded by the enchanting wilderness under a blanket of stars.

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13. Bobotie

Pronounced ‘ba-boor-tea’, this is one of the most beloved dishes in South Africa. Originating as a Cape-Malay creation, bobotie is an incredible mixture of curried mince-meat, raisins, coriander, cumin, cloves and fruit jam or chutney. It’s topped with a creamy golden layer made from egg and milk, similar to moussaka, and baked to perfection.

The dish has a history dating back to ancient Roman times and South Africans often hail it as their national dish. So you know you’re in for a serious treat when you tuck into this wonderfully warming dish.

14. Sabich

sabich Israeli sandwich Middle Eastern food

So you’ve heard of shawarma and falafel… But what about sabich? This traditional Israeli dish is a real contender for the best Middle Eastern food. It’s made by stuffing a pitta bread with fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, pickles, hummus, tahini, salad and amba, an Iraqi pickled mango chutney. It’s also common to find boiled or fried potatoes and zhug, a Yemeni hot sauce, for that extra kick.

Sabich was traditionally eaten by Jews on the morning of Shabbat, when cooking was not allowed. The family prepared the eggplant and potatoes the Friday night before, and when they returned from the Synagogue on Saturning morning, they’d enjoy this tasty sandwich. Today sabich is so popular it’s found all over Israel and beyond, and enjoyed any day of the week!

Taste the real deal in Israel

You’ll get the chance to try a sabich when you travel to Israel with Trafalgar. Just ask your local guide where to find the best! You’ll also get to try other Israeli specialities at an exclusive Be My Guest experience in the Ajami neighbourhood of Tel Avivi. Here you’ll meet some locals and learn what it was like growing up in an area where the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths live side by side.

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15. Kanafeh

As the ultimate Middle Eastern dessert, you simply cannot go to countries like Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and Egypt without trying a slice or two of kanafeh. This sweet treat is made from layers of filo pastry soaked in syrup, and stuffed with soft, stretchy cheese like ricotta.

Baked until crispy and topped with cream or nuts, this gooey delight is sure to satisfy any sweet craving. Just ask your Trafalgar guide where to find the very best kanafeh!

What is your favourite Middle Eastern or African food? Let us know in the comments below….

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