27 foods to say, “marhaba” to in the united arab emirates

Here are all the things we ate in the UAE. Many of these foods may not have originated in UAE but are popular foods that you’ll find throughout the country. Lebanese, Saudi, Turkish, Indian, Moroccan, Persian food is prevalent here so it’s nice that you get a mix of different cultures and cuisines.

1. Shawarma

Probably the most popular dish. Thinly sliced meat (typically beef or chicken) that has been heated on a rotating spit. While this is not specific to the UAE, it’s extremely popular here and you won’t find a shortage of shawarma places. It’s usually served with some type of thin flatbread and/or french fries, some greens/tomatoes/onions, with some Arabic pickles on the side

Chicken shawarma in the making

2. KEBAb

Grilled meat (typically beef, chicken, or lamb since Muslims cannot eat pork) on a stick. Again, this is popular all over the world in its own variations but like the shawarma, you’ll find kebabs (high quality and cheap) all over UAE

3. Shish tawook

Chicken skewers (shish means stick). The main difference between this and kebabs is that tawook is typically marinated with yogurt

4. machboos

Rice dish with spices, and meat – usually chicken or lamb. The word, “machboos” means “pressed”, which refers to the cooking method – where all of the ingredients are cooked in one pot

Mutton machboos from Al Khettar (Dubai, UAE)

5. manakeesh

Dough topped with thyme, ground meat, and/or cheese – kind of like an Arabic pizza. You really can’t go wrong with bread/meat/cheese

6. Jesheed

Jesheed – Minced shark served with rice. This was actually is a traditional Emirati cuisine, since shark is widely available there. It was a bit too fishy for my taste

Jesheed from Al Fanar (Dubai, UAE)

7. falafel

Ground chick peas rolled into a ball and deep fried. Usually eaten as an appetizer, snack, or with pita

Falafel at Al Ustad Special Kebab (Dubai, UAE)

8. hummus

Mashed chick peas, served as a dip or spread, with bread

Hummus from from Al Safadi (Dubai, UAE)

9. tabbouleh

A salad made of bulgur, finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, onion, and mint, seasoned with lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s typically served as a side or as part of a mezze, which is a selection of small dishes served as appetizers

Tabbouleh as a side dish of lamb machboos from Al Khettar (Dubai, UAE)

10. sambusak

Savory pastries that are filled with meat and/or potatoes, then deep-fried (variation of the samosa)

11. cheese

I actually did not expect cheese to be this popular here but it is. I always thought of it as a European thing but there are actually a ton of Arabic cheeses. Here is a pretty interesting list if you’d like to learn more. I tried labneh, which is similar to a cream cheese but it’s made from yogurt made from cow’s milk. I also tried halloumi, which originates from Cyprus but has become popular in the UAE

12. chebab

Emirati’s version of a pancake. Also typically eaten for breakfast, it can be drizzled with date syrup or you can spread cheese on it

13. baklava

Layered dessert made with filo dough, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey

Baklava and an assortment of sweets at Carrefour Supermarket (Dubai, UAE)

14. knafeh

Made with a spun pastry, soaked in syrup, layered with cheese and usually topped with pistachios

15. Riz bi halib

Lebanese rice pudding. This one was flavored with rose and topped with pistachio

Riz bi Halib (Lebanese rice pudding) from Al Safadi (Dubai, UAE)

16. luqaimat

Sweet dumplings/balls of dough served as dessert

Luqaimat at the Jumeriah Mosque (Dubai, UAE)

17. dates

Dates are popular in the Middle East in general. It has been said that it was the first food that the Prophet Muhammed ate when he broke his fast. You’ll also find these everywhere in gift shops. I’ve read mixed comments on whether or not you can bring these back to the United States, but ultimately decided not to bring any back because I didn’t want to risk it

18. HArees

Boiled, cracked wheat mixed with meat, similar to a porridge

Harees from Al Fanar (Dubai, UAE)

19. arabic coffee

Dark bitter coffee, usually with added cardamom. I wasn’t a huge fan of it but I think I also found out on this trip that I don’t think I like cardamom – but still worth a try while you’re here. It’s usually served in a really small cup and is only a few sips

Emrati snacks of luqaimat, chebab, and Arabic coffee

20. karak

This is basically just Chai tea but it’s known as Karak here

Karak (chai tea) from McDonald’s

21. Camel milk

Alright now this one is definitely not for everyone. It wasn’t for me but I was intrigued. The flavor kind of tastes like straw from a farm. It was odd. Originally, I wanted to try camel meat too but after trying the milk, I decided against it. I also didn’t see a lot of places serving camel meat so I have a feeling it’s more for tourists anyway and locals probably just stick to chicken/lamb/beef

22. laban

Fermented milk that tastes like a yogurt drink

Laban at Al Ustad Special Kebab (Dubai, UAE)

23. Fresh Fruit Juices

The fruit juices in the UAE are next level, and they are cheap compared to the U.S. where a 16 oz. of fresh juice will cost you a MINIMUM of $10. It’s a nice way to end your day, a nice drink break for the afternoon since it’s refreshing, especially in the hot weather, or even a nice addition to any meal

24. shisha

Tobacco mix containing molasses with all sorts of fruity flavors, smoked in a hookah. So not technically a food, but still something you’re putting in your body. A lot of restaurants serve shisha and people will have it on the side of their meals. Since most of the population here is Muslim, and Muslims aren’t allowed to drink alcohol, it seems that shisha is the social equivalent of “grabbing a drink”

25. african cuisine

Okay, so not technically Arabic food, but they share a lot of similar flavors due to Africa’s proximity to UAE. We only got the chance to try Moroccan food while there (a first for me), but I saw many, many different types of African cuisines that I’ve never even seen in the United States

26. albaik

This one is a popular Middle Eastern fast food fried chicken chain. It originated in Saudi Arabia and is their largest restaurant chain. We got the chance to try it at Dubai Expo and it was actually pretty good

His and hers chicken sandwiches from Albaik at the Dubai Expo. Can you guess which one is mine?

27. mcDonald’s

I’m always a sucker for McDonald’s, especially in other countries, where I can see culturally how the menu differs – so I always make this one of my food stops

Which one of these 27 foods would you try?

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