We Lebanese love to think of ourselves as the center of the culinary universe. Yes, our Mediterranean diet does the body good, and foreigners go weak at the knees when they sit down to our delectable food. But who knew that some of the dishes we prize and cherish as our own can be found in other countries’ cuisines, almost identical in appearance and uncannily similar in taste, too? Did you ever think you could find a sambousik look-alike in South America, for example?

Let’s tour the world and discover where some of our Lebanese mainstays are dressed up under the disguise of a different name.

1. Me7she Malfouf = Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

(Image via Poland for All)

Stuffed cabbage rolls, or what we call me7she malfouf, are common to the ethnic cuisines of the Balkans, Central, Northern and Eastern Europe. The Poles refer to them as “little pigeons,” stuffing cooked cabbage leaves with a mixture of mince pork, beef, and rice or barley before allowing them to simmer stove-top. In Romania, they are known as sarmale and are traditionally served on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, while in Sweden, they are unfailingly accompanied by lingonberry jam. Even Egypt’s got its own version, meatless and mighty.

2. Kebbet Batata = Shepherd's Pie

(Image via Genaw)

Many hail it as kebbet batata or batata bil saniyeh, a dish layered with puréed potatoes, a meat and onion stir-fry, more purée, and bread crumbs (often crushed kaak). Shepherd’s pie, originating in the UK and Ireland, is a nearly indistinguishable meat pie with a crust of mashed potatoes on top. So named because it is made with mutton, beef is another popular option, and either meat can be supplemented with diced carrots, green peas, and onions. A warm, melted cheddar topping elevates the dish marvelously.

3. Sambousik = Empanada

(Image via Halupi)

An empanada, best described as dough folded around a stuffing, can be found in Latin America and Southern Europe. The counterpart to the Lebanese sambousik, it typically consists of a variety of meat, cheese, vegetables or even fruits, and can be baked or fried and served as a starter. Argentina is famous for more creative ingredients, like boiled egg, olives, raisins, spinach, and, during the Lenten season, fish. In Indonesia, panada has a thick crust composed of fried bread and is filled with spicy tuna and chili peppers.

4. Ftayer bi Sele2 = Spanakopita

(Image via Nutritioulicious)

Ftayer bi sele2 are one of Lebanon’s most sought-after pasties, a triangular-shaped turnover stuffed with Swiss chard or spinach, minced onions, tomatoes, sumac, and other herbs. Our Mediterranean neighbors over in Greece craft something remarkably similar called spanakopita, a burek-style pastry stuffed with chopped spinach (or leeks, chard, and sorrel), feta, onions, egg, and seasoning. The crust is phyllo sheets lubed with butter or olive oil, and spanakopita can be fashioned in a large pan or rolled into individual triangular servings. Just as in Lebanon, this leafy green pocket doubles as a wonderful snack.

5. 3ejjeh = Omelet

(Image via Blogger)

Omelet is a universal dish comprising beaten eggs quickly cooked with butter or oil in a frying pan, at times folded around a filling such as cheese, veggies, meat, or any combination thereof. In Lebanon, 3ejjeh can be used to describe the national omelet conventionally made with either scallions and parsley or on occasion cored zucchini. In India, the omelet contains finely chopped green chili peppers and onions, green coriander, salt and cumin. In the Netherlands, a boerenomelet (or “farmer’s omelet”) blends sautéed onions, mushrooms, potatoes, bell peppers, leeks, and peas for one satisfying meal. Spain’s tortilla relies heavily on sliced potatoes and is thus heartier and thicker.

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