A wide labyrinth of fine dining options, from haute cuisine spots run by celebrity chefs across the world to the scrumptious street food and cheap eats all over the city, makes Dubai a world-class culinary destination where literally anything goes.
But if you think the place doesn’t have many cuisines or dishes to claim its own, this post on some of the most delicious Emirati traditional foods would surely help you to get past this fictitious stance.
It also enlightens you on some intriguing Dubai food facts and top restaurants where you can try traditional delicacies in the city.
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Interesting Facts About Emirati Foods
- Emirati food is intrinsic to the traditional Arabian hospitality and hence is greatly seen as its identity.
- Emirati food, by and large, is a fusion of classic Asian and Middle Eastern flavors.
- The UAE’s strategic abode across spice and silk also has had a significant impact on the region’s food customs and culture.
- In Emirati gatherings, the guests are welcomed with a special ritual, namely, Fualah and this comes with a whole host of items including luscious desserts, Arabic coffee, fruits, honey, perfumes etc.
- Camel-meat-containing food is extremely popular in Dubai, but is consumed only during special occasions and important gatherings.
- Poultry, fish, wheat, cereals, and dairy products are other products that go into the preparation of timeless Arabic or Emirati dishes.
Must-Try Traditional Foods In Dubai
Arabic Coffee with Dried or Fresh Dates
Locally known as Qahwa or sometimes Gahwa, Arabic coffee is a staple to any Emirati or Arabian gathering as a whole. In other words, it’s considered an inevitable signature style of Arabian hospitality and generosity.
So if you ever get an invitation to visit an Emirati house or event, you can expect to be greeted with this flavoursome, refreshing Qahwa that is dispensed from a Dallah (the brass coffee pot) and served in a tiny demi cup. Take this along with dried or fresh dates and this is definite to enhance its taste.
This much-loved Emirati snack is a must-taste on your Dubai vacation. It appears in the form of deep-fried balls with mashed chickpeas, several spices, and herbs as its main ingredients.
It can be guzzled individually or as a sandwich where this falafel ball is wrapped in a flatbread and whose taste is enhanced by adding various pickled vegetables, hummus, garlic sauce, and tahini sauce.
This is another popular Emirati dish prepared using mashed chickpeas. This is further combined with other ingredients such as olive oil, garlic, tahini, lemon juice and salt (as per your taste.)
Overall, it appears like a dip and makes a super tasty accompaniment to go with falafels, pita chips, fresh vegetables etc. It also doubles up as a healthy dressing for your salads.
Be it for breakfast, lunch or dinner, Manakish makes for a filling yet affordable meal to quench your hunger.
Traditionally prepared in a wooden fire oven, this flat bread has a fluffy succulent texture topped off by loads of cheese or a mix of olive oil and zaatar (which is nothing but a blend of dried herbs.)
There is probably nothing that says Emirati or Middle Eastern street-food quite like Shawarma.
So it goes without saying that trying this food is in its most authentic version is top on the list of any gastronomes travelling to Dubai.
But for those rare who are unversed about it, its main ingredient is the spice-infused beef, lamb or chicken meat which is slow-cooked on a vertical spit for a long time.
To make shawarma, this meat along with French fries, vegetables, herbs and sauces is stuffed inside a flatbread. Just try this; every bite tastes heavenly! Now if you’re not fond of meat dishes, there are its vegetarian varieties too.
Since ancient times, this thick gluey dish has an indispensable presence in any Arabic gathering, celebrations, and traditional festivals and occasions such as Ramadan, Eid AL Fitr, and Eid Al Adha to name a few.
Very few ingredients like meat or chicken, wheat, salt, water etc goes into its making, but what makes special is its preparation style where these ingredients are combined and slow-cooked in a special pot for many hours (some four to five hours) or until all ingredients get fully thawed.
Before serving it, this delicious dish is adorned with pure ghee and fried onions.
This rice dish with meat is seen as the Middle East’s answer to the Indian biryani. But don’t expect the Arabic version to be as spicy as that of its Indian counterpart.
There is a slight difference in the spice mix too, as it mainly involves loomi or dried black lime. Apparently, this is one of the core specialities of the most Arabic culinary extravaganzas.
It’s one of the Arabian world’s most beloved desserts. It takes the form of a crunchy fried ball that is cooked using a blend of all-purpose flour, dry yeast, corn flour, eggs, salt, and oil. What makes it sugary is the generous amount of date syrup or honey that is drizzled over it before serving hot.
This traditional style Kebab, possibly of Turkish origin, is another beloved meat dish in this list.
This skewered chicken or lamb dish is an accurate blend of various spices plus yoghurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic etc, which overall makes it incredibly titillating and tender. You can take it as much or even as a sandwich wrapped with this roasted or grilled chicken within it.
This healthy but incredibly yum salad is the perfect starter on any Arabic menu. Just as any regular salad, it’s a combination of many veggies including cucumbers, tomatoes, radish etc. Apart from these, pomegranates and toasted / fried breads are added to give a twist to it.
It’s another Middle Eastern salad that gives an invigorating kick-off to a healthy Emirati fare. This is primarily a bulghur (parboiled broken wheat) salad, mixed in with a variety of vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley etc. They all are finely diced and dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
No Arabic feast is probably complete without this blissful Arabic dessert. The shredded white strand-like kataifi dough is used for its preparation. Butter, cheese and finely chopped pistachios are thrown into it in ample quantity. Finally, sugary rosewater syrup is drizzled over it to enrich its taste.
Imagine an English bread pudding with extra special taste and that’s Umm Ali!
This traditional Arabic pudding can be made using breads or pastry sheets. Add almonds, pistachios, cardamom etc to the sliced bread or pastries and coat them with a rich blend of milk, thick cream and sugar before it goes into the oven.
The key ingredient in this simple yet delicious Arabic dish is courgettes or zucchinis which is stuffed with a mix of minced meat, rice, spices etc and then cooked in a tomato soup.
You’ll get its vegetarian version as well where the filling is just rice. It tastes great with yoghurt sauce.
This is another heartening Arabic pudding that you get to sample during your Dubai trip. It’s nothing but an assortment of milk, flour and sugar, enriched with pistachios as well as the flavours of rose water or cardamom.
Top Spots To Enjoy Dubai Traditional Foods
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Most people visit this place for an authentic immersion into the region’s inspiring culture, traditions and religious beliefs. But it’s much more than that; you’ll also get to sample the most bonafide Emirati delicacies here.
Saba’a at Al Seef Heritage Hotel
This is one of the most recommended places to relish authentic traditional Emirati cuisines in Dubai.
Hidden away in the beautifully preserved Al Fahidi Historical Neighborhood and right in proximity to the vibrant Al Seef area, this dining venue within Al Seef Heritage Hotel is a real Emirati culinary gem with its atmospheric settings and authentic Arabian dishes on offer.
Al Fanar Restaurant and Café
With its menu as diverse as Emirati breakfast tray and Laban Nashef to Koftak Samak, Shorbat Harees and Machboos Laham, it goes without saying that it’s one of the ultimate places in Dubai to try Emirati specialities.
But what makes it a spot of extraordinaire is its tranquil décor that recalls the feel of a bygone era and of course, the relaxing location along Dubai Creek.
A cruise aboard a traditional Arabian wooden dhow is more like journeying back to the region’s historic era.
The widest assortment of quintessential Emirati dishes, together with traditional Arabic performances like Tanura, makes this two-hour sail along Dubai Creek or Dubai Marina even more captivating.
A Dubai Desert Safari is unmissable for adventurists and fun-seekers with a craving for authentic culture and cuisine. Rightly so, this off-road escapade offers all these and beyond in equal measure. But make sure that you set out on an evening or overnight desert safari to take in its buffet-style gourmet inclusions.
Visiting Dubai during the winter months from October to March?
Foodies should definitely take a tour of this place where culture, cuisines and other specialities of over 80 countries are represented in its 30 plus pavilions.
What more to say; just wander around this place and sink your teeth into juicy Kebabs, aromatic Shawarma, and Luqaimat – all prepared at its authentic best.
Deep-rooted in a strong Arabian culinary heritage, it’s unimaginable to leave the place without savouring its traditional delicacies. So go forth and be sure to try some of these foods from the above list. There is no doubt that these would treat you with a fantastic gastronomic experience.
Neha is a postgraduate in Mass Communications and a keen writer. She is passionate about travelling to new places, reading fiction, learning new things and loves being a nature trekker.