Arab cuisine is the cuisine of the Arab countries. It is the traditional food eaten by the citizens of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, encompassing all the countries of the peninsula excluding Yemen (as the culture in that country is quite distinct). Arab Cuisine is largely a mixture of Mediterranean and Indian food, with a dash of heat.
Originally, the bedouin roaming the deserts of Saudi Arabia relied heavily on a diet of dates, with little variety, save the occasional, expensive camel or goat, with a heavy emphasis on yogurt products, such as leben (yoghurt without butterfat). However, Arabia has long been a center of trade, and with the merchants' wanderings came a wide array of various imported food items and methods of cooking. As the indigenous semitic peoples of the peninsula wandered, so did their tastes and favored ingredients.
Arabian cuisine today is the result of a combination of richly diverse cuisines, incorporating Lebanese cooking, Indian cooking, and many items not indigenous to the Persian gulf region, which were imported on the dhows and caravans. There is a strong emphasis on the following items in Arabian cuisine: lamb, yogurt, mint, thyme (often in a mix called zataar), the inescapable tea (preferably Ceylonese), sesame, curry powder, saffron, turmeric, garlic, and cinnamon, rice (the staple), and, in coastal areas, fish. In addition, the cuisine is heavily dosed with anything hot, from hot sauces to every variety of pepper, to tea drank the hotter the better. This cuisine also favors vegetables such as cucumbers, eggplants, and onions, and fruits (primarily citrus), and often used as seasonings for entrees. As you may note, many of the spices are those emphasized in Indian cuisine. This is not a coincidence, but the result of heavy trading between the two regions, and of the current state of affairs in the wealthy oil states, in which many foreign workers are living abroad in the Persian gulf states.
Essential to any cooking in the Arabian Peninsula is the concept of hospitality. Meals are generally large family affairs, with much sharing and a great deal of warmth over the dinnertable. Formal dinners and celebrations generally entail large quantities of lamb, and every occasion entails large quantities of tea.
In an average Persian gulf state household, a visitor might expect a dinner consisting of a very large platter, shared commonly, with a vast mountain of rice, incorporating lamb or chicken, or both, as separate dishes, with various stewed vegetables, heavily spiced, sometimes with a tomato sauce. Most likely, there would be several other items on the side, less hearty. Tea would certainly accompany the meal, as it is almost constantly consumed. Coffee would be included as well.
An Arab citizen traveling to a Western country may be shocked at western use of cinnamon in sweets. In Arabia , cinnamon is most widely used as a seasoning for meats. Arabian cultures do, however, have other desserts. Variations of rice pudding and fried dough are abundant in recipes enjoyed in Arabia . Ground nut mixtures are common fillings for such treats. Saffron is used in everything, from sweets, to rice, to beverages. Fruit juices are quite popular in this often arid region.