Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines are intimately linked. Throughout history, as Islam rose to prominence in the Middle East, many different groups of people emigrated from the Middle East to the Indian subcontinent. These people ranged from invaders to missionaries to refugees fleeing political persecution.
In all cases, those who came to India from the Middle East brought their food with them. To this day, many of these foods remain popular in India. In this article, we break down the top 12 Indian dishes that were adopted from the Middle East sometime in history.
Jalebi is made from deep-fried thin strands of dough that are shaped into pinwheels and often dipped in sugar syrup. Jalebi remains a popular Indian dessert throughout much of the country. However, it was actually brought to India by Persian invaders, who called the dessert “Zalibiya” or “Zulabiya.”
2. Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun is a popular dessert in India. Milk solids are kneaded into a dough with flour before being shaped into balls and deep-fried. The balls are then soaked in a rose-water and cardamom syrup.
Gulab Jamun actually originated in the Middle East, where it was known as “luqmat al qadi.” As the Persian empire invaded India, they transported Gulab Jamun with them.
Samosas are delicious fried pastries filled with savory fillings like potatoes and peas. Many people associate samosas’ origin with India, but this is actually not true. Samosas were developed in Iran around the 10-13th centuries.
Samosas were not introduced into the Indian sub-continent until they were brought over by Middle Eastern chefs who cooked for the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th-14th centuries. In 1300 CE, the first Indian sources began to speak of samosas being enjoyed at the Royal courts.
Naan bread is synonymous with Indian cuisine. When many people think of Indian food, naan is likely the first dish that comes to mind. Naan bread is a type of flatbread that is often cooked in a tandoor oven.
Believe it or not, naan bread is likely not from India at all. Instead, naan bread was developed in Central Asia. In ancient Persia, flatbread was often cooked on very hot pebbles. When the Persians invaded parts of India, they brought this flatbread with them. It was later adopted to be cooked in the tandoor oven.
Biryani is an immensely popular Indian dish that consists of rice and many whole spices slowly cooked with tender chunks of meat. Once again, biryani is not actually from India. When exactly biryani came to India is up for some debate. However, scholars agree that biryani was an export from the Middle East.
Some historians believe that biryani developed under the Mughal empire as a derivative of Persian pilaf. Other historians believe that it was Arab traders in the 11th or 12th century who brought biryani to India.
Kubbah or Kibbeh is a popular dish in both India and the Middle East that consists of ground meat, onions, nuts, and bulgur wheat formed into a ball-like shape and fried. Around the 17th century, kubbah became popular in the Indian coastal city of Cochin. It is likely that Middle Eastern traders brought kubbah with them and introduced it to the local Indian populations, who fell in love.
Mandi is a very popular dish in India’s Malabar region. Mandi is a dish consisting of rice and meat cooked with spices in a special underground oven that is tiled with clay bricks. Coals or charcoal are placed on top of the oven to make sure that no steam escapes.
Mandi actually comes from the Arabic word “nada,” which means “dew.” It is thought that sometime in ancient history, Arab conquerors brought this dish to India, where it was renamed “mandi.”
Korma is a popular dish in many Indian restaurants around the world. Usually, korma refers to meat cooked in a gravy with fruits and nuts. It is thought that korma was brought to India by Humayun, the second emperor of the Mughal dynasty. Humayun introduced the use of nuts and saffron to Indian cuisine, which eventually began to appear in korma.
Kulfi is a popular frozen Indian dessert. Many people call kulfi Indian ice cream. Usually, kulfi is a dense, frozen creamy mixture that is flavored with cardamom or saffron.
Kulfi was likely brought to India from the Middle East by the Mughal empire. Descriptions in 1590 talk about how kulfi was prepared in the royal kitchens of Mughal emperors. Earlier descriptions indicate that kulfi already existed in the Middle East. Likely, kulfi is an offshoot of Persian sorbets.
Alissa is a popular Indian porridge dish that usually consists of meat and nuts in a sort of oatmeal. Alissa was created through Arabic influence as the two cultures collided throughout history. In the Middle East, a similar dish to alissa exists called “Harees.” Likely, this dish inspired alissa as it is known today.
Pathiri is a delicate rice bread that is popular in Kerala. Usually, pathiri is made from rice flour and is very soft and flat. Pathiri actually originated with Muslim refugees and missionaries who fled/came to Kerala centuries ago.
They brought their tradition of making flatbreads with them, and adapted it to local ingredients. To this day, pathiri is most popular among Muslim communities in Kerala.
In many parts of India, kebabs are a popular street food item. Kebabs are usually small pieces of meat, either marinated or fresh, that have been skewered by a stick or pole and cooked over flames.
Kebabs arrived in India from the Mughal empire. The Arabic author Abul Fazl mentions how kebabs were brought to India from Turkey by the Mughals, who loved kebabs. At first, kebabs were reserved for the Royal court. Eventually, however, they made their way down to the common Indian people.
Hi, I’m Rana and I blog at ranasrecipe.com. My passion for food began very early in my life. And after managing a cafe, a granola business and helping other food businesses scale up, I found my true calling in creating wonderful recipes so that everyone can enjoy cooking as much as I do! Don’t forget to follow me on my social channels- instagram and pinterest.