Whether you’re traveling to Ras Al Khaimah or the rest of the UAE, there’s no doubt that you’ll need to stop for food sooner or later. Here are some of the best dishes to try if you’re new to the Emirates.

Thareed

Thareed is a hearty stew-like food made with meat and vegetables, served in a meat broth. It usually has bread mixed into the liquid to thicken it up a little, and in many ways, this is the epitome of common food you can find in the gulf. Thareed has a lot of vegetable-based protein and can help provide energy throughout the day.

Samboosa

Samboosa are appetizer-style pastries heavily influenced by Indian cuisine that made their way across the Arabian Sea. Usually shaped into triangles and fried for a crispy outside, people fill samboosa with vegetables, spices, or cheese. Though more of a snack than a meal, samboosa are great all day. 

Chebab

If you’re in the mood for breakfast, look for somewhere serving a chebab. These are similar to pancakes but have sour cheese and sweet syrup made from dates. The flavors combine somewhat as the batter cooks, resulting in a soft and delicious treat that’s a little like fondue.

Machboos

Machboos is a rice dish that’s best for lunch or dinner. Chefs mix the rice with spices, then add dried lemon and some form of meat or seafood. Warm and flavorful, it’s easy to make in bulk and sure to fill you up when you’re hungry.

Luqaymat

Luqaymat, readily available throughout the UAE, are similar to fried donut holes. Traditional versions cook in oil, then soak in syrup for a few moments before serving. Higher-quality versions may add extra flavors to the dough or syrup.

 

Luqaymat tends to come in bulk, so order this for breakfast or dessert when traveling as a group.

Knafeh

Knafeh is a sweet cheese pastry, often served for dessert. The base is shredded phyllo (filo) dough, with cheese in the middle to help it hold together better. A sweet syrup goes on top to modify the flavor. Knafeh is best when fresh, so order in smaller amounts and try to finish it right away.

Madrouba

Madrouba is an easy-to-digest dish, making it suitable for travelers of all ages. It’s similar to porridge, with rice, onion, and spices cooked together for a long time to blend the flavors. Most places serve it with chicken, but you may also find lamb or seafood variants.

The name (which means ‘beaten’) comes from the final step of preparing it, where all the ingredients are thoroughly smashed together to smooth out the final product. Spice levels tend to be low here, so this is a good default if you’re worried about getting an upset stomach.

Saloona

Saloona is another meat-and-rice stew, which you may notice is a common fixture of cuisine in the UAE. The tomato-based broth uses onion, ginger, garlic, vegetables, and essentially any kind of meat you want served alongside rice. It has a lower spice level than some other dishes, making it more popular among many visitors.

Tahta Maleh

If you’re looking for the flavors of history, consider ordering Tahta Maleh. Invented before refrigeration in the region, this dish features salty, preserved fish layered under rice. Tuna is a commonly-available choice for this dish in the Emirates, and you can easily add a little sauce to moisten it up and change the flavor.

Biryani

Also popular in Indian cuisine, biryani is a mixed-rice dish typically featuring meat and vegetables, without the stew base of some other options on this list. Meat biryani is an all-time favorite across the area, so it’s easy to find and a great meal to get in bulk.

Arabic Coffee

If there’s one thing you’ll have no trouble finding in the Emirates, it’s Arabic Coffee. It’s often available as a complimentary drink at hotels and government buildings, but you can also find fancier versions at restaurants.

Arabic Coffee is a bit more flavorful than you may be used to, often featuring cardamom as an added ingredient. Some places also serve dates with coffee.

Characteristics of UAE Cuisine

Dishes in the Emirates emphasize meat, seafood, and rice. Lamb and mutton are particularly common choices for meat, but you can also find beef and chicken in many restaurants. Vegetables tend to cook with the other ingredients, rather than arriving cold and separately.

Cardamom, saffron, and thyme are common in dishes. It’s rather hard to find foods that don’t have spice in them. Chickpeas are also particularly popular, and you’ll find them in many staple dishes.

UAE dishes are often some variation of putting meat and rice together, with or without a stew or a sauce as a base. The individual ingredients trend small, so you can eat exactly as much as you want in any restaurant.

Also, check the calendar before you visit. Religious dates and festivals can affect which restaurants are open, especially during Ramadan. The starting date for Ramadan (and some other relevant dates) varies from year to year, and occasionally occurs twice in a single Gregorian year, so it’s important to check local expectations.

Some restaurants will still be open for tourists during this time, especially around hotels and the like. If you’re not sure where you can eat during Ramadan, ask your hotel’s staff and they can provide you with up-to-date suggestions.

Conclusion

Dishes in the UAE are flavorful and filling, available in hearty portion-sizes that can keep you full for hours. However, if it’s your first time traveling, you may be surprised at how familiar many of the dishes feel. Emirati food is similar to popular dishes in many other cultures, so rather than exotic meals, you might find the taste of home.

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