The modern diet of the UAE is cosmopolitan, featuring dishes from around the world. A lot of people confuse Levantine food as being Emirati cuisine, but shawarma, hummus, tabbouleh, and mixed grill, whilst having similar characteristics, are fairly recent additions and do not do justice to the “soul food” that makes up the Emirati menu.
Due to harsh desert conditions, typical Emirati cuisine uses a lot of meat, grain, and dairy. Vegetables are easy to grow in some areas, and are strongly featured in the diet. Traditional dishes include Ma’louba, Margooga, Harees, Machbous, Frsee’ah, Fireed, Jisheid, and Mishwy. Meats traditionally used were chicken or small fowl, such as Houbara bustards, and goats. As camels are highly prized for their milk and transporting ability, the eating of camel meat is normally reserved for special occasions.
The dishes are usually like stews, as everything is often cooked in a single pot. Saffron, cardamom, turmeric, and thyme are the core flavors used in Emirati cuisine. The introduction of rice to Emirati cuisine came when the traders moved to the region. Leaves from indigenous trees, such as the Ghaff, were also used to stuff small birds, releasing their flavor during the cooking process.
Breakfast in the UAE usually features breads like raqaq, khameer, and chebab, served with cheese, date syrup, or eggs. These were made over a curved hot plate, resembling a stone, which would have been used by the Bedouins.
Sweet options include luqeymat, a deep fried ball of pancake batter that is rolled in sesame seeds and then drizzled with date syrup. Other desserts include khabeesa, which is flour bread crumbs blended with sugar, cardamom, and saffron or bethitha, a semolina blended with crushed dates, cardamom, and clarified butter.
At the close of the meal, it is usual to be served with a red tea infused with mint, which aids the digestion. Other traditions to the meal include a welcome with dates and gahwah (Arabic coffee), which are offered on arrival and are kept available through the guests visit.