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Food & Drink

Arabic delicacies: Top dishes and drinks to try

Wed, March 13, 2024

Get a taste of tradition with our essential Arabian food guide. From creamy labneh to irresistible Umm Ali, here are the unmissable local favourites.

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Get a taste of tradition with our essential Arabian food guide. From creamy labneh to irresistible Umm Ali, here are the unmissable local favourites.



Everyone's preferred dip is also perhaps one of the easiest to prepare, blending chickpeas, sesame tahini paste, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Hummus is a staple at almost every Middle Eastern feast, and often served as a starter. Enjoy it with freshly baked khubz (Arabic flatbread), try it as a spread, or as a condiment alongside freshly-grilled kebabs. This multipurpose favourite now comes in a variety of flavours, featuring beetroot, avocado, spices and more, but the original is still our top pick. The Arz Lebanon restaurant presents the authentic version, drizzled with top quality olive oil.



A little labneh – a thick strained yoghurt – is the ideal way to cool down even the most fiery dishes, and is somewhat of a secret sauce for grandmothers across the region. Aside from being a standalone dip, ideal when paired with olive oil and zaatar spice, it is a key ingredient in many Arabic and Emirati dishes. Those with a sweet tooth can also enjoy labneh cheesecake and other desserts spruced up by its flavour across the city.



Originally a simple, doughy flatbread, manakish has now evolved into a pizza-like creation with a range of toppings, including favourites such as cheese and spiced minced beef or lamb. At homestyle restaurant Bait Al Maryam you'll have plenty of manakish to choose from, but the crowd-pleasing zaatar version is a must-try. Freshly-baked every day, the dough is topped with a generous helping of the classic blend of herbs and spices including oregano, thyme and sumac.



A light option that will sit well with health-conscious visitors, tabbouleh is a Levantine vegetarian salad. It is usually made up of bulgur wheat, mixed in with finely-chopped parsley, tomatoes, onions and fresh, fragrant mint. This tantalising salad usually makes a zesty beginning to a wholesome Arabic feast. Make sure to order it at Aroos Damascus restaurant where the flavours always satisfy.



Another vegetarian-friendly option, fattoush is a slightly heartier salad, usually featuring pieces of toasted or fried bread. It's often combined with fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, radish and pomegranate seeds for an added burst of flavour and colour. This filling salad is often savoured as a starter, but is also enjoyed as a main by those looking for a satisfying yet low-calorie treat.


 Palestinian-style falafel at Sultan Dubai Falafel

A quintessential anytime snack, falafel is a fried round patty made from ground chickpeas or fava beans, and a medley of subtle spices. The perfect street food for when you are on the go, you can enjoy falafel on its own, dipped in a creamy sesame-based tahini sauce, or stuffed in a pita for a deliciously filling wrap. Sample both at Zaroob, a casual Levant eatery loved by locals. Foodies of all ages fall for its flavour and crumbly texture. 

Shish tawook


One of the mainstays of any Middle Eastern table worth its salt is the shish kebab, which can be any kind of meat grilled and served on a skewer. A common version you'll find in Dubai is the shish tawook, a traditional chicken kebab marinated in a special spice mix and cooked in an authentic tandoori oven for a gentle sear. Served with a creamy garlic paste, the grills are truly scrumptious.



Shawarma has been an all-star bestseller in Dubai for decades. Tender strips of chicken, flavoured with a heady mix of spices, are cooked on a rotating spit. Then, they are rolled into soft pita bread and layered with crunchy lettuce, fries, tahini sauce and garlic paste. One bite and you'll know why shawarmas are among the city's most popular and wallet-friendly dishes. It is a versatile treat as shawarmas also come in juicy lamb and spicy Mexican varieties. Try it at Automatic Restaurant – you won't be disappointed.

Shorbat harees

arabian restaurant dubai

Harees is a popular traditional dish made with wheat grain, meat and ghee. It has a porridge-like consistency, and is a traditional Emirati dish usually served throughout Ramadan and Eid. Al Fanar serves shorbat harees (or wheat and meat soup) all year round, which has a lighter consistency.

Shorbat addas

Ninive outdoors Dubai

One of the most popular soups in the Middle East is shorbat addas (lentil soup). Each country prepares it in a slightly different way, making for some wonderfully flavourful variations. At Ninive, yellow lentils are used and paired with caramelised onions and lemon before being topped with crunchy croutons.

Arabic coffee

Arabic coffee Emirati cafe

The scent of rich, strong Arabic coffee (or gahwa) follows you as you walk through the historic streets of Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood. A symbol of Arabian hospitality, the coffee is typically spiced with cardamom, cumin, cloves and saffron. It is presented with ceremonial flourish, poured from a classic Arabian coffee pot — an elegant and ornate silver or gold vessel called a dallah — and served in small cups without handles, called the finjaan. Drinking Arabic coffee with friends is a time-honoured social ritual and is typically served alongside a platter of fresh dates.

Karak chai

Zankar's DESi-TEA-NATION in Dubai

While coffee is the reigning king of drinks in Arabia, tea has gained immense popularity in the form of karak chai. The name is derived from the word ‘kadak’ which means 'strong' in Hindi. A legacy of the UAE’s long-standing trade relationship with India, this fragrant, spiced drink can be enjoyed in almost every coffee shop in the city. If this blend of tea isn’t to your taste, milkshakes sweetened by dates and other tea-inspired beverages have found their place on contemporary menus of Dubai. Try these local favourites at one of the many cafes and tea-houses in the city.



Among many things, Dubai is most famous for its sunshine, and that means most beverages are enjoyed cold. A classic Arabic drink is the jellab, a blend of grape molasses and rose water, with optional toppings of pine nuts and raisins. It is a popular drink for a hot summer’s night, especially during Ramadan. Qamardeen, another popular drink in Ramadan, is a thick beverage made using dried apricot paste. It’s a staple at most Arab homes and a wonderful drink to share with family and friends. You can try jellab at any time of the year at restaurants like Al Hallab at Dubai Mall.

Umm Ali


The Arabic version of the classic English bread and butter pudding, a good umm ali is a sweet, rich and extremely creamy dessert. While there are many modern variations, the authentic recipe features nuts and is equally tempting when eaten warm or cold. We recommend the umm ali at Karam Beirut but this dessert can be found everywhere in the city, from hotel buffets to street-side stalls.



Cheese in desserts is nothing new, but whole blocks of salty, gooey cheese are not very often found in puddings – kunafa is the exception. As strange as it sounds, the combination of a super-sweet syrup, savoury centre and nutty topping just works! Drizzle some extra syrup for a sugar rush, or skip it to better appreciate the soft, subtle taste of this regional speciality.



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. 

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