Page update - Sep 28, 2022
Tasting national dishes is interesting in any country. The United Arab Emirates offer a very bright and interesting local cuisine, but it is rather difficult to taste the local culinary masterpieces. Restaurants with dishes of "Emirati cuisine" occur less and less every year, in addition, many tourists confuse the Emirati and Middle Eastern (Lebanese) cuisines.
This page will show the dishes belonging to the traditional cuisine of the UAE and what we advise to taste during your vacation. The prices on this page were updated in September 2022.
In the UAE, native Arabs now form only 10% of the population (read our page "Population of the UAE"). The rest are Indian, Pakistani, Malaysian, and other visitor workers. Restaurants of almost all cuisines of the world can be found in the UAE, and sometimes it can be difficult to find an eatery with dishes of the UAE national cuisine.
Dubai is considered one of the gastronomic capitals of the world. Indian curry, Iranian kebabs, and Italian pasta can be neighbors even inside the walls of one restaurant.
The national cuisine of the UAE is called "Emirati cuisine". Look for such inscriptions at restaurant names or descriptions. The two most famous restaurant chains of Emirati cuisine are "Seven Sands" and "Al Fanar".
Emirati cuisine is almost never found in fast food chains. Shawarma, falafel, hummus, kebab, pita bread have nothing to do with Emirati cuisine, but are elements of Middle East (Lebanese) cuisine.
Of course, native Arab citizens enjoy eating all Middle Eastern, Indian, and European food. But for the most part, they honor their culinary traditions.
Tasting Emirati cuisine is expensive. International and Oriental fast-foods or cheap eateries for migrants are much cheaper (read our review "How much money to take in the UAE"). Most tourists visit a national restaurant once a vacation, just to taste. And it is worth tasting, because Emirati cuisine is unique, shaped by desert conditions and centuries of influence from neighboring cultures.
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Emirati cuisine has absorbed elements of Bedouin, Middle Eastern, Persian, Indian and several other Asian culinary traditions.
For centuries the diet of the locals has been based on fish and seafood. However, fish dishes in Emirati cuisine are not varied and colorful. The main fish dish is fish fried with spices.
The second important ingredient is date fruits. They are eaten before the meal for an aperitif, after the meal for an aftertaste. Dates are added to many dishes to give a slightly sweet taste. And of course, dates are used in all dessert dishes. Read our page "Dates in the UAE".
Meat most commonly used is mutton and lamb, less frequently beef and goat. Pork is not used in Emirati cuisine for religious reasons. However, you can buy pork and pork delicacies in some supermarkets where there are special departments.
Poultry and eggs have appeared in the diet of UAE residents relatively recently - after the oil boom in the 70s. Before that, the meat and eggs of bustard birds were consumed. It is a rather large bird, the male houbara is the size of a turkey and the female is the size of a hen. The houbaras are now listed in the IUCN Red List.
Camel milk is popular among native Arabs. But not as popular as it was in old times when there was no alternative. Camel's milk is rarely used in cooking and is usually drunk separately. You can now buy fresh camel milk in any big store in the UAE and there is even pasteurized camel milk, which we told about on the page "Camel milk in the UAE".
Rice plays an important role in Emirati cuisine. An interesting fact is that rice does not grow on the territory of the UAE, because rice needs a large amount of water. Rice is grown only as an experiment on one indoor farm in Ras Al Khaimah.
The Arabs of the Emirates have been consuming rice for centuries, after establishing close trade ties with Persia and India. This proves to us that Gulf Arabs have never been poor, they have been eating imported rice for centuries.
The main spices in Emirati cuisine are kukrumah, saffron, cardamom, and cinnamon. All these spices come from India and Iran and were used in Emirati cuisine for centuries. The UAE has its own national spice called Bezaar, a mixture of cumin, coriander, fennel, pepper, and cinnamon. Prosopis leaves are used as seasoning in Emirati cuisine, most often for dishes with poultry.
The main method of cooking is to stew the whole dish in a pot. This method is common in hot countries because it consumes less firewood. In addition, you need to wash less dishes as water is in short supply.
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Many people believe that Arabs in the UAE eat camel meat all the time. In fact, this is not true. Camel meat is usually cooked only for feasts. Even in the supermarkets, it can be difficult to find. This is logical, because the camel has always been very valuable for the desert inhabitants. Its slaughter for meat is a rare event.
An adult camel gives about 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of meat. Even an entire Arab tribe (about 100 people) could not eat this meat at one time, and the shelf life of meat in the desert is minimal. A camel was slaughtered only if a very large number of people gathered for a meal.
Since 2017, "camel burgers" have become popular in UAE fast food outlets. We recommend trying them at least "for a tick", there is nothing amazing in the taste.
The main drinks in the UAE are tea and coffee with saffron, mint, cardamom, or cinnamon added for a better taste.
Coffee is commonly prepared in special Dalla coffee pots, which tourists like to take as a souvenir from the UAE. Dalla is one of the symbols of tradition and culture of the UAE, it is depicted on the 1 dirham coin. It is customary to put coffee on the table in a coffee pot, and guests pour their own as they wish.
The main dishes cost AED 50-100 in the Seven Sands or Al Fanar restaurants. For a good dinner with beverages and desserts you should plan AED 250-400 for one person.
For the current exchange rates of AED (UAE dirham) see our page "What money in the UAE".
On average, the prices for Emirati food are more expensive than other cuisines. That is why most tourists want to taste Emirati cuisine just for experience, but are not ready to eat it every day. In restaurants of Indian or Lebanese cuisines, you can have a magnificent dinner for AED 100-150.
We will tell you about some interesting dishes that we recommend to taste in the UAE.
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The traditional Emirati cuisine uses its own types of bread. We remind that lavash and pita bread are not directly related to the UAE cuisine, but a part of Middle Eastern (Lebanese) cuisine.
Khameer is bread rolls made of yeast dough. Usually sweet with the addition of date syrup. Somewhat middle in between the common bread and doughnut.
Sometimes kameer is cooked in a flat form, which turns out to be something similar to a pita. People in the UAE often slice and fill the kamir with cheese or/and cooked potatoes.
Chabab is a pancake, almost no different from ours. Cooked with the addition of yeast, cardamom, saffron. The name comes from the word "cheb", translated as "to flip".
Chabab pancakes are not made sweet. They are served with honey or syrup for a dessert dish. Another popular option is with cheese.
Regag is a very thin bread. It is made on a large surface called tawah. Ingredients: flour, water, salt. There are sweet versions of ragag bread with date syrup added.
Describing this dish is difficult, try to imagine something between pita bread and chips. The dish comes from the Bedouin culinary tradition.
This dish is eaten for breakfast. It is considered very young in Emirati cuisine, appearing within 200 years ago (supposably) when foreign traders brought noodles to the Gulf states.
This dish consists of two parts. The lower part consists of salty-sweet noodles. The top is an omelet, which is traditionally made only with eggs (without milk).
Analogues of this dish are widespread from Iran and the Persian Gulf to Greece. The dish is fried flour balls somewhat similar to doughnuts. The balls dipped in sweet syrup (called "dibbs"), Naturally, the feature of the Emirati version is a date syrup.
Of all the Emirati dishes, loukamat is the easiest to taste. It is often found in fast-food outlets, small-store and supermarket culinary desks.
This dish is similar to the Moroccan tagine. Meat is stewed with vegetables: potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, and pumpkin. The vegetables are not specially selected, but what you can find in your fridge.
Then we put the rakak bread (we talked about it above) on a deep plate and put the stewed meat with the vegetables on it. All the juice runs down and soaks the bread. The result is very tasty.
Since the meat and the set of vegetables can be any kind, there are countless types of this dish. Sometimes the tharid is supplemented with rice. Sometimes there is rice and not bread.
A very popular lunch dish. It reminds us of the familiar pilaf - rice with meat and vegetables. In Emirati cuisine, the variant with fish is popular, as the price for fish in the UAE is much lower than that for meat.
To spice up the taste, saffron, cardamom, cumin, and kukrumah are added to the machboos. A special feature of the Emirati version is the addition of dried lemon, which gives a rich color.
A very special dish. Cooked from wheat with meat. The mixture is stewed until the meat is completely cooked, the process lasts from 5 hours and longer.
Believe us, the taste of this dish is much better than the appearance. An interesting fact is that it is commonly cooked for feasts. It is also called the "dish of the rich".
The Persian Gulf is rich in fish. If interested, all its variety can be seen at the famous fish market in Deira in Dubai. Prices for fish in the UAE are low, but there is not much point in trying fish there, nothing special.
Another things are lobsters, omars, crabs, shrimp, mussels. Do not miss the chance to try inexpensive seafood delicacies.
For example, a kilo of lobster (or omar) in the UAE costs AED 120-160 (USD 30-45) per kilo. For comparison, in the US the average price is USD 60 per lb (USD 132 per kilo). Draw conclusions!
- Read our detailed page "Grocery prices in the UAE" about food prices in stores and supermarkets;
- If you want to bring any products from the UAE back home, read our review "What you can and cannot take out of the UAE";
- If you want to save money during your vacation and bring food with you, there is no problem. The import limits are astronomically large. See details on our page "What you can and can't bring into the UAE".
Have a pleasant tasting of local dishes, and read our interesting pages about the United Arab Emirates (see list of the pages below).
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