Dubai’s Fabulous Flavours

A comprehensive food guide to the best of Emirati gluttony.  
Dubai's Fabulous Flavours
The buffet at Lido on board Queen Elizabeth 2 offers mesmerising views of the ocean. Photo courtesy: Queen Elizabeth 2

Despite being one of the world’s top travel destinations, Dubai’s culinary attractions are often overlooked by gastro tourists. Here’s a comprehensive list that celebrates the diverse food adventures that are up for the taking in the metropolis.

Discover Emirati cuisine

Rooted in the ancient food traditions of the Bedouins—the nomadic desert dwellers of the Arabian Peninsula—local Emirati food is Dubai’s best-kept secret. Try classics like machboos, a rustic stew made of meat, rice and vegetables, and harees, a ghee-laden porridge of cracked wheat and meat, at Al Fanar, an Emirati restaurant. Ayamna at Atlantis, The Palm offers Lebanese and Emirati dishes over a traditional belly dancing show. Dig into a plate of shrimp kunafa, made of deep fried zaatar prawns wrapped with kunafa dough, or try the lamb ouzi, or puff pastry stuffed with spiced lamb rice, and mixed kebab grill for mains.

 

Shop for Arabic Spices and Blends

In the old city, the Dubai spice souk in Deira is as vibrant as it is flavorsome. Brace yourself for a sensory overload as you walk past mountains of herbs and spices spilling from large baskets at every turn. Here, masalas are sold both by weight and in packets. Vendors expect you to haggle as you contemplate the vast selection of whole nuts, dates, oils, fragrances (including the famous oud) and teas on offer. Though saffron from Iran rules the souk, the many exotic Arabic spice blends are worth looking out for. Buy some bzar, the Arabic version of garam masala, and loomi, those dehydrated black lemons that impart a citrusy twang to just about anything.

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The Dubai Spice Souk is known for spices, herbs and perfumes. Photo by: Wael Hamdan/agefotostock/dinodia photo library

Go on a Local Food Walk

If you wish to truly immerse yourself in Dubai’s authentic flavours, book a four-hour walking food-and-culture tour with Frying Pan Adventures. All about hidden gems and good storytelling, these curated tours show you what old-timers would vouch for in the less touristy parts of the city. Options include Dubai souks and creekside food walk, Emirati cooking session and lunch, ME food pilgrimage and Little India on a Plate. Interactive cooking demos and experiential meals with the local Sufra community are among the highlights.

 

Get a Whiff of Coffee Culture

Qahwa or Emirati coffee, which reflects the cherished hospitality rituals of the Bedouins, is a quintessential Dubai experience. The cardamom-flavoured brew, poured from dallah, a traditional coffee pot, is best enjoyed at a local’s home. Or try it at Café Bateel, where it arrives with a plate of dates. Tucked away in Al Fahidi village, Dubai’s Coffee Museum devotes several rooms to artifacts of coffee making and consumption. The ground floor showcases the traditions of different coffee drinking cultures, while upstairs are texts related to coffee from the 18th century to the present day.

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Tender and juicy, camel burgers (top) are a delicacy in the city; Whole-grilled hamour (bottom left), or orange-spotted grouper, is the fish of choice across the U.A.E.; Shrimp kunafa (bottom right), is sought after at Ayamma in Atlantis, The Palm. Photo courtesies: Bareburger (burger); Elena Barstad/shutterstock (fish); Atlantis, The Palm (shrimp)

Sip on Gold Cappuccino

While on the subject of caffeine, don’t pass up the opportunity to quaff a gold-flavoured coffee in the city of bling. Dubai’s famous Burj Al Arab, one of the swankiest hotels in the world, flaunts the Ultimate Gold Cappuccino sprinkled with 24-carat gold flakes. Served at its Sahn Eddar lounge, located within the hotel’s atrium, the coffee is made using 100 per cent Arabica beans, mixed with foamed milk, which is then blended with 24-carat gold. Armani Hotel Dubai located in Burj Khalifa also serves a gold cappuccino adorned with 23-carat gold flakes, as does Mocca Art Cafe located in downtown, in the Souq Al Manzil market area.

 

Gorge on Fresh Seafood

The local food scene stands apart with stellar seafood. Order the grilled whole version of Hamour, or orange-spotted grouper, at Wafi Gourmet. For a posh dining experience, head to Rockfish at Jumeirah Al Naseem. The marine-themed restaurant opens out to a terraced deck, with views of the Arabian Gulf. Order their famed crudo platter—an assortment of Tasmanian salmon, yellow fin tuna and sea bass—along with a Mediterranean garden salad, and tomato tartar and seared prawns. For mains, opt for buckets of mussels and clams, or the seafood mixed grill.

 

Dine on Board the Historic QE2

The iconic Queen Elizabeth 2, which circumnavigated the globe 25 times, has hosted the likes of Nelson Mandela and David Bowie during its heyday. Now enjoying its second innings as one of Dubai’s most popular venues for dining and nightlife, the former cruise liner is a gastronome’s delight. The buffet at Lido, which offers a mesmerizing view of the ocean and Dubai’s iconic skyline, boasts a wide range of international fares with a focus on Indian specialties. Tuck into their British roast section featuring traditional roast beef, jacket potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. The Arabic chef makes killer shawarma using his special recipe—it takes over 30 hours to make. But if you’re hungering for a taste of the ship’s past, the Queens Grill menu serves a nine-course tasting meal from the ship’s maiden voyage in 1969.

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Whether it is a meaty preparation of spiced lamb rice or a generous serving of cardamom-flavoured qahwa (in photo), Emirati cuisine is full of fragrant surprises.
Photo by: Blaine Harrington III/Alamy/indiapicture

 

Indulge in a Lotus Cookie Dessert (or two)

The Lotus cookie trend in the UAE continues unabated. Speculoos, the spiced shortcrust biscuits were historically served on December 5 and 6 to celebrate St Nicholas’ Day. Today the Belgian import has transcended its traditional origins to become a modern dessert sensation across the Middle East thanks to its unique taste—a fusion of gingerbread, caramel and spices. Dubai spoils you with its Lotus options such asthe Lotus Mess at Switch, or the dreamy Lotus softie at Salt, the popular Kite Beach food truck. The showstopper, however, was the Lotus pancakes at Cocoa Room, which comes with scoops of ice cream, fresh berries and chocolate sauce.

 

Eat a Camel Burger

Burgers, steaks, dessert –try the best camel meat and milk treats while in Dubai. Tough in texture, it is only in recent times that the meat has seen a spurt in the popularity parceled as camel burgers. Try them at Switch or at The Local House. Bareburger, a popular organic food truck, nails it with its consciously sourced camel meat, aged cheddar, fried egg, onions, dill pickle and habanero mayo, all stuffed within a brioche bun. Still hungry? Tuck into camel tenderloin at Siraj, or camel pizza at Ducati Café. If meat is not your thing, treat yourself to a decadent camel milk gelato at Treej Café.

  • Sona Bahadur is a Mumbai-based food writer and the former editor of BBC Good Food Magazine India. She is currently studying towards a diploma in gastronomy and taste at Le Cordon Bleu Paris.

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