There are a lot of things to love about the United Arab Emirates: the lush greenery that was once a desolate terrain, the intricate road infrastructure that rivals the greatest cities in the world, a buzzing night life that hosts some of the greatest DJs in the world – and of course, the food, glorious food.
But, while we may know of all the food variety one can taste in the UAE, traditional cuisine isn't as popular.
Why? We haven't got a clue, because it's one of the best things out there.
At first glance Emirati cuisine looks a lot like Biryani (rice cooked with saffron and served with some form of meat, poultry or fish). That however is an Indian cuisine, but its popularity in the country indicates how close the two cultures are in terms of traditional dishes. In this respect, it's allll about the spices.
Ancestors of the Emirati people lived in the desert and as such were travelers. Their cuisine evolved over time as they met other travelers from around the world and picked up their eating habits. At its core Emirati cuisine focuses on complex carbohydrates intended to promote sustainability and give the travelers energy for longer periods of time. The spices give it that extra oomph.
Here's what it consists of.
An Emirati breakfast usually comes with a serving of beans, or grains like chickpeas or black eyed peas, boiled in water with salt and of course spices. It also features breads like raqaq bread (aka flake bread that is prepared like crepes), khameer (yeast bread), and chebab (sort of like an Arabic pancake) served with cheese, date syrup or eggs.
At its core an Emirati breakfast holds complex carbohydrates.
Though it sounds unusual, this is what traditional Emirati households serve to this day. An example of a well-known dish is “balaleat." This Indian-influenced sweet pasta is fried and topped with a saffron omelet, making it crunchy, sweet, tender, and savory all at once.
Lunch and dinner
For lunch, some kind of stew is usually served with rice. Spices like turmeric, cardamom and thyme are used to cook the meat, chicken or fish. These spices are also used in Indian cuisine – so it's easy to say that Emiratis picked up the recipes during their travels.
Machboos is a popular dish in the Emirates. It is served with either meat, chicken or fish, and comes with a side of rice seasoned with whole spices like cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, dried lemon, yellow raisins and lentils. The taste and preparation of this dish can vary from one Emirati family to another. Saloona is another. It is a mixture of seasonal vegetables cooked with meat, chicken or fish and served with white steamed rice.
A somewhat unusual dish that the Emiratis love is fareeth, which gets its name from the thin layers of bread that are used in place of pasta or rice. Meat and vegetables are over-cooked until they are soft and then seasoned with the usual spices mentioned above. The entire stew is poured over the bread layers.
It is an Emirati tradition to serve dates before or after a meal as it is, from a religious stand point, a custom and usually meant to be had with food. Dates are used in many desserts as well in the form of a paste or syrup to sweeten up the dish.
One of the more popular desserts is loqaimat: a deep fried batter, covered in sesame seeds and drizzled with honey and date syrup, and served hot. Delicious is an understatement.
Traditional Emirati beverages include Arabic coffee served from the dallah, Red Tea infused with mint, which aids the digestion process, and/or Karak tea, which is tea boiled with spices and condensed milk.