A Guide to the Cuisine of Dubai

Every kind of cuisine in the world has set up shop in Dubai, thanks to the city’s well-earned reputation as a global metropolis that unites cultures and ideas. During your holiday to Dubai, you can effectively eat your way around the globe with ease, with everything from your favourite fast food chains to the most exotic dishes of the Far East on offer.

That said, a good understanding of how the locals like to eat can go a long way, and it’s a smart idea to try some of the more traditional food and drink too. See if any of our recommendations get your mouth watering.

Feeling the heat

An important aspect of Emirati food to keep in mind is that they love their spices here. It’s a different kind of kick to the curries of Sri Lanka or India though, instead taking its cues from the Far East and neighbouring Persian Gulf countries. The spices have a heat closer to Korea’s kimchi, or a good chilli in Mexico as a result.

Meat, dairy and grains are the base components of many a Dubai meal, and they’ve a fondness for poultry, beef, lamb and camel. The latter is a meal usually reserved for special occasions, although there are enough camels about to make the meat particularly cheap, so don’t be shy in trying it out. The most traditional way to enjoy camel meat is having it roasted and stuffed with herbs, spices and vegetables. It’s a rich and hearty flavour.

Fast, simple flavours

Many of Dubai’s best dishes keep it simple, but they don’t skimp on the flavour. Street food is actually often the way to go, from rugged lamb kebabs on skewers, roasting over open coals, to the popular shawarma. Similar to a doner kebab but with plenty more class besides, shawarma takes thick flaky pitta bread and crams it full of vegetables, sauces and rich, tasty meat.

Another simple yet scrumptious example of Dubai’s best eats can be seen in al machboos, a popular rice dish made with meat, lemon and onions. It takes over two hours to properly prepare, but the wait is worth it, as the textures and flavours of this dish come together beautifully.

Vegetarian options

You might think there’s a lot of meat on the menu, but Dubai’s homegrown vegetarian recipes give plenty to enjoy as well. Tabbouleh is a salad comprising cucumbers, green onions and tomatoes, all drizzled with lemon juice and fresh mint. If rice dishes are more your style, shirin polo is a good choice. It’s a mixture of basmati rice, raisins, currants, nuts and carrots, and there’s also the option to add some shredded chicken to the mix too if you’re enjoying it with non-veggie friends.

Once again, it’s some of the most simple dishes that prove the most delicious in Dubai. Kellaj is what they call thinly sliced grilled bread infused with creamy halloumi cheese, making for a hot and satisfying pick-me-up while you’re out and about.

Dessert from the desert

Sweet treats are another part of Dubai’s cuisine culture that really sing with flavours. Perhaps the most opulent offering is knafeh, a rich cake filled with gooey sweetened cream cheese, topped with rosewater and pistachios.

That combo comes into play for mahalabiya too, which is a pale pudding topped with pistachios and rosewater for some flavourful zing. For bite-sized sugary morsels though, it’s got to be luqaimat, glazed with syrupy coating. Those deep-fried dough balls are a moreish dessert that always goes down a treat.