Visitors to Dubai and the UAE should not be at all concerned by visiting this Muslim country when it comes to food and drink. As well as having international cuisine and fast food chains available in main hotels and shopping malls, visitors have the added option of sampling some delicious Middle Eastern cuisine.
Arabic Cuisine in the UAE
Traditional food in the UAE is influenced by the limited availability of animals that can survive in the hot desert climate, and by religious regulations. Pork and pork products such as bacon, ham and sausages are forbidden according to Muslim law so you are unlikely to find them on the menu in the UAE.
Lamb, chicken and goat are the main staples for carnivores in the Arabic world. These meats are usually slaughtered according to religious traditions and are traditionally cooked slowly to tenderize them. Plenty of spices are used to add flavour and colour along with grains and dairy products.
A good way to sample traditional Arabic cuisine is by ordering mezze; a selection of small dishes offering different meat and fish dishes flavoured with yoghurt, cheese, olives, herbs and mild spices such as mint, saffron, turmeric, parsley and thyme. Rice, bulgur wheat and semolina are used along with lentils, fava beans and chick peas. You are more likely to find olives, nuts, figs and dates than green vegetables.
Attend a cultural evening for a traditional barbecue Arabian style or visit a small shack to try cheap falafel and other local specialities. Delicacies such as sheep eyes, brains and locusts are not commonly served to tourists.
Sharjah’s speciality is sharwarma, similar to a Turkish doner kebab. Shavings of meat are carved from a rotating spit and served in a sandwich or wrap.
Desserts are usually deliciously sticky sweet concoctions such as knafeh and baklava.
Vegetarian Cuisine in the UAE
Vegetarians and vegans are well catered for in the UAE. Indian cuisine is often vegetarian to accommodate Hindu traditions and is widely available in the UAE. Many Chinese stir-fry dishes are also vegetarian.
Hot drinks are surprisingly the most popular beverages in the UAE. Coffee tops the list and is served strong and sweet in small cups, sometimes with evaporated or condensed milk added. Tea, particularly mint tea, is popular and very refreshing.
Visitors will find plenty of sodas and fizzy drinks available including diet versions.
Alcohol is usually only served in tourist hotels, licensed bars and restaurants and should not be carried out. It is forbidden for Muslims to partake of any intoxicant. Laws on consuming alcohol in a public place, and on drink-driving, are swift and severe and may include a steep fine and/or imprisonment.
Sharjah is an exception and is a completely “dry” state. The sale or consumption of alcohol is illegal.
The month of Ramadan is a moving festival but tourists will certainly not starve during this religious period. Muslims fast during daylight hours and most restaurants outside hotel resorts are closed during the day. However, at sundown the feasting begins in restaurants, private homes and on street markets.
Visiting the UAE should be seen as the opportunity to try new cuisines and make the most of the delicious range of tastes available.