Guest Post by: Kumar Samtani
Off to Dubai for a luxurious holiday? You will definitely have a blast experiencing some of the treats this progressive desert has to offer. We’re saying “some” because even a full year of vacationing here will not be enough to sample all the specialties it has to offer.
If you’re picking activities to include in your itinerary, one that you should definitely include is a gastronomic adventure — visit dining establishments that offer traditional Emirati dishes. You simply cannot explore a foreign land without sampling its traditional fare.
Not a lot of people are acquainted with Emirati cuisine, but those who have had the blessed opportunity to try local traditional dishes say it’s just impossible to not gush over how savory everything is. Foodie tourists also point out that many of these gastronomic offerings are very good for the body because they make use of fresh aromatics and spices. It’s always a treat to enjoy food that not only satisfies the mouth and belly but also heals the body.
If you’re not sure which traditional Emirati dishes to try when you head to mid-priced Al Hamidieh in Downtown Dubai, or to the very affordable Jeita Restaurant (Dubai) which has an impressive 5-star rating (and other highly recommended dining destinations in the city), we’ve rounded up here five of the must-try traditional Emirati dishes for tourists.
1. Cardamom and Saffron Pancake
If you can’t launch into your day without a proper breakfast, this somewhat familiar yet unique treat should be your early morning grub. This pancake is original to Arab nations and it’s widely known throughout the region as “Chebab” or “Choubab.”
It differs from the usual pancakes from other countries because it has a mildly spicy, nutty and woody taste to it due to the cardamom. Also, it has a golden yellow hue thanks to the saffron.
A cardamom and saffron pancake offers a complex and delightful taste. You can add butter, sugar, honey, jam, or date syrup to it. This breakfast treat (as well as its fried version, the Khanfaroosh) is available as one of the popular brunch options in Dubai.
This hearty local dish is made with whole wheat and lamb. It’s very easy to make and it’s safe to say that for the best-tasting Harees, it has to be prepared by a devoted Emirati mother.
Some people don’t automatically like it, but later on discover that its unique taste is the kind one would crave. Harees is one of the oldest Emirati dishes and it’s believed to be at least a thousand years old.
As for nutritional value, Harees is highly recommended for pregnant women. With all the good proteins from the wheat and meat, little babies inside the tummy will surely develop well.
3. Dejaj Salona
This is also known as Emirati Chicken Stew. Although chicken stew is not particularly special, what makes this recipe taste different from other chicken stews is that it has the Emirati spice mix called Bzar. This spice mix creates the flavors that locals love.
Bzar is a combination of ground coriander, cumin, black pepper, red pepper, dried ginger, turmeric, cardamom and nutmeg (all superfoods loaded with vitamins and antioxidants that strengthen the immune system). Every family in the UAE has its own version of Bzar, that’s why Dejaj Salona tends to taste different at different dining establishments (making the dish very interesting).
We all know Arabs love their lamb, which is why you should try Tharid or the Emirati lamb stew. The fact that it’s the Prophet Muhammad’s favorite dish should entice you to give this a try, but it really is a very satisfying local dish that is also quite nutritious. You eat it with regag (a cracker-like bread) that you either dip into the broth or pile meat and veggies on.
5. Machbous Samak
If you weren’t a fish-lover before, you will be when you try this wholesome traditional Emirati dish. It’s packed with flavor and has just the right amount of spiciness to increase your appetite. It’s enjoyed with rice, and local restaurants sometimes serve it with cucumber to help diners cool down.
All these dishes are readily accessible; even small cafeterias serve them frequently. So if you wish to sample them all to round out your visit to Dubai with a wonderful gastronomic experience, you won’t have a difficult time finding a place that has them on the menu.
Kumar Samtani is the co-founder of MenuPages.ae. With an educational background in Industrial & Operations Engineering from the prestigious University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Kumar’s expertise lies in process improvement & operations management for all types of organizations. He is also an experienced entrepreneur with business interests in consumer goods, hospitality supplies & real estate.