Traditional Emirati meals focused on meat from animals such as camels and goats, or fish caught from the Arabian Sea. Today, you’ll see dishes prepared with chicken as well, but the local populace’s access to chicken only really occurred after the oil boom. Before that, the ancient Emiratis would cook indigenous birds such as Houbara bustards. The ancestors of the local Dubai community, known as Bedouins, were people who travelled across the desert. Because of this, many of the meals incorporate complex carbohydrates, in order to provide the travellers with energy. Most of the dishes have delicate flavoring of spices like turmeric, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon. These are spices that hail from India, indicating the influence that trade with Indian merchants had on their cuisine.
Harees is one of the most popular Emirati dishes and is frequently served at weddings in addition to religious holidays. It’s preparation involves cooking meat together with wheat in a pot, along with a generous dash of salt. The mixture is cooked until the meat melts into the wheat, and the combination is thickened over coals. The final result is very moreish.
Thereed is a rich and comforting stew, similar to a Moroccan tagine. The stew combines succulent meat with a selection of slow-roasted vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, marrow and pumpkin. What makes it unique, however, is the addition of the thin Emirati flatbread known as rigag. The bread is generally placed at the bottom of the dish, with the stew layered on top of it. This allows for the flavors of the stew to really sink in.
This is a rice dish made with meat or fish, similar to an Indian biryani. What really sets it apart is the fragrant combination of spices used to flavor it – turmeric, cumin, cardamom and saffron, to name a few. The secret ingredient is the addition of a dried lemon, known as loomy. It provides a brightness and a zest that really makes the dish.
This is probably the most popular traditional Emirati dessert. It consists of small deep-fried dumplings, that are then soaked in a sweet, sticky date syrup known as dibbs. These little things are addictive and an absolute must-try.
This is a dish made from vermicelli noodles and eggs. The mixture is cooked with sugar and spices, to create a salty-sweet dish that brilliantly combines the crunchiness of the noodles with the fluffiness of the eggs. This dish is sometimes had for breakfast as well (at least it has protein!).