Eating local in a multicultural city.
Dubai as seen from the towering Burj Khalifa. Photo by Tom Olliver/Flickr.
Dubai is home to thousands of immigrants, and as such, is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. The city’s multiculturalism is highly evident in its local food scene, an impressive smorgasbord of international cuisine. You’ll find the best Lebanese restaurants in Dubai as well as Japanese, American, Indian, Italian, French, Chinese, Philippine and many more.
But even with the abundance of international fare in Dubai, you still need to experience the best of traditional Emirati food: a simple, filling, spice-forward cuisine reflecting regional influences. Below are some of the typical dishes you have to try, and where to find them:
Balaleat (not always heart-shaped!). Photo by Krista/Flickr.
Balaleat (also spelled balaleet) is a traditional Emirati sweet and salty breakfast dish. This breakfast dish, which is also sometimes served as a dessert, consists of vermicelli and eggs as the main ingredients. It is spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, saffron and orange blossoms, and then topped with pistachios.
Khuzi, or ghuzi, is the United Arab Emirates’ national dish. It is a complete, filling and delicious meal since this dish consists of roasted lamb or mutton served on top of a bed of rice and topped with vegetables and nuts.
Where to find it: Restaurants such as Bu Qtair Fish Restaurant (in Umm Suqeim) serve authentic khuzi in single or smaller servings—portions that you will definitely finish in one sitting.
Photo by Krista/Flickr
Al harees is another one-pot culinary wonder, related to the Arabic dish haleem: Wheat and salt are mixed in a pot and boiled for several hours. When the mixture reaches porridge-like consistency, chunks of lamb, chicken, mutton or veal are added and the dish is boiled or baked again for several hours. Cinnamon, salt and pepper are also added to boost the flavor of the dish.
Al machboos is a dish made of red meat, chicken or shrimp boiled in stock with spices and dried lime powder, or loomi. When the meat is tender, the pieces are removed from the pot and rice is added and cooked in the same stock. Once the rice is cooked, the meat is added together with some fried chopped onions, potatoes, tomatoes, green peppers and other vegetables. The dish is then cooked over low heat for at least two more hours to give it more flavor and a really delicate texture.
Photo by Beck/Flickr
If you’re looking for a vegan traditional Emirati dish, try fattoush. This dish consists of fresh lettuce, diced tomatoes, cucumbers, mint leaves, onion, garlic, lemon and olive oil and is served on Levantine bread (fried or toasted slices of pita bread). This salad is a great accompaniment or start to any meal.
Thereed is a slow-cooked stew made of chicken, lamb or goat and roasted vegetables. It can also be cooked as a pure vegetarian dish. This heavily spiced stew is served on top of a traditional thin Emirati flatbread called rigag.
Where to find it: If you want to taste a bowl of authentic thereed, head to the Seven Sands, a fine-dining restaurant located at the Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR).
Photo by Krista/Flickr
These crunchy dumplings (which are pleasantly soft on the inside) are soaked in honey or a sweet, sticky date syrup known as dibbs when served. Salty and sweet at the same time, they are the most popular traditional Emirati dessert.
Whatever cuisine you’re hankering for, you’ll find it in Dubai. But don’t forget to discover the local authentic dishes the city is known for as well—you’ll have an extraordinary dining experience and learn some more about the unique food culture of Dubai.
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Read more with the Lonely Planet Dubai & Abu Dhabi guidebook.
About the author: Kumar Samtani is the co-founder of MenuPages.ae. He has an educational background in industrial and operations engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; his expertise lies in process improvement and operations management for all types of organizations. Kumar is also an experienced entrepreneur with business interests in consumer goods, hospitality supplies and real estate.
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