What Is A Meze?

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Last week I made a list of small bite meals around the world. One item on this list was meze, which is a collection of finger foods. A meze is a big part of the dining experience in Eastern Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Arab countries. The word "meze" means "taste" and/or "snack." The concept is very similar to the tapas of Spain, but with different ingredients. When served with alcohol like anise-flavored liqueurs such as arak or, ouzo, raki (alcohol made from grape pomace,) or wine, a meze is a main meal. Without alcohol, this is called muqabbilat in Arabic and means "starters," or appetizers. Right now in Muslim countries it is the holy month of Ramadan, and mezes are a big part of the iftar meals served after sunset.

Dishes that are served in a meze are called mezedhes, and these vary by region. Some examples include:

Turkey
Beyaz peynir - a white sheep's milk cheese
Fresh fruit
Acili eme - hot pepper paste with walnuts
Haydari - a thick strained yogurt
Patlican saltais - eggplant salad
Grilled calamari salad
Grilled seasonal vegetables such as artichokes and tomatoes
Cacik - yogurt with cucumber and garlic
Dolmas - grape leaves stuffed with rice and vegetables
Lamb meatballs

Greece and Cyprus
Octopus
Grilled fish
Sliced hard-boiled eggs
Vegetable salads
Grilled bread
Kalamata olives
Fava beans
Eggplant salad
Taramosalata - a salad madre of cod roe mixed with bread crumbs, lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil
Fried/grilled cheeses like halloumi and saganaki
Feta cheese and other salty sheep's milk cheeses
Meatballs
Fried sausages

The Balkans
Cheeses
Kajmak - clotted cream
Salami
Smoked ham
Kulen - a type of sausage
Suho mexo - dried beef that has been salted and smoked
Pickles
Sudzuk - a dry, spicy sausage
Roasted peppers
Green olives

Mediterranean Arab Countries, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Arabian Peninsula, and The Middle East
Ful medames - a dish made of mashed fava beans cooked with garlic, parsley, and lemon
Harira - a Moroccan chickpea and lamb stew
Falafel
Baba ghanoush - a smoky eggplant dip with tahini. Called moutabal in some places.
Hummus
Kibbeh - a dish madre with spices, bulgur wheat, and meat. Kibbeh nayye has lamb.
Lamb and beef sausages
Fried cauliflower
Roasted game birds
Labneh - thick strained yogurt
Cheeses made from cow's or sheep's milk
Muhammara - a dip made with roasted red peppers, walnuts, and pomegranate molasses
Fresh vegetable salads with seasonal ingredients such as rocket
Tabbouleh - a salad made with bulgur, parsley, mint, tomatoes, lemon juice, and olive oil
Fattoush - a salad made with toasted pita bread, fresh vegetables, lemon juice, olive oil, and sumac

Mezes create wonderful social occasions as they encourage diners to share, talk, and make contact. These dishes are traditionally eaten with the fingers and scooped up with pieces of bread. Arabs eat with the right hand only, using three or four fingers.

Related:
Fattoush, A Delicious Middle Eastern Salad
Ingredient Spotlight: Bulgur Wheat
Easy Homemade Pita Bread
Pearl Israeli Couscous
Ingredient Spotlight: Preserved Lemons
Ancient Egyptian Recipe: Ful medammes
Spicy Oven-Roasted Chickpeas
DIY Baba Ghanoush
Reader Recipe: Turkish Cacik
DIY Hummus
Muhammara: Pomegranate, Walnut, & Red Pepper Dip
Word of Mouth: Labneh

(Image: Flickr user UnaiGuerra - thanks!)

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