Demystify local cuisine with our guide to all-time favourites
With influences from all over the world, Dubai’s rich food scene is as diverse as its residents. However, the undoubted king of the city’s culinary landscape has to be Arabian cuisine, with countries from all over the region vying for attention. Can’t tell your hummus from your baba ghanoush? Follow our guide to find out the top foods you just can’t miss in Dubai.
Everyone's favourite dip is also one of the simplest to make – with chickpea, tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. It’s a staple of almost every Middle Eastern spread. Often served as a starter, it is best enjoyed with freshly baked khubz (flatbread). Devour it as a main course, use it as a spread or relish it as a condiment with your juicy grills. This multipurpose dip is a treat to have in any form.
So intense are the flavours and spices present in local food, a bit of labneh (thick strained yoghurt) is the ideal way to cool down even the hottest dishes. Aside from being a stand-alone dip that is ideal when paired with olive oil and zaatar, it is a key ingredient to many Arabic dishes. Those with a sweet tooth can also enjoy labneh cheesecake and other desserts spruced up by its flavour.
Originally a simple, doughy flatbread, manakish has now evolved into a pizza-like creation, often topped with zaatar, cheese and spiced minced beef or lamb. Breakfast, lunch or dinner, this is one of the tastiest and easy-to-find baked delights when you want to enjoy a meal on the go. Zaatar manakish – the classic blend of herbs and spices including oregano, thyme and sumac – is a popular all-day snack.
A light option that will sit well with health-conscious visitors, tabbouleh is an originally Levantine vegetarian salad. It’s usually made up of bulgur wheat (known locally as burghul) mixed in with finely-chopped parsley, tomatoes, onions and fresh, fragrant mint. This tantalising salad marks a zesty beginning to a wholesome meal.
Another vegetarian-friendly option, fattoush is a slightly heartier salad, usually featuring pieces of toasted or fried bread combined with whatever vegetables and herbs the kitchen has at hand, mainly tomatoes, cucumbers and radish – plus some pomegranate seeds for an added burst of flavour and colour. This filling salad is often savoured as a fresh starter, but can also be enjoyed as a main course by the health-conscious.
A quintessential snack, falafel is a fried ball made from ground chickpeas or fava beans, and a medley of subtle spices. The perfect street food, you can have falafel whole and dipped in a tahini sauce or stuffed in a pita or flatbread bread for a delicious wrap. Whatever form it is in, you’ll love its flavour and crumbly texture.
7. Shish taouk
One of the mainstays of any Middle Eastern table worth its salt is shish kebab, which can be any kind of meat grilled and served on a skewer. A favourite in Dubai is shish taouk, a traditional kebab of chicken marinated in a special spice mix and cooked in a tandoor oven. Served with garlic paste, the grills are truly scrumptious.
It’s Dubai’s all-time favourite. Tender strips of chicken, flavoured with a heady mix of spices, are cooked on a rotating spit and then rolled into pita bread layered with crunchy lettuce, fries and tahini sauce. One bite and you'll know why shawarmas are one of Dubai's most popular – and wallet-friendly – dishes. It's a versatile treat as shawarmas also come in juicy lamb and spicy Mexican varieties.
9. Umm Ali
The Egyptian version of the English classic bread and butter pudding, a good umm ali is sweet, rich and extremely creamy. While there are many modern variations, the traditional recipe is best enjoyed with nuts. Equally tempting when consumed warm or cold, this is a dessert that you’re sure to find everywhere from hotel buffets to restaurant menus.
Cheese in desserts is nothing new, but it's not often that whole blocks of salty, gooey cheese are found in puddings, as in kunafah. Strange as it sounds, there's something about the super-sweet sugar syrup and salty cheese with its sweet topping that just works. Those who prefer a full sugar rush can drizzle the syrup to their liking, while those who are accustomed to milder tastes can skip it altogether and appreciate the soft, cheesy taste of the pudding.