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Middle Eastern fare with flair
By Yao Minji

This small, casual restaurant looks like many Western-style eateries, but the colorful geometric paintings, Middle Eastern menu and large vertical rotisserie with a chunk of fragrant lamb make Haya's Mediterranean one of Shanghai's few Middle Eastern restaurants.

Though Shanghai is famous for offering food from around the world, it has only around a dozen restaurants featuring Middle Eastern cuisine, known for lamb, kebabs, hummus, yogurt, cheese, pita bread, olives, seeds, nuts, honey, mint and parsley, bulgar wheat, eggplant and various casseroles. Baklava pastry, baba ganoush, tabbouleh and couscous are popular.

Olive oil is used liberally, as are a range of spices.

More than half of the Middle Eastern restaurants in Shanghai are Turkish, featuring kebabs of lamb, mutton, beef and chicken, one of the better-known foods.

A number of restaurants are colorfully decorated with mosaics, colorful hangings, cushions and carpets, creating an exotic ambience. Some venues feature belly dancing and Middle Eastern music.

Compared with these typical restaurants, Haya's has a simple, casual ambiance and reasonably priced menu. Owner Haya, who is from Israel, serves Israeli dishes and other Middle Eastern dishes, as well as Greek yogurt.

The appetizer platter includes pita bread and various typical dips, marinated eggplant, tahini, hummus and yogurt.

The eggplant is fried and then marinated in a vinaigrette and garlic sauce.

The hummus is made from tahini (sesame paste), mashed chick peas, olive oil, lemon juice and spices.

The rich dishes and dips are served with plain, unleavened pita bread. Haya provides pita for supermarkets that target expats. The bakery corner is popular for crispy pies.

The Middle East includes West Asian and Mediterranean countries including Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Turkey.

The region was an important part of the Silk Road and was a crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa for trade and cultural exchange, including food culture.

Fresh produce, spices and recipes from all over the world were tried out in the region, mixed with regional specialties, it gradually became a distinctive culinary culture.

Olives, olive oil, honey, chickpeas, parsley, mint, sesame seeds and honey are common in a variety of dishes. Wheat and rice are staples, often cooked with lamb and beef. Pork is not eaten by Muslims and Jews.

Rice is often found in vegetable and meat stews.

In some places, bread is more common than rice and comes in various forms. In addition to widely known pita bread, laffa is popular. It's a large flat, chewy bread similar to naan. It's used to wrap foods and is torn and dipped into sauces and meat dishes.

More than half of the main courses on a Middle Eastern menu are usually roast lamb or beef of all kinds, served with different sauces and sides.

Salads are also popular, using tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Shredded vegetables are covered with a light dressing, often only olive oil and lemon juice. Yogurt is thick and tart, sometimes sweetened, sometimes served with minced garlic. It is also used as a salad dressing.

Haya's Mediterranean

The Israeli restaurant is small, casual and cozy. Waiters are mostly Chinese who speak some English and the owner Haya is always there. The menu offers quite a few choices of Middle Eastern fare.

Prices are reasonable, less than 100 yuan (US$15.91) for many main course. Portions are generous.

Beef tenderloin, cooked in soy sauce and served on laffa bread, is recommended. The falafel, deep-fried ball of minced chickpeas, is excellent.

Address: 415 Dagu Rd

Tel: 6327-0897

Anadolu Turkish Restaurant

The Turkish restaurant, like many in Shanghai, is a paradise for meat lovers, offering all kinds of lamb and beef in various dishes and kebabs. Assorted breads are available.

The roast beef roll is crisp outside and tender and flavorful inside. The yogurt is salted, rather than plain or sweet. Hookah is available.

Address: 4 Hengshan Rd

Tel: 5465-0977

Shiraz Iranian Restaurant

Named after the ancient city Shiraz, the Iranian restaurant is decorated with colorful and exotic hangings, decorations, cushions and carpets. It presents a vision of an ancient Persian chamber.

It has both indoor and outdoor dining areas.

The eggplant salad is a specialty. The roast lamb is cooked to perfection so that it's flavorful, tender and juicy. Crispy butter-fried rice is recommended.

Address: 8 Hongmei Casual Street, Bldg 2, 3338 Hongmei Rd

Tel: 6565-9993

1001 Nights

The popular Middle Eastern restaurant suddenly gets loud and busy at night, when the lights are low and belly dancers interact with customers amid the smoke from hookah.

The place offers a variety of pastes and dips to go with flat bread and many choices of appetizers. Roast lamb and roast chicken are very popular.

Address: 4 Hengshan Rd

Tel: 6473-1178

Pasha Turkish Restaurant

The small venue is tucked away on quiet Nanchang Road. The decor is striking with plenty of blue. The small balcony is inviting.

The small menu is carefully designed and ordering is easy.

Turkish desserts are typically very sweet, but the rice pudding at Pasha is a must-try because of its rich flavor, texture and moderate sweetness.

The kebab platter offers plenty of variety.

Address: 262 Nanchang Rd

Tel: 6473-8113

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164