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Emirati Cuisine – Food with a tale of history

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Though the city is known for being one of the most popular hubs in the modern world, Dubai also offers a range of traditional foods for its citizens, residents, and curious visitors. The UAE’s traditional cuisine shares a number of similarities with neighbouring countries, including Omani food, Saudi Arabian food, and a few Asian dishes as well. Thanks to the rise of globalisation, modern Emirati food includes elements of other cultures, resulting in fusion dishes that incorporate elements from cuisines around the world. Staples of Emirati cuisine include meat, fish, and rice, with lamb and mutton being the more favoured meats; tea and coffee are the preferred beverages, with spices like cardamom, saffron, and mint added to give it a distinctive flavour. 

Popular Emirati Dishes

The most popular Emirati dish, and common Arabic food, is the classic shawarma. This is a non-vegetarian delicacy which includes chicken, lamb, or beef, along with a number of vegetables, mixed with mayonnaise, and wrapped in soft flatbread. This wrap is the perfect snack to grab on the go, and restaurants often serve platters of shawarmas as a starter for larger dinners. For vegetarians, the falafel is the perfect alternative. The falafel consists of a deep-fried chickpea patty, combined with fresh vegetables and dressing, wrapped up in flatbread. Falafels, too, are found in almost every restaurant and cafeteria across the city, and are a popular snack for those looking to avoid some meat, or even to try something new.

Though Emirati food is famous for its meat, there are a range of healthier options for those looking to cut back on the calories. A popular dish is Fattoush, a salad made of fresh lettuce, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, mint leaves, onion, garlic, lemons, and olive oil, and is often served with Levantine bread. This simple salad is quite filling, and works well as an appetizer or as a full meal. 

Rigag, the Emirati Crepe as some may call it. It is healthier and made with wheat, they’ll add additional toppings as you like, such as egg and cheese.

Fattesh is another popular Emirati dish, and is perfect for an early evening meal. This three-layer dish comprises of bread soaked in stock, with the middle layer made of chickpeas and stuffed aubergines, topped with yoghurt and tahini sauce. People often add parsley and pine nuts to this, for some extra flavour. 

Another popular snack is manakish, a form of flatbread filled with cheese and cooked in an oven. Though this dish is Lebanese, it is popular across Emirati and Arabic restaurants, and many recipes share similarities with other regional cuisines. The flatbread is topped with spices, vegetables, and meats, making it a warm, filling appetizer for the family. 

Machboos is a common main-course meal that’s served in Emirati restaurants, and is a rice dish with a variety of meat, vegetables, and spices arranged in layers and slow-cooked in an oven. The spice mixes are found in Arabic stores across the region, and the addition of limes gives it a certain tangy flavour. This is popular with citizens as well, with most Emirati restaurants serving variants of this dish.

Luqma or Luqaimat sprinkled with sesame place on a bowl
Luqaimat

Emirati desserts are quite popular as well, with one local favourite being kunafa. This dessert is a sticky pastry made of sweet cheese that is baked in shredded phyllo dough, and soaked in sugar syrup. The dish is quite popular around the middle east. Luqaimat is quite present around as well, deep fried dough similar to donuts and drizzled with date syrup.

Coffee, of course, is an important part of the meal, and many restaurants provide endless supplies of Arabic coffee to sip on alongside your meal. The traditional gahwa (Arabic coffee) is spiced with cardamom, cumin, cloves, and saffron. This rich beverage is often served with fresh, sweet dates, and are a perfect way to start or end your meal. 

Favoured hotspots for food

From local, traditional joints frequented by residents and citizens to more modern restaurants that have re-invented Emirati cuisine, Dubai is a lovely place for those looking to try Emirati cuisine for the first time, and those who love to dine on Arabic food. One popular restaurant is the Aseelah restaurant at Radisson Blu Hotel, near the Creek in Deira. This restaurant is popular thanks to its adventurous take on Emirati cuisine; the chef is from Germany and has spent many years visiting Emirati families to learn traditional recipes, resulting in a fun, fresh take on Emirati cuisine. 

For those looking to enjoy a bite to eat while shopping, Al Fanar located in Festival City Mall is the perfect place to go. The restaurant is large, spacious, and is designed to look like an old courtyard house. The food and décor both bring visitors back to older, pre-oil days; the popular dish here is the machboos, and the authentic food is sure to satisfy even the pickiest of palettes. 

The Dubai Mall, too, has its own share of Arabic restaurants; a popular local spot is Milas, a modernistic space with warm wooden interiors that serves authentic Emirati food. The food is delicious, and guests can choose to start with small cups of Arabic coffee brewed with cardamom and served with sticky dates, before moving to classic dishes like kaboos with hummus, manakish, and other dishes.

Looking to enjoy traditional cuisine with a view? Seven Sands, a restaurant located on the Beach at JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence) features sleek Middle Eastern interiors, with a large terrace overlooking the sea. This restaurant perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Dubai as it covers traditional Emirati classics, along with dishes from the wider region, including sambousas (like Indian samosas but with ab Arabic twist), and kibbeh (meat-filled wheat croquettes). A more popular, local spot is Al Tawasol, in Deira, operational since 1999. This restaurant has traditional floor seating, and guests can enjoy some delicious fattoush, along with a mandi (a Yemeni-based dish), meat slow-cooked in a tandoor and served over a bed of rice.  For those looking for a crash course in Emirati heritage and cuisine, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in the historic Al Fahidi District is the perfect place to go. Events are hosted by young Emirati volunteers, and guests are encouraged to ask questions about local culture and enjoy traditional dishes that are served while sitting cross-legged on carpets and cushions.


This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. We take no liability for the accuracy of the information and cannot be held liable for any third-party claims or losses of any damages.

This disclaimer informs readers that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual. We take no liability for the accuracy of the information and cannot be held liable for any third-party claims or losses of any damages.

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