The Arabian cuisine combines the traditions of many centuries. It is rich in aromas and flavors, while being a healthy food system. A lot of fruits, vegetables and grains are used in UAE dishes; mutton and lean poultry are preferred from meat.
UAE cuisine features
The flavor of the national cuisine of the United Arab Emirates is assembled from small features:
- the use of spices and all kinds of seasonings;
- special ingredients with a peculiar taste and aroma;
- original cooking technology;
- the presence of rituals accompanying the cooking process;
- great role of traditions in the use of food.
The Arabic language and culture originated in the Arabian Peninsula and today unites more than 200 million people in almost 20 countries that cover the territory from the Atlantic coast of Morocco to the Strait of Oman in the Arabian Sea, including the entire Maghreb and the Middle East.
As a result, many national and regional culinary customs have taken root in Arab cuisine. It mainly consists of dishes, the composition of the ingredients and the names of which only slightly differ depending on the region. Sometimes the treats are a symbol of the country of origin.
What products do the Arabs use
The special character of the UAE national cuisine is revealed in the aroma of its dishes. A striking feature of their preparation is the use of various spices, spicy ingredients and specific additives. The ingredients in the recipes pay tribute to Arab traditions:
- Vegetables: most often used in dishes are eggplant (for grilling or stews) and cucumber (for fresh salads), garlic and onions are the main spices because of their aroma and properties (garlic is an antiseptic, onion is a cure for diseases).
- Fruits and cereals: Arabs like to add bulgur (steamed and dried), almonds and pistachios, dates for desserts or salty dishes, chickpeas and lentils.
- Fats and oils: preference is given to vegetable oil (especially corn and sunflower, sometimes nut oil), tahina is used – a thick paste made from sesame seeds, which is the basis for sauces. Samna, refined animal fat, imparts a special flavor to meat and couscous.
- Meat: Lamb is prized on big holidays and in the daily diet – fried, baked or stewed. Poultry is widely used: often – chicken, pigeon, quail, sometimes beef and goat meat are cooked.
- Bread and Snacks: Arabs eat bread with all dishes, prefer classic pita or flatbread. Baking with honey, hummus, creams, laban (thick yogurt with spices) is used.
- Condiments: nutmeg, cumin, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cardamom, cilantro, anise, black pepper.
The subtleties of cooking homemade dishes
The secret of cooking Arabic dishes is the use of large containers such as deep pots, pots, and cauldrons. Food is stewed, boiled or fried whole there, so that later on less dishes are washed – there is a shortage of water in hot countries. Thanks to the Arabs, interesting culinary devices such as the falafel press or the couscous pot appeared. Pans and pots are often made of cast iron – this material heats up evenly and retains more heat, allowing you to cook slowly over low heat, which is appreciated in the Arab mentality.
Religion also sets special conditions for cooking. In Islam, eating is a sacred rite. There are bans on food, the canons of Islam prescribe to be in a special mood before, during and after a meal. In the books of the Prophet Muhammad, there are many notes on nutrition and culinary habits that must be observed when cooking at home. Islam and its dogmas are obligatory and sacred for the Arabs.
Traditions of Arabic cuisine – what features can you encounter?
In the UAE, a special place is given to hospitality, feasts, etiquette of treating and serving dishes, eating them. Traditions are based on both religion and the prevailing mentality:
- Diet. Lunch always includes a main course of vegetables and grains. The meat is less popular. Rice with beans is widespread, sometimes lunch can only consist of snacks – bread, sauces, salads, meat, vegetables. Dessert is required: fruits (dates, melon, figs), cakes, sweets (marshmallow, baklava).
- Etiquette. Arabs prefer to eat at home or in small catering establishments. A person is considered lonely if he eats in a restaurant. Food is brought to the mouth only with the right hand, without appliances. Bread (pita) is often used instead. Prayers and rituals at the table are required. Observed Ramadan is the month when it is not allowed to eat or drink from dawn until sunset.
- Hospitality. No matter how poor the host is, he is obliged to invite the guest to the table. If the owner offers too expensive dishes when he himself is in need, this is considered bad form. The host himself begins to eat first, thereby showing that the food is good, inviting others to begin the meal. The main rule: the guest should not leave hungry.
- Coffee. In Arab countries, coffee drinking is a special ritual. It was inherited from the desert nomads – the Bedouins. Traditionally, the host is the first to drink the cup in order to appreciate the taste of the drink offered to the guest. After the first cups of coffee have been drunk, the guest cannot ask for a second – the host offers it as a sign of friendship. Tradition and ritualism make coffee houses one of the main places of manifestation of Arab culture in all countries.
What to try while in the UAE
If you are visiting the United Arab Emirates for the first time, you should definitely get acquainted with the main dishes of the national cuisine. You can find and try them in any city.
Depending on the area, spices, additives and recipes vary slightly.
Dubai is close to the sea, which is why there is a place for seafood in the Arabian cuisine. The most popular treat in the UAE is masguf. This is a grilled carp that has been flattened and soaked in a tamarind and turmeric marinade. The fish is cooked until crisp and then laid out on the coals, which makes it so tender that it separates itself from the skin. Carp is served with herbs, a slice of lemon, pickles. Sometimes it is covered with a flat cake – this is how the heat and tasty juice are preserved.
Desserts complete any meal in the UAE, so you should definitely try the aromatic khabisu – a sweet made from shortcrust pastry with spicy cardamom and saffron. Dubai residents add fruit tree syrup, a natural sugar substitute, to it. Dessert is served on a plate, folded in a slide, or in a glass, pre-watered with caramel mass and sprinkled with pistachios. Syrups add ductility and firmness to the habis, and the dough makes it crumbly.
Baghdad-style fish, khabis dessert and Arabic pilaf macbus are outstanding representatives of Arab cuisine.
The brightest representative of the national cuisine of the UAE is the Arabian pilaf macbus. It is distinguished from its counterparts from neighboring countries by coarsely chopped cuts of meat, crispy nuts and soft onions. Favorite oriental spices of the inhabitants of the UAE – saffron, cardamom, black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon – give the dish a special aroma and make it more sweet and spicy than the usual spicy pilaf. Macbus is worth trying in special restaurants or cafes, because hotels prepare a simplified version of it, which is not much different from the classic pilaf.
When talking about desserts in the UAE, it’s impossible not to mention the lukamat sugar donuts. Round pieces of unleavened dough are deep-fried until crusty and then soaked in caramel or syrup. In Dubai, for example, the sweet date syrup variant is popular. Lukamat turns out to be crispy and like honey, it is often served with coffee, which is loved by the Arabs. You can try dessert in the city’s eateries.
The main meat in Arab cuisine belongs to one of the most popular national dishes – mouth-watering mansaf . Finely chopped mutton is mixed with bulgur, spices and dried yoghurt are added, which thickens during frying. Sometimes replaced with tahina for a delicate nutty flavor. Mansaf is spread on a flat cake, generously sprinkled with herbs and herbs. Due to the geographical location of Dubai, in some establishments you can also find a fish version of this dish.
The UAE loves hearty breakfasts, so in the morning Arabs often cook madruba. Minced chicken thighs are stewed with dried limes and all kinds of seasonings, then a glass of lentils or rice, grated tomatoes, and crispy onions are added. All this, together with the broth, is cooked to the consistency of a delicate thick pate. A fragrant hot mass can be spread on a cake.
Another breakfast option in Dubai is a sweet vermicelli omelet called balalit. Boiled noodles are additionally deep-fried until golden brown. Prepare an omelet separately, chop it into small pieces or roll it up in an envelope. The main secret of the dish in a cardamom-based sauce is that it turns out sugary, spicy and thick. It turns out both a sweet and a salty dish that can hardly be compared with anything.
Often, Arabs prefer an appetizer or pastry instead of the main course. Hamir often becomes a snack option. These are buns fried until golden brown, based on yeast dough. The delicacy is prepared in boiling oil, so the khamir immediately rises, becomes juicy and lush. Filling options – both salty, with meat or vegetables, and sweet, with cardamom, dates. Chefs experiment with the shapes and flavors of hamir, so the aromatic buns are worth trying more than once.
Another version of the Arabian pilaf, chicken fugue, is with chicken, saffron and dried lime. This kind of pilaf is more spicy and piquant thanks to a special mixture of spices. It is served with a yogurt-based mint sauce that brings out the flavor of the dish. You can try chicken fugu in any cafe.
Arabs’ love for sweets is revealed in the chebab – pancakes served at any time. Saffron, cardamom, turmeric are added to the dough. Filling according to your wishes. Coconut yogurt, honey, cream cheese, nuts, or fruits are popular. Be sure to pour the sweetness with date syrup. Chebab is prized by both Dubai residents and tourists alike.
UAE street food
Three main rules of street food in the United Arab Emirates: fast, tasty, satisfying. Snacks are often wrapped in bread or served with pita bread. Flamboyant representatives found on every corner of every city are falafel and shawarma. Both dishes have national characteristics – for example, shawarma (shawarma) is made only with fried chicken, vegetables and garlic.
In Arab cafes, it is customary to start a meal with meze, a few small snacks served on one plate. These can be salads, vegetable caviar, pies, the famous hummus (paste of nuts and chickpeas with butter), aromatic creams, cereals. Sometimes meze is served for free.
The most popular Arab street food dishes are shawarma and falafel.
The hearty street food is based on meat, from which kebabs and kebabs are prepared. A mixture of several types of minced meat, minced meat is practiced, and the variety of street kebabs and grills is amazing.
In each cafe, the dish is prepared with its own specifics, but the fact that it will turn out juicy and appetizing is guaranteed everywhere.
In addition to the classic khabis, lukamata, khamir and chebab, sweet puddings and cookies, Japanese are popular in Dubai. It is worth trying walnut halva and baklava – these dishes in the Emirates have their own specifics, are widespread in street food. Bread and muffins are made from dates and nuts. A special delicacy is nuts and dates in chocolate, you can also find glazed fruits.
Cold and hot drinks
The favorite cold drink of the Arabs, served before meals to whet the appetite, is ayran. It is made on the basis of sourdough and resembles a salty thick syrup. Drinking rose water is considered traditional. Simple purified water is infused on rose petals and drunk after a meal, this promotes digestion. Simpler and more familiar soft drinks options: almond milk, tamarind-infused water, pomegranate juice, mint syrup.
Of the hot drinks, sugar-free black coffee is preferred. The most popular and consumable variety is Arabica.
Sometimes they prefer mint tea, which is drunk at any time of the day with or without sweets.
Food for kids in the UAE
For children, the Arab national cuisine is specific due to the abundance of spices and smells. Dishes can be spicy and too spicy. However, in the Emirates, they often cook from vegetables and fruits, so a child can be pleased with an appetizing salad or hamir with a delicious filling. Balalit, chebab, biryani (rice dish with meat or vegetables) are harmless.
In some cafes or restaurants of the hotel, you can ask the chefs not to add a lot of spices to the dish, so that the child will enjoy the classic cuisine. Street food is sometimes made specifically for children without particularly spicy ingredients. The most extreme case is to go to your usual fast food restaurant. It is worth visiting McDonald’s for the Big Mac with 2 chicken cutlets instead of beef – a special menu item for the UAE.