So you’re planning a trip to Dubai. You’ve heard it’s the city of superlatives – biggest, largest, tallest, fastest, richest. But what do you eat in Dubai? If like us, you research restaurants to eat at in a city you’re planning to visit, then an online search of Dubai will bring up top tables around the city, michelin starred and celebrity chef restaurants which we have plenty of, and maybe international chains which now call this emirate home. But that’s not experiencing the real deal, is it?
Might come as a surprise to some that the local cuisine of Dubai and the UAE does not consist of shawarma, tabbouleh, hummus and falafel – although there’s plenty of it to be found everywhere – sometime even in Emirati restaurants. The best way to learn about a city or culture is to experience its food. To quote from a book published by the Dubai World Trade Centre in 2009 called A Culinary Journey – Celebrating three decades of our history:
“The 21st century may have introduced Dubai to high finance, bustling commerce and a dynamic city to match, but below the surface, the families who have lived and loved this beautiful corner of the Arabian Gulf for centuries remain steeped in its traditions. Family, community and religion play an integral part of life in Dubai, and little has changed over the generations as Emiratis continue to be fiercely proud of their Bedouin roots and renowned for their hospitality.”
In celebration of the UAE’s 44th National Day, we’ve compiled a list of 5 local foods to eat in Dubai, whether you’re planning a trip here or if you live here and haven’t had the opportunity to try something local yet.
Harees – A thick porridge made with whole wheat and lamb. Quite simple with only five ingredients, it is hearty and makes for a wholesome meal. Just want to add here that it might be an acquired taste – still, one to try as it is one of the oldest dishes from the UAE, at least a thousand years old.
Thareed Laham – A rich slow-cooked lamb stew with baby marrow, carrots, potatoes, flavoured with dried lemon and a variety of spices like cinnamon and cardamom. What makes this stew special is that it is served on top of rigag, a flatbread which soaks up the sauce.
Machbous Samak – This combination of rice and fish is very popular with local families. Extremely flavorful as some broth from the spiced fish is used to boil the rice, creating a lovely balanced dish.
Balaleet – Sweet vermicelli topped with egg, this is a favourite sweet and savoury breakfast dish.
Choubab – Thin pancakes which can be eaten drizzled with date honey for breakfast or with labneh/ cream cheese if you prefer something savory. It is usually served with accompaniments e.g. this breakfast platter below where choubab is on the right.
Something that distinguishes Emirati cuisine from others is the use of a seasoning called bezar. Much like Indian garam masala, it is a mix of 14 spices and each family prepares its own version.
Now that you know what you’re looking for, here are a few restaurants where you can find them:
- Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) – located in the beautiful heritage area of Bastakiya, they host cultural breakfasts and lunches.
- Seven Sands – completely at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to SMCCU, this restaurant serves traditional fare in a contemporary setting.
- Al Fanar – kitsch décor, complete with majlis seating and a blue vintage truck parked outside.
- Logma – Located in the trendy Box Park area, quirky tableware and presentation.
- Milas – Perfect for a pit-stop post shopping in Dubai Mall.
Bon appetit! Or as the Emiratis say – Bel’afiah!
Hope we’ve made you hungry for Dubai. Tell us – which is your favourite food city in the world?