The modern diet of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is cosmopolitan, featuring dishes from around the world. A lot of people confuse Levantine food as being Emirati/Khaleej, but shawarma, hummous, tabbouleh, and mixed grill, whilst having similar characteristics, are fairly recent additions and do not do justice to the "soul food" that makes up the Emirati menu.
Due to harsh desert conditions, the traditional food of the United Arab Emirates uses a lot of meat, grain, and dairy. Vegetables are easy to grow in some areas, and are strongly featured in the diet. Traditional dishes include Ma'louba, Margooga, Harees, Machbous, Frsee'ah, Fireed, Jisheid, and Mishwy. Meats traditionally used were chicken or small fowl, such as Houbara bustards, and goats. As camels are highly prized for their milk and transporting ability, the eating of camel meat is normally reserved for special occasions.
The dishes are usually like stews, as everything is often cooked in a single pot. Saffron, cardamom, turmeric, and thyme are the core flavors used in Emirati cookery. The introduction of rice to the diet came when the traders moved to the region. Leaves from indigenous trees, such as the Ghaff, were also used to stuff small birds, releasing their flavor during the cooking process.
Breakfast in the UAE usually features breads like raqaq, khameer, and chebab, served with cheese, date syrup, or eggs. These were made over a curved hot plate, resembling a stone, which would have been used by the Bedouins. Balaleat is another dish, but its advent again with the traders, who introduced pasta.
Sweet options include luqeymat, a deep fried ball of pancake batter that is rolled in sesame seeds and then drizzled with date syrup. Other desserts include khabeesa, which is flour bread crumbs blended with sugar, cardamom, and saffron or bethitha, a semolina blended with crushed dates, cardamom, and clarified butter.
At the close of the meal, it is usual to be served with a red tea infused with mint, which aids the digestion. Other traditions to the meal include a welcome with dates and gahwah (Arabic coffee), which are offered on arrival and are kept available through the guests visit.
Seafood has been the mainstay of the Emirati diet for centuries. The United Arab Emirates cuisine is a reflection of a great Arabian heritage and vast exposure to civilizations over time. Muslims are prohibited from eating pork, so it is not included in Arab menus. Meat, fish, and rice are the staple foods of the Emirati cuisine. Lamb and mutton are the more favored meats, then goat and beef.
Hotels frequently have pork substitutes such as beef sausages and veal rashers on their breakfast menus. If pork is available, it is clearly labelled as such.
Alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars (but not in Sharjah). All nightclubs and golf clubs are permitted to sell alcohol. Specific supermarkets may sell pork, but are sold in separate sections.
Dishes forming part of the Emirati cuisine include:
- Yeast bread
- Camel milk
- Camel meat
- Al Jabab bread
- UAEinteract.com. "UAE Travel& Tourism: Food & Drink". UAEinteract. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "Alcohol and Pork Licenses - Allo' Expat Abu Dhabi". Alloexpat.com. 2009-05-30. Retrieved 2009-07-15.
- "Welcome to Abu Dhabi - Emirati Cuisine". Visitabudhabi.ae. 2009-07-01. Retrieved 2009-07-15.