Best Traditional Food in UAE

Written by Neha Singh from Dubai Wikia.

Imagine any cuisine while in Dubai or UAE; no matter it’s authentic American steak, a traditional English breakfast or even flavoursome Thai or Chinese cuisine, the region’s multicultural culinary scene ensures that your favourite food is readily available here. But if you wish to eat like a local or want to try something both exotic and exciting during your Arabian holidays, then here is a list of traditional foods in UAE which you can include it in your taste list.  

But just before we get into the real list, let’s review some facts about their cuisine.

Interesting facts and highlights about Emirati cuisine

  • Emirati cuisines have strong influences of Asian and Middle Eastern flavours.
  • Ancient Emiratis lived in the desert and their foods have evolved over time.
  • The UAE’s location along the spice and silk routes has also greatly influenced the Emirati food culture and heritage.
  • Emirati foods are mostly prepared using cereals, wheat, fish, meat (including camel), poultry and dairy products.
  • Among the staple ingredients for most Emirati dishes are pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron, honey etc.
  • These traditional foods may appear to be simple, but the reality is that it’s filling and its ingredients collectively place more emphasis on complex carbohydrates.

Top Traditional Food in the UAE

Dates & Qahwa

Dates. Photo by Mona Mok on Unsplash

The iconic combination of succulent dates and traditional Qahwa coffee has long been regarded as the symbol of the Arabian hospitality and generosity. It’s a must during all Arabian gathering. This Arabic coffee is prepared in special utensils using a traditional recipe (inclusive of cloves, cumin, cardamom etc). What’s more; there is even an interesting etiquette that should be followed while serving it.

Rightly so, the UNESCO has included the Qahwa into its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The dallah is the pot from which the host serves coffee. And the guest sips the warm coffee in cute tiny cups while munching on fresh or dried dates (which make a perfect accompaniment to the coffee).

Shawarma

Shawarma (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyclonebill/2223426004/sizes/l/)

This is probably the most consumed Arabic street food in the Middle East. For those who don’t know, it appears in the form of a flatbread wrap whose main highlight is the marinated chicken or lamb meat which is slow-cooked on a vertical rotisserie for a few hours. Besides the thin meat strips, the stuffing also covers veggies like cucumber, tomatoes etc. It’s mostly served with French fries and some special sauces as well as pickles. And the best thing is that it’s compact and easy to hold, making it a breeze to consume it on the go. It’s exceptionally affordable too. If you don’t take meat, there are shops selling its vegetarian version as well. Believe us; it’s equally tasty!

Al Harees

Al Harees (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scaredykat/7797136886/sizes/l/)

Al Harees is an ancient food which is indispensable during traditional Arabic festivals and special occasions like Ramadan and wedding across the Middle Eastern countries. It may require only a few ingredients (such as whole wheat and meat), but it takes several hours for the cooking of this porridge kind of dish. It’s made in a special pot wherein all ingredients are cooked until the meat becomes soft and get absolutely dissolved into the wheat. Once done, it’s garnished with fried onions or ghee.

Hummus

Hummus (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuart_spivack/5885444147/sizes/l/)

This Arabic dip makes a healthy alternative over mayonnaise with relatively high-fat content. Its main ingredient is mashed cooked chickpeas means it is protein and fibre enriched. Add to this olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt (according to taste) and your Hummus is ready. It makes a perfect dip to go with shawarma, cut vegetables and fresh Arabic bread.

Falafel

Falafel (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/alper/9358956353/sizes/l/)

This UAE traditional food is one of the most consumed Middle Eastern snacks. A blend of ground chickpeas, greens, and flavoursome spice is shaped like a ball and deep-fried until it becomes golden brown. Whether you opt to take it as such by dipping into the hummus or use it as a stuffing for your wrap, you can be guaranteed of its super tasty.

Stuffed Camel

Grilled Camel (source: https://www.asiaone.com/food/camel-meat-hotel-buffet)

While this is an authentic Emirati cuisine, don’t expect to find this dish in a café or a restaurant. It’s mostly cooked during important Bedouin functions or festive occasions like weddings. In this dish, the cooked camel is stuffed with lamb which in turn is stuffed with chickens, eggs and cooked rice. Unsurprisingly, the Guinness Book of Records has named it the largest ever dish ever prepared. While it’s very unlikely that you’ll get to taste it during your holidays, you’ll definitely find a variety of other dishes prepared using camel meat.

Fattoush

Fattoush (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/twohungrydudes/7462003996/sizes/l/)

Fattoush is a Middle Eastern salad whose chief ingredient is the fried or toasted pieces of Arabic bread. This starter dish is further made more colourful and healthy by adding a variety of vegetables and fruits such as onions, cucumber, tomatoes, pomegranates, fresh mint, parsley etc. Moreover, a blend of lemon juice, garlic, lemon zest, ground pepper, and extra virgin oil is used as a dressing.

Machboos

Machboos (source: https://makan.place/ordering/store/food-order/item-id/8193)

Most traditional Arabic ceremonies are incomplete without serving this aromatic rice delicacy. It’s more or less like the Indian biryani or pulao, with the difference that Machboos contains more dried limes or turmeric as compared to its Indian version. It’s further less spicy, however, the side dishes (such as chilli sauce) that go along with the dish make up for it.

Khuboos

Khuboos (source: https://presscs.com/recipes/kuboos-arabic-bread-recipe-quick-and-easy-kuboos-arabic-bread-recipe/)

This Arabic flatbread is prepared using all-purpose or wheat flour. It’s traditionally cooked in a clay oven and goes well with hummus and gravies. Al though Khuboos comes in packets in stores and supermarkets, it’s best to buy freshly baked ones from bakery or restaurants across the city.

Luqaimat

Luqaimat (source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrsdkrebs/36404783413/sizes/l/)

It’s probably the most adored dessert of the Arabian world. A mix of flour, cornflour, instant yeast, yoghurt, and cardamom powder goes into the preparation of this dumpling. Once it’s combined with adequate water, this blend is deep-fried and then generously drizzled with date syrup or sugar syrup before it’s served warm.

Kunafah

Kunafah (https://www.flickr.com/photos/fourfridays/23494759818/sizes/l/)

This melt in the mouth, traditional Middle Eastern dessert has a loyal fan base, being a favourite of Emiratis, ex-pats and tourists alike. It’s cooked using the crunchy, thin noodle-like phyllo dough and its taste is boosted with a combination of cheese, sugar syrup and dry fruits like pistachios.

Mehalabiya

Mehalabiya (source: https://chefsimon.com/gourmets/cata/recettes/mehalabiya-flan-parfume-a-l-eau-de-rose-qatar)

Finally, this is one simple Arabic dessert that you must sample during your Dubai holidays. It’s a super tasty milk pudding enhanced with the flavours of rose water and pistachio nuts.

Best Places To Relish Traditional Cuisines In Dubai

Al Fanar Restaurant & Café

This is one of the most recommended options for those looking to taste authentic Emirati cuisines while in Dubai. Beyond traditional food, it’s the place where you can relive the region’s old-world charm, thanks to its modest yet charming settings that recreates the ambience of the pre-oil era. It has locations across the UAE, in Al Seef, Dubai Festival City Mall, Yas Mall (Abu Dhabi), Al Majaz (Sharjah), Al Ain and Ras Al Khaimah.

Arabian Tea House

It’s yet another great spot to experience both traditional Arabian cuisines and hospitality. The tempting Emirati menu is complemented by its perfect location in Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood, close to the historic Dubai Creek. That’s not all; it’s placed inside a classic structure topped with traditional wind towers.

Majlis

While there are many posh restaurants that serve traditional Arabic foods across Dubai as well as the UAE, this café lounge in the Dubai Mall is especially recommended for its camel specialities, covering everything from camel meat dishes to camel drinks and camel chocolates.

Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding

Well, this place in Bur Dubai’s Bastakiya region is not all about savouring traditional Emirati cuisines; it’s also the place to have an in-depth understanding of the region’s intriguing Emirati culture and heritage.

Dhow Cruise

A dhow dinner cruise in a traditional wooden sailing vessel, along Dubai Creek or Dubai Marina, is a must-experience not only for its great views and rustic ambience but also for the lavish spread of local and international delicacies served on board.

Desert Safari

If fun, adventure, and great traditional food excite you, then a desert safari is a sum up of all! It will take you on an exhilarating drive over the desert sands and allow you to take part in a spectrum of activities. The final treat is BBQ dinner accompanied by a wide range of lip-smacking Bedouin treats.

Global Village

Make sure that you visit Global Village if you travel to Dubai between October and March. It has over 30 massive pavilions featuring about 80 countries. And it goes without saying that you’ll get to take in culture, traditions and cuisines of different parts of the world. Surely, this gives you the unique opportunity to relish freshly cooked authentic Shawarma, Luqaimat, and Falafel all under one roof.

Conclusion

As we hope that this post has given you the much-needed insight on some of Dubai’s must-experience local cuisines and culinary venues, it’s now your turn to make your UAE holiday special with a dose of charming culture, inspiring traditions and great foods.

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