Understanding what is traditional Emirati cuisine and the best places to find it in the UAE
Dubai is a very cosmopolitan city, playing host to immigrants in their hundreds of thousands leading to an incredibly diverse foodie scene. Travellers can find some of the best French restaurants in Dubai alongside side exquisite Thai and Italian, unbeatable Indian and luscious Lebanese dishes to name but a few!
However, with all this variety, it is easy for traditional Emirati food to be overlooked on a trip to Dubai. In this post, we are going to share with you some of our favourite Emirati dishes and the best dining spots for traditional Emirati food in Dubai.
What is Traditional Emirati Cuisine?
Emirati food is made using ancient ingredients that the people of the Emirates have produced and traded for millennia. Before the city of Dubai and other great constructions, the people of the Emirates lived in tribes. Many of those tribes had unique dishes that were eventually brought together along with their people, to create signature traditional Emirati dishes.
Many of the dishes served are seasonally selected. It is typical to eat dishes heavy in rice, veggies, and wheat during the cold months, and then, in the summer months, to switch to dishes heavy in animal protein such as goat, camel, and fresh-caught fish.
Some favourite Emirati dishes to try in Dubai
Khuzi is the national dish of the United Arab Emirates is definitely a must-try food in Dubai. Also known as Ghuzi, this meal is made with roasted mutton or lamb which is served alongside white rice, vegetables, and nuts.
Balaleat is a classic breakfast dish in Dubai. Decidedly sweet and salty, it is made using eggs and vermicelli as the main characters and then spiced up with cinnamon, cardamom, orange blossoms, and saffron, and then served alongside pistachios. Although it is a breakfast dish, some Emirati restaurants in Dubai also serve it as a dessert.
Al Machboos is a protein-based dish that is made using chicken, red meat, or shrimp. The meat of choice is boiled down in a stock made with dried lime powder and traditional spices. When the meat is softened, it is taken out of the pot and replaced with rice which is allowed to cook in the stock.
When the rice is properly cooked the meat is thrown back in along with a mix of chopped potatoes, onions, tomatoes, peppers, and other veggies. This final mix is cooked for another couple of hours over low heat till everything softens and the flavor spreads evenly.
In the world of Arabian dishes, Al Harees is a one-pot star. It is prepared by cooking wheat and salt in a pot until it attains a consistency similar to porridge.
Once that is reached, the cook throws in chunks of different proteins like chicken, mutton, lamb, or veal along with salt, pepper, and cinnamon for added flavor. The pot is left to cook over low heat for another couple of hours before it is ready.
Crunchy on the outside and delicately soft on the inside, luqaimat is a favourite Emirati desert. Rolled dough balls are deep-fried then soaked in honey or a sweet, sticky date syrup known as dibbs when served. Salty and sweet they make the perfect ending to your traditional Emirati feast.
5 Best Emirati Restaurants in Dubai
So without further ado, where do we recommend you dine to get to enjoy some of these amazing traditional dishes?
Al Fanar cooks authentic Emirati cuisine in Dubai and serves it in multiple locations around the city. The ambience in their outlets gives a feel of Dubai in the 1960s when it was just a little town located on the coast of the Arabian Gulf. Eating areas are designed to resemble a scene of desert tents placed close to a fire, and the traditional menu takes tongues on a trip through time as they taste the best traditional food in Dubai.
Where to Find Al Fanar: There are four branches in Dubai Festival City, Al Barsha Pond Park, Al Seef and Time Out Market, Souk Al Bahar. Opening times vary between branches.
Dubai Festival City; open 9:00 am to 10:00 pm Saturday to Wednesday; 9:00 am to 11:00 pm Thursday and Friday.
Al Barsha Pond Park; open daily 8:30 am to 10:00 pm
Al Seef; open daily 10:00 am to 11:00 pm.
Time Out Market; open 12:00 pm to midnight Monday to Thursday; 12:00 pm to 1:00 am Friday; 10:00 am to 1:00am Saturday; and 10:00 am to midnight Sunday.
Learn more at www.alfanarrestaurant.com
Aseelah is a delightful restaurant that serves traditional Emirati food in a space that blends traditional hospitality with modern twists. The restaurant is charming and welcoming, both on the outside and the inside. The menu serves modern takes on Emirati dishes, serving favourites like fennel and orange salad along with beetroot carpaccio, camel sliders and chicken harees, and the very famous chicken biryani.
Where to find Aseelah: Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek. Open daily; lunch from 12:30 pm to 3:00 pm; dinner from 7:00 pm to 2:00 am.
Learn more at www.radissonhotels.com
Zaroob is a popular eatery that serves Levantine-style street food without selling it on the street. This eatery serves some of the best Arabic dishes made with recipes native to Arab countries like Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria. While their menu is constantly rotating, some of their star hits include their Kofta Sandwich which features perfectly grilled meat wrapped in freshly baked Lebanese bread. Other favourites include the Chicken Mousakhan, a perfectly spiced and marinated chicken that is roasted and served with fresh bread.
Where to find Zaroob: Radisson Blu Dubai Marina hotel, Sheikh Zayed Rd. Open: 24 hours/day
Learn more at zaroob.com
Arabian Tea House Al Fahidi
The Arabian Tea House Al Fahidi is an iconic establishment in Dubai that has served authentic Emirati and Dubai cuisine for more than twenty years. The decor is a stark white from the walls to the stones, giving the vibe of Arabian adventurers out in the desert.
Traditional Emirati meals are served at all times and the menu includes options like the Arabian Tea House Breakfast Tray which includes Arabic bread, falafel, hummus, olives, beans, cheddar cheese wrap, and other delicacies. All meals are freshly made and served in generous portions.
Where to find the Arabian Tea House Al Fahidi: Bastakiya, Al Fahidi Historical District. Open 7:30 am – 11:00 pm daily (There are also new branches to be found in Sharjah, the Mall Jumeirah, Jumeirah Archaeological Site and Arabian Fish House – even Dubai House, Montenegro)
Learn more at arabianteahouse.net
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
The Sheikh Mohammed Centre is not a restaurant as such but uses the deliciousness of Dubai traditional food to create a better understanding of the people of the Emirates. Located in one of the oldest communities in Dubai, the Centre hosts a series of edible experiences that are hosted within its traditional houses by Emirati locals.
Groups of guests come together to try traditional Emirati food recipes while being taught about the Emirati traditions behind each dish. Each experience has a duration of 90 minutes and attendance is by booking only.
Where to find the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding: Al Musallah Road, Al Fahidi Historical District. Open: 8:00 am – 3:00 pm Monday to Thursday; 8:00 am – 12:00 pm Friday to Sunday.
Learn more at www.cultures.ae
Take a street food tour in Dubai
If you are up for a more immersive experience across the city’s culinary delights from traditional flavours to modern twists, then we recommend you try a street food tour whilst you are in Dubai.
Some of our favourite options are available via Get Your Guide, our preferred tour booking agent in Dubai. Check out these options from reputable tour providers in Dubai:
We hope this has whet your appetite to give traditional and modern Emirati cuisine a try on your next trip to Dubai. Let us know in the comments if you have any other favourites you think should be on our list!
Before you go… More important things you should know when planning a trip to Dubai
- Pop into our essential planning information page, it includes everything you need to know about getting around Dubai, a handy guide on what to pack, and top tips for first-timers on the do’s and don’ts, laws, and customs to be aware of.
- Check out this incredible list of 150+ places you should visit when you’re in Dubai.
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