Dubai has become a melting pot of cultural diversities. Being amongst the top tourist destination, you will find food from all over the world in Dubai. The modern Emirati diet too has come to be more cosmopolitan. Their cuisine is a combined blend of Indian spices, Levantine specialties, Persian ingredients and the Bedouin. It is as cosmopolitan as the city’s culture. So when you are in Dubai, here is what you should try for a taste of tradition
1. Manousheh with Za’atar
This Levantine breakfast dish means you can have pizza for breakfast! An oven grilled flatbread with Za’atar – a spice mix made of roasted sesame seeds and dry spices, gives that perfect balance to the flatbread. Try the classic Manousheh or get adventurous and go in for a Manousheh with exotic toppings, salty akkawi, cheese, creamy sour labneh and sweet jam, eggs or minced lamb.
2. Chelo Kebab
A traditional Iranian dish made of minced meat (chicken, beef or lamb) mixed with dry roasted spices and grilled atop a tandoor (traditional coal grill). The spices and the smoky flavor of the coal come together in the most amazing way to make the Chelo Kebab. You can ask for a side of butter, sour zereshk, fragrant dill or lemon juice and sliced onion to spike your kebabs and give it that extra hint of flavor. Generally served with flavored saffron basmati rice, this item should be a must try for all meat lovers.
3. Al Machboos
The Emirati equivalent to the India Pulao. This very popular middle eastern dish consists of rice, onion, meat, lots of spices and loomi (dried lemon), all cooked in a large pot to simmer in the zesty flavor. What makes this different than the pulao is the zesty loomi and the ratio of the spices used. This is a one-pot meal best enjoyed with a side of salad and yogurt raita.
4. Shish Taouk
A traditional Israeli dish, Shish Taouk is chicken chunks marinated in spices and grilled over a coal grill. Almost every restaurant in Dubai serves this kebab dish with their own twist. Have the kebab as is as a snack or make it a meal by sandwiching it between a roti (flatbread) smothered in Lebanese garlic dip with a side of pickles and fries.
5. Lahem Bi Ajin
In other words, a cross between a pizza and a meat pie (Yes this is real!). There is a flatbread pie crust topped with spicy ground meat, sliced onions and tomatoes, sprinkled with herbs and spices like parsley, paprika, cumin and cinnamon, which is then baked. You can flavor your Lahem Bi Ajin by asking for cayenne pepper, lemon juice or tobacco sauce.
6. Chicken Shawarma
The most well known Levantine dish, you will find a Shawarma vendor at every street corner. Chicken meat is marinated and stacked up on a spite which is then grilled for as long as a day. The meat is shaved off the spite and served on a plate or made into a sandwich or wrap, spread with tahini, hummus, garlic dip and pickled turnips. Choose whichever you like it and it’ll be served with accompaniments like tabbouleh, fattoush, taboon bread and a tomato and cucumber salad. Somebody please put a Shawarma in my hand already!
7. Mutton Nihari
Nihari is a popular North Indian breakfast dish that has somehow become an Emirati staple. This flavorful meat curry is essentially a spicy mutton stew. However, the secret of its taste is in the cooking process – the stew is slow-cooked overnight, with bone marrow, that allows the meat to become incredibly tender. Have the Nihari with a desi paratha (Indian flatbread) or mix it with any rice preparation like biryani or pulao.
A cross between porridge and pâté, Haleem is a blend of pounded wheat, lentils, spices, ghee (clarified butter), nuts, dry fruits and saffron. This delicacy is cooked in a large pot for more than 8-10 hours to give it it's thick consistency and rich taste. At first, the dish might not look very enticing, but take my word for it and give it a try. You would be surprised at how much you actually like this humble dish. Ask for a topping of fried onion, coriander, mint and freshly squeezed lemon juice.
9. Ryoog Yerena
Can be translated as a ‘date omelet’ and is famous for its unique use of dates in an omelet. Ryoog Yerena is a delicious caramel packed concoction of eggs baked on a bed of dates. While dates are the most commonly found item in Dubai, it is only justified that the Emiratis use it in every way possible – sweet, savory or drinkable. The layer of dates beneath the egg caramelizes, burns and sweetens to unveil a crunchy, toffee, syrupy dates caramel and it’s oh so divine! Best had with a side of fresh local-style bread and a karak chai (strong tea with milk).