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Food & Drink

Must-try Arabian desserts in Dubai

Mon, August 24, 2020

From the moreish luqaimat to the rich Umm Ali, why not end your meal with some Arabian sweets?

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From the moreish luqaimat to the rich Umm Ali, why not end your meal with some Arabian sweets?

1

Maamoul

Must-try Arabian desserts in Dubai
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Flour, dates, spices and honey are essential ingredients for most Arabian sweets, and every Emirati grandmother has a secret recipe that’s been handed down through generations. Likewise, the spiced date cookies called maamoul are sure to be found served in heaping piles in every majlis (a room for hosting guests in an Arab home). They are usually stuffed with date paste and crushed nuts, and pressed into decorative moulds before baking.

Their buttery flavour is the perfect companion to a cup of the strong black Arabian coffee they’re usually served with. While grandma’s recipe can’t be beat, traditional Emirati coffee shops and cafes also serve them to reflect classic Arabian hospitality. Pair it with your afternoon tea at the Mamikonyan Restaurant and Cafe in Al Seef.

2

Umm Ali

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At the gastronomical core of Arabia lies the dreamy Umm Ali. Translating to ‘Ali’s Mother’, it’s a popular dessert of Eid celebrations and other holidays.

This deliciously creamy bread and butter pudding is made slightly differently to the kind eaten in the West, with puff pastry or torn-up croissants layered in a large dish with pistachios, dried coconut flakes and sultanas or dates. A mixture of milk, cream and sugar is then poured over the top and allowed to soak into the pastry mix before being baked. A hearty and warming dish, no celebration is complete without a bowl or three. Have a taste of the dessert at ILA Restaurant & Cafe in Al Seef. 

3

Basbousa

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A traditional Levantine cake, basbousa is an everyday dessert commonly eaten after family meals. It's quite a simple recipe: the cake is made from mostly semolina and sometimes powdered coconut, then soaked in syrup and garnished with blanched almonds before serving.

Mild in flavour and surprisingly light, it’s an easy dessert to both make and eat compared to other regional desserts. Variations can include a honey glaze, the addition of rose water or orange blossom water to give the batter a soft floral scent, or the addition of thick yoghurt to create a moister – and denser – cake. You can order it for the table at Al Fanar in Dubai Festival City, a museum-like ode to the UAE's culinary heritage.

4

Chebab

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The mere mention of this tasty breakfast treat never fails to result in squeals of delight. An Emirati favourite, this local version of pancakes is everything you’ve dreamed of.

Every restaurant that serves chebab has their own closely-guarded recipe, which usually involves taking the classic pancake batter of flour, sugar and eggs, and giving it a serious spice infusion with generous helpings of turmeric, cardamom and saffron. A few quick pan flips later and the fluffy, golden pancakes are ready to be served with a drizzling of sweet date syrup. Start your day with a warm plate of chebab in the bright and serene surroundings of the Arabian Tea House.

5

Khameer

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Now here's a delicious bread with decades of history. Starting out as little dough balls made from wheat or barley, there are many variations of the khameer (yeast) bread, including the use of dates, saffron and hints of turmeric for added flavour. Once baked, they resemble puffed up buns and are served with local honey and cheese.

A number of hip Emirati eateries have tweaked the humble khameer to appeal to contemporary tastes, with combinations that include Nutella chocolate, peanut butter and jam, and sweet apple pie. Al Fanar's take stays on the traditional track, with a deep-fried option served alongside egg paste and a sweet-and-savoury mix with date syrup and cream cheese. 

6

Luqaimat

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A favourite at Arabian buffet spreads, luqaimat are deep-fried dumplings that are crispy on the outside, yet soft and fluffy on the inside. Meaning ‘bite-sized’ in Arabic, they are often served as a precursor to more substantial desserts.

Made with flour and yeast, the dumplings are flavoured with cardamom and saffron for a distinctive taste. After frying, these doughy balls are drizzled with plenty of date molasses (known as dibs) and sprinkled with sesame seeds before serving. Piled high on a platter, it’s hard to stop at just one of these crunchy sweet treats. Craving a bite? Try it at Sukkar in Boxpark.

7

Kunafa

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One of the region’s favourite dishes, kunafa is readily available from Emirati and other Arabian restaurants. The dish is made up of a thick layer of mild white cheese, which is topped with crushed vermicelli noodles or shredded wheat. Best served piping hot and soaked in a plain or rose-flavoured sugar syrup, many eateries boast their own version of the dessert.

Kunafa is also a popular breakfast food for those with a sweet tooth, with Arab restaurants serving it from their shop windows during the busy morning rush in Old Dubai. Scooped into a soft brioche roll, it’s the perfect one-handed breakfast for those on the go. Visit WAFI Mall's Bosporus for unique takes on your typical kunafa, which you can pair with cream, ice cream or even chocolate.

8

Assidat Al Boubar

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Another Emirati comfort food classic, Assidat Al Boubar, or Aseeda as it’s more commonly known, is a delicious pumpkin pudding that toes the line between mildly sweet and slightly savoury.

It’s made of flour, sugar, cardamom, saffron and, of course, pumpkins. Often, rose water and honey are added to enhance its moreish flavour. This pumpkin dessert always tastes best when warm, and topped with a generous helping of ghee (clarified butter) and nuts. It really is love in a bowl – to get a taste for yourself, head over to the quirky Sikka Cafe at City Walk.

9

Baklava

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Perhaps one of the best known desserts from the region, baklava takes on many delicious forms. The multi-faceted dessert, which originated in Turkey, is crafted from filo pastry, stuffed with an assortment of nuts and drenched in sticky, sweet honey.

Dubai boasts some of the finest sweet shops that specialise in traditional baklava. Try the different varieties and then pack your favourites in pretty gift boxes, ready to be taken home and shared with family and friends – you can find beautifully packaged treats from Bateel. 

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