The Middle East has some amazing desserts! Especially if you are a nut lover or have a sweet tooth as they commonly topped with sugar syrup to keep them really moist! Popular flavours include cardamon or rose, so if you’re a fan of those then you’re going to love Arabic desserts. So here’s the ultimate list of must try Arabic sweets or Halwa as we say in Arabic.
‘Halwa’ translates to sweet in Arabic and it is even used as a compliment in Arabic too. So if someone calls you ‘halwa’ they’re saying you’re pretty and sweet!
Can’t wait and just want to know which nine Arabic sweets you must try? I’ve added the full list below, just click which one you want for more details! I’ve also shared some of the recipes and will be publishing more soon! So make sure to bookmark this page!
9 Incredible Arabic Desserts you must try!
- Basbousa / Harissa
- Luqaimat / Logma
- Umm Ali / Arabic Bread Pudding
- Mahalabia / Milk Pudding
- Qatayef / Atayek
- Usbu Al Zainab / Zainab’s Fingers
If you’re curious about the Middle East and Dubai, make sure to check out some of my other articles:
What is the traditional food of the UAE?
Who rules Dubai? All your questions answered about Dubai and UAE!
How to make authentic tasty Karak Chai at home!
Ramadan in Dubai, what to expect!
Hidden Gems in the Middle East you never knew existed!
This is a gooey dessert contrasted by a pastry top covered in a sugar syrup. The bottom part is either cream or cheese. I personally love the cheese version! You can also get either a soft semolina cake style top or a crunchy bird nest pastry top. Many people argue over whether hard or soft is better! As well as cream versus cheese!
There are different variations such as with nutella and so forth but honestly the classic versions are so good that you should make sure you try these ones first!
Also I’ll apologise in advance, yes Kunafa is addictive. That’s probably why the Dubai stone exists! Once you eat it, there’s no going back!
Basbousa / Harissa
This is a sweet spongey semolina pudding. It’s called Basbousa in the gulf and Harissa in some parts of the levant. As usual with Arabic desserts it’s covered in a sweet syrup that makes the semolina sponge lovely and moist. The second main ingredient is desiccated coconut which gives it a lovely coconutty flavour!
Often decorated with nuts, the most popular being whole almonds. It’s a simple cake style dessert but tastes amazing! Did you just accidentally eat an entire plate of Basbousa to yourself? Yes, yes you did. Don’t worry, we’ve all done it!
Luqaimat / Logma
These are kind of like little mini doughnuts with an over so slightly crispy outer shell. They are fried and extremely popular during Ramadan. The traditional topping is a date syrup but you can also use honey if you prefer. Sesame seeds are sprinkled for decoration as a final touch!
It can be called Logma or Lokma in other regions but is typically called Luqaimat or Lugaimat in the gulf. As the UAE and Saudi Arabia pronounce the Arabic letter “Qaf” as a G.
Umm Ali / Arabic Bread Pudding
Think of it as a bread pudding but tastier than the kind you might be used to in The States or Europe! I’ve always thought bread pudding was boring until I tried Umm Ali for the first time in Oman. The Middle East has a way of making it with cinnamon, nuts and coconut to truly make it something incredible.
It’s also not always made with bread in the Middle East. It can be made with pastry, commonly puff pastry. Variations on the name include Om Ali and Omali but they all translate to “Ali’s Mother” in Arabic. Named after the wife of an Egyptian ruler from the 12th Century.
Layers of filo pastry with layers of nut filling covered in butter make this very tasty Arabic dessert! You’ll find many different kinds, some made in birds nests, others made of a rolled pastry and all different kinds of nuts!
Typically a sugar syrup is poured over the Baklava as part of the final preparation so that all of the filo pastry absorbs it! Keeping it lovely and moist. Lots of butter and sugar make this one extremely tasty!
Mahalabia / Arabic Milk Pudding
Simple but so tasty! This traditional milk pudding is flavoured with rose water but you do also find it mixed with orange blossom water. Plus a sprinkle of nuts on top, typically pistachio nuts. Also due to it being made with cornflour to thicken up the milk, it is one of the few Arabic desserts that is naturally gluten free.
I really find the homemade version is the best, you should try my recipe for it here. As I have yet to find a restaurant that does it as tasty as this recipe! The caramelised nuts make all the difference.
Have you ever tried a fig roll biscuit? I would describe these as similar but a lot more tasty! With a soft crumbly shell, inside is a tasty date and nut paste. They’re popular to have with Arabic coffee and also during special holidays such as Ramadan or Eid.
As with most Arabic desserts, they have a very long history you can trace back centuries. These go back to as far as ancient Egypt. These are especially popular in the Arabian gulf!
Qatayef / Atayek
These are soft spongey pancakes folded into a cone like shape filled with cream. Sprinkled with pistachios. Noticing the nut theme? If you love cream, you’ll love these! Alternatively it is sometimes filled with a type of cheese called Akkawi.
Again like many of the others these are popular during Ramadan, as those fasting crave sugary items to quickly boost energy levels once the sun has set! They’re typically fried as a final preparation so definitely not one for those on a diet!
Usbu Al Zainab / Zainab’s Fingers
These crunchy little rolls do look a little like fingers, hence the name! I’ve seen many different varieties from my time in the Middle East. Some that look more like wafer rolls or Chinese spring rolls! The second kind are lumpy dark gold brown finger shapes like the photo above. I personally prefer the first kind filled with cheese!
If you go for a Ramadan Iftar Buffet in Dubai, you’ll commonly find the second kind.
Thanks for reading!
We’ll apologise in advance as you’re probably now very hungry. Definitely don’t read this list when you’re fasting. Out of all of these Kunafa is probably my favourite, closely followed by Baklava, Maamooul and then Mahalabia.
Yallah! Go try some Arabic desserts today! If you try any of my recipes at home, don’t forget to tag my Instagram with your results!