If the modern gastronomy of the United Arab Emirates can be identified for something, it is its high degree of internationalization. So much so, that the most reputable hotels and restaurants in the country are characterized by having attracted the best chefs from around the world to their domains. Thus, in large cities such as Abu Dhabi or Dubai, it is even easier to enjoy the highest western or oriental cuisine than Arab cuisine itself. However, you can also taste various dishes of the Emirati cuisine, which reflects the cultural diversity of the Middle East and where the country's own tradition is combined with the nuances provided by its Syrian, Lebanese and Iranian neighbours. Apart from local specialities as cosmopolitan as the shawarma, hummus or falafel, there are a plethora of traditional dishes you can not fail to try if you have the opportunity to travel to the United Arab Emirates.
Leaving aside its culinary value, of excellent quality, Arabica or Kahwa coffee is a symbol of hospitality and a very important cultural item in the UAE. The grain of this coffee is very dark and aromatic so it is prepared whole and unmilled in a ritual in which the water is boiled 3 times and in which the grains are removed very slowly. Depending on the occasion, the drink is served in different ways. The way in which it is served to diners is marked by a cultural pattern in which the older people are served first and then everyone else in descending order of age.
Among the most typical desserts, Baklava, a traditional cake of the Arab cuisine, is made from dried fruits, nuts, syrup and filo pastry, a very thin dough of Greek origin similar to puff pastry, made with flour, salt, oil and water.
To help with digestion it is very common for the Emiratis to drink Ginger Tea or ‘Chai Zanjabeel’ after a meal. It is a tea prepared by boiling ginger with sugar and adding saffron threads. It can also be accompanied by milk. Due to its digestive properties, its consumption is very widespread.
Also known as keppe or kepi, this is one of the most traditional dishes of Arabic food. It consists of a mixture of chopped meat - either beef or lamb, couscous or bulgur, chopped onion, lemon juice and various spices, which once well kneaded is kept cold for a few hours so that the lemon acts as an agent for cooking on meat. Once marinated it is cut and served cold.
Often eaten after dinner, Legemat is a delicate ball prepared from milk, yoghurt and salt, which is fried until it acquires a golden colour and served covered in honey.
As for the main dishes, nothing in the Arab cuisine is comparable in terms of social importance than the Mansaf. Served at important events, weddings and funerals, it consists of a whole roast lamb, subsequently cooked in a yoghurt sauce and served on a bed of rice or bulgur. Lamb is an expensive meat and much appreciated in the East, therefore it is reserved for special occasions.
According to a culinary tradition very common in all Arab and Middle Eastern cuisine, it is custom to whet your appetite before a meal with some olives marinated in the national style, consisting of a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, ground chilli, thyme, cumin, pepper and salt.
Mezze is a selection of appetizers that include some of the most traditional and extended Arab specialities. In a mezze dish, it is common to find tabbouleh, hummus, or warak einabn: a kind of meat and rice canapé rolled into a vine leaf. It is accompanied by a tomato, onion and parsley salad, chopped into small pieces and seasoned.
The mutabal betinjan, also known as Baba Ghanoush, which in its literal translation means "coquettish and vicious", is a traditional dish inherited from Syrian and Lebanese cuisine very similar to hummus. It consists of an eggplant purée with a pleasant and light texture, mixed with salt, pepper, olive oil, tahini and various spices. According to the popular ideology and as its name suggests, it is a dish that seems to arouse the appetite and the greed of those who try it. So much so that, traditionally, mothers give it to their daughters, seeking to awaken in them the same qualities of the recipe.
Among the different specialities that can be found in a mezze dish, one of the most widespread is tabbouleh. This dish, native to Lebanon and Syria, consists of a salad of bulgur and herbs, seasoned with mint, onion and chopped tomatoes. Served cold it is usually one of the most consumed dishes during the summer months.