Arabic and Indian Food: Desi Eats Abroad

Indian and Arabic Food

By Parm Johal @desiglobetrottr

Parm Johal headshot

Parm Johal, Travel contributor

Desi Globetrotter’s Parm Johal discovers parallels between Arabic and Indian food along her travels.

The more I travel the more similarities I see between cultures. During my trip to Europe and Turkey two autumns ago, I came across traditional Arabic desserts, snacks and drinks that looked and tasted very much like their Indian counterparts. Of course, with India’s ancient history with the Mughal empire, a crossover was bound to happen.


Here is Desi Globetrotter’s guide to decoding the names behind these epicurean delights:


Zlabias = Jalebis 

jalebiOn my last day in Paris, I came across a small Tunisian bakery in the Latin Quarter. These twisted, bright orange, syrupy sweets in the window display caught my eye. Jalebis have been traced back to India, but have made their way to the Middle East and North Africa during the Muslim rule. According to Wikipedia, “Jalebi became Zalebi as Z is more common in middle-eastern languages. In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, this sweet is known as Zlebia or Zlabia.”

Learning about India and Tunisia…in Paris. Now that’s world education.

Kemal Pasha = Gulab Jamuns

Kemal pashaWhile travelling near Ephesus and Fethiye in Turkey, I had a chance to try these golden, round and spongy sweets. Indian gulab jamuns are flavored with rose water and made with dough and syrup.

Turkish Kemal Pasha tastes very similar, but with the addition of cheese added to the recipe. Our hotel served a platter of these coconut sprinkled Kemal Pasha during dinner and I couldn’t help but reach for a serving of two!

Gözleme = Paratha

This iconic savoury flatbread, sold at roadside ‘dhabas’ in India to bus stops and street stands in Turkey, comes grilled, rolled, and stuffed with veg and non-veg options. From potato to spinach to cheese and minced meat, Turkish Gözleme reminded me of my childhood road trips with my parents packing rolled up Aloo Parathas for the family. Potato Gozleme

This time I was sitting with my husband at a bus stop in Kas, Turkey delighted to find the similarities between Turkish and Indian food.


Ayran = Lassi

lassi glassSimilar to lassi, this milky, salty and throat soothing yogurt drink was my best friend in Turkey while suffering from a cold. Ayran is sold everywhere in Turkey from packaged options in supermarkets and fast food joints to freshly made drinks at restaurants. Ayran is even available ‘on tap’ in Kas, Turkey.

More about the author

Desi Globetrotter is an international travel blog with a focus on independent travel through a South Asian lens. In June 2014, Desi Globetrotter was rated in the Top 500 List of Best Indian Blogs. Based in Vancouver, but a free-spirited global nomad at heart, Desi Globetrotter’s Founder & Editor, Parm Johal is a Freelance Travel Writer with articles published nationally and internationally in Conde Nast Traveller India, Huffington Post Canada, and

Parm Johal picture

Parm Johal


Parm’s favourite travel moments include backpacking solo in Spain and Portugal, spending a night in the Saharan desert gazing up at the stars, exploring the streets of Mumbai, working on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, Mexico and Alaska with over a 1000 crew members from around the world and experiencing the magic of travel with her husband in Turkey, Europe, Thailand, Japan, Argentina and Uruguay.

For destination guides, travel stories, tips and travel features, follow Desi Globetrotter on Twitter and Facebook.

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