Home Visit Dubai Traditional food of UAE; 10 dishes you have to try in Dubai!

Traditional food of UAE; 10 dishes you have to try in Dubai!

by Danni B
Traditional emirati breakfast served on a silver platter with karak tea

You can’t visit Dubai without tasting some of the yummy traditional food of UAE! Even if you’ve lived in Dubai for years, you might not yet have tried Emirati food or even gone to an Emirati restaurant. So let’s change that! Here is a guide to the best Emirati foods and where you can try traditional food of Dubai.

So why is that many expats might not have tried the UAE traditional food? It’s due to mostly two factors. One Dubai has a huge expatriate population that is larger than the local population. So there are more options for international food than there is for Emirati food.

The second is that Emirati food was mostly either homemade or delivered from small kitchens that you might pass by without a second glance. In the last few years, more Emirati restaurants have started to open up serving traditional UAE food.

So here is a guide to Emirati dishes and the traditional food of the UAE. Plus which restaurants in Dubai are the best for trying each dish! The breakfast items are usually washed down with a tasty cup of Karak chai (you can try my recipe at home), so don’t forget to try that too while you’re there!

  1. Regag
  2. Luqaimat
  3. Balaleet
  4. Chebab
  5. Khameer
  6. Machboos
  7. Jesheed
  8. Harees
  9. Thareed
  10. Shuwaa / Ouzi

Other articles you might like

9 yummy Arabic desserts you must try if you have a sweet tooth
Try my tasty karak tea recipe at home here
Easy luqaimat recipe & how you can make your own machine for perfect balls everytime
Mahalabia, the easy to make but satisfying Arabic milk pudding
Read more of my Dubai guides here

For a long time, there actually weren’t many Emirati restaurants for expatriates or tourists. Arabian Tea House was one of the first to open in 1997. It was located closer to what is called “Old Dubai” and therefore not where much of the expat population tends to reside.

In 2011 Al Fanar opened. Followed by Seven Sands in 2015, located in JBR, finally moving into more expat territory. These were some of the first Emirati sit down style restaurants to open. Al Shandagha however has delivered traditional Emirati food since 1988.

What is the traditional food of UAE like?

The breakfast items tend to be quite sweet while the dinner dishes tend to be mostly meat and rice or grains. Fish is also popular due to the closeness of the sea.

Without modern farming techniques and the harsh weather of the desert, most dishes were based on meat, dairy and seafood. As many vegetables or fruits required too much water to survive.

Emirati food had to keep people going for a long time due to their bedouin lifestyle. So lots of protein and fat was essential. Despite the stereotypes of Arabs eating camels, Camel was rarely eaten due to how expensive the meat was and still to this day it is saved for special occasions. The most common meat was goat and is still popular today.

What influences are there are on Emirati food?

Emirati food was heavily influenced by trade with India and Iran, so there is a mixture of elements from Iranian and Indian food in the traditional food of the UAE. Helping create many of the dishes enjoyed to this day.

While there is an influence from India and they use a lot of spice mixes in the food, this is often without chilli or spices that make it hot. It is very common for a small bottle of chilli to be served with the meal and can be added based on your own personal taste. This makes it far less spicy than traditional Indian food but still full of flavour.

How do you eat the traditional food of UAE?

Traditional saudi food served in a traditional Najd restaurant

The traditional way is to eat sitting on the floor with cushions and a plastic covering on the floor. The floor covering is called a sufra.

A range of dishes will be spread out across the floor and everyone shares the dishes. Typically with one large central plate of rice and meat as the main course.

In Khaleeji culture, people eat with their hands rather than using a knife and fork. They take a little bit of meat, some rice and sometimes vegetables and create a ball in their hands. They then use their thumb to kind of ‘fire’ it into their mouths. It definitely takes practice!

Lots of Khaleeji restaurants in Dubai are closed off where you can sit on the floor in private. You take off your shoes before you enter and everyone sits together.

What are the key dishes of Emirati food?

We’ll go through some of the key dishes that make up the traditional food of the UAE along with the restaurants I recommend in Dubai to try each of these.

I’ve included the popular breakfast items first and the main dishes which can be served for lunch or dinner after.

1. Regag

Also called Reqaq. This is a traditional Emirati food typically served for breakfast. The word raga means thin in Arabic and this is because it’s a very thin bread. Similar to a crepe.

The traditional recipe is with cheese and fish sauce spread onto the bread and folded up. Other popular fillings include egg or Chips Oman (another snack popular in the Arabian gulf). You can have all four in one wrap if you like! Or if you like it sweet, have it with Nutella instead.

It’s best eaten fresh off the griddle pan! So make sure to drive and eat it hot! Al Labeeb doesn’t have any chairs as typically people will take it back to their car and sit there to eat it.

It’s also a great cheap meal, costing between 4 and 6 AED depending on what filling you have. Cheese and egg with a dash of chilli sauce is another popular choice. The fish sauce is unique to the UAE where a similar bread in Oman is usually served with cheese and honey for breakfast.

Where to eat it in Dubai

Al Labeeb Grocery – Jumeirah

This small open kitchen in the front part of a grocery store is the most famous in Dubai for it’s Regag. You might not expect it looking from the outside but we definitely recommend to visit this one for Regag.

Cost: 4 – 6 AED ($2 USD)

2. Luqaimat

Luqaimat also known as Logma drizzled in date syrup served in a bowl, traditional food of uae and arabic desserts
Bowl of Luqaimat served with date syrup

These are little fried balls, similar to mini doughnuts but with a hint of cardamon. They’re crispy on the outside and spongey in the middle! They’re a popular Arabic dessert across the Middle East.

It’s traditional to pour date syrup all over them and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. They’re sometimes served with toothpicks to pick them up one by one.

You can also have honey if you’re not a fan of date syrup. You’ll even sometimes find a more savoury version with cheese in the middle. They’re normally served as a dessert but can also be a breakfast food.

Luqaimat is very popular during Ramadan (you can find out more about what Ramadan is like in Dubai here) Perfect as a quick energy burst after you’ve been fasting all day. You can get a savory kind with cheese inside but personally I love the traditional style with date syrup. They’re quite addictive and you can easily end up eating a whole bowl!

(If you want to try making these tasty little donut style bites then check out my Luqaimat recipe here!)

Where to eat it in Dubai

Arabian Tea House – Al Bastikiya, Umm Sueqim & Jumeirah

These cafes are so cute and are a must visit then in Dubai! You’ll be taking photos for the Gram due to their beautiful blue and white interiors. I’ve always had a good experience with both the food and service when visiting here.

Cost: 28 AED ($8 USD)

3. Balaleet

This is slightly more unusual breakfast food. The bottom is sweet vermicelli noodles flavoured with cardamon and saffron. With an omelette placed on top.

This mixture of savoury and sweet is quite different when you try it for the first time. It’s definitely a dish that slowly grows on you. Then it becomes a weird Emirati food craving that you’ll have to explain to your friends!

Where to eat it in Dubai

Sikka Cafe – La Mer, City Walk & Al Khawaneej

The restaurant is a nice casual restaurant serving a mix of Emirati, Arabic, Indian and Persian street food. They offer a selection of different breakfast items including Balaleet.

Cost: 26 AED ($7)

4. Chebab

These are really tasty pancakes with little air bubbles that make them more soft. Like Luqaimat they’re flavoured with cardamon and sometimes saffron.

They’re commonly ate for breakfast with honey, cheese or date syrup drizzled over them. These are honestly one my favourites and a must try!

Where to eat it in Dubai

The Tent – Jumeirah in Umm Suqeim

This restaurant is a nice casual restaurant at an amazing location, looking directly out onto Umm Suqiem Beach. If you’re visiting Dubai, this place is a must since due to how unique it is and the amazing view. It’s also a great breakfast spot. Chebbab and the Emirati breakfast is only served until 12, so start your day early and then go enjoy the beach!

Cost: 18 AED ($5)

5. Khameer

This is honestly some of the tastiest bread you will ever taste in your life! It has a soft spongey consistency and a little bit of sweetness. Topped with sesame seeds. It’s often served with cheese or honey and eaten as is.

Where to eat it in Dubai

Al Fanar Restaurant – Festival City, Al Seef & Jumeirah

Now a Dubai classic, each restaurant is like travelling back in time. Festival city is its most unique venue, featuring a large tree in the middle of the dining area. This restaurant is a must for those wanting to try Emirati food. You’ll also find plenty of other dishes off this list there if you want one place to try them all!

Cost: 29 AED ($8)

6. Machboos

A popular and classic dinner dish in the Arabian gulf. Each gulf country has different spice mixes for this dish so you’ll find it sometimes labelled as “Emirati Machboos” or “Kuwaiti Machboos.”

Traditionally it is made with chicken and served on a bed of rice. Machboos can also be made with other meats or fish. It is typically served on a large plate for everyone to share. This is a must for any person wanting to try the traditional food of the UAE and is classed as one of the National dishes.

Where to eat it in Dubai

Aseelah – Deira

Another fusion restaurant, this one is perfect if you’re looking for that higher end Arabic restaurant. The interiors are very pretty and the reviews are great too! You can choose from al a carte dining or the buffet, which is quite reasonable.

Cost: 76 AED ($21)

7. Jesheed

If you like to eat on the more adventurous side, this Emirati food is for you! This lunch or dinner dish is made from crumbled or minced shark layered on top of rice. Sometimes they style it with alternating layers of shark and rice creating a pretty tower.

Again like the other dishes, you’ll find a very interesting and flavoursome meal due to the spice mixes. Emirati food is traditionally shared so you’ll commonly find restaurants serving portions that are big enough for two. So make sure you take your other adventurous friend with you!

Where to eat it in Dubai

Al Jawareh Restaurant, Jumeirah 1 *NOW CLOSED DOWN*

A cute and rustic feeling restaurant without feeling touristy. You can choose to eat sitting at a table or in a booth on the floor in true bedouin style.

Cost: 44 AED ($12)

It seems it has moved to Al Quasais, will do some more research to see if it’s the same. As there isn’t a huge amount of information about it online!

8. Harees

This is one of my personal favourites and is an ideal lunch or dinner for the winter. Though not everyone loves this dish due to its porridge-like consistency. It is a very traditional food of UAE.

The dish is made from slowly cooking meat, usually mutton, with barley for a long period until it becomes almost like a soup. They then serve it with a big spoon of ghee added on top and sometimes crispy onions. It isn’t the most beautiful looking of meals but it is delicious!

Where to eat it in Dubai

Seven Sands – Jumeriah Beach Residences (JBR) *NOW CLOSED DOWN*

Located in the popular JBR area, this restaurant is more on the finer dining side of Emirati restaurants with luxurious interiors to match. You’ll also find quite a few mixed and contemporary takes on traditional dishes. They also do a prawn Jasheed if you’re not wanting to try the shark version.

Cost: 48 AED ($13)

*Will find another to replace it

The best Harees and my personal favourite place to order Harees from is Al Shandagha. They’re available in various locations and deliver throughout Dubai. Take away only!

9. Thareed

This is a yummy meat stew, it’s perfect if you’re wanting something a little bit different to the typical Emirati food. It has a tomato based sauce mixed with lots of vegetables and arabic spices.

This one also has a religious and historical relevance, as it was Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) favourite dish.

Where to eat it in Dubai

Al Mashowa – City Walk

This place is super cute and the interiors have an earth home vibe that make you feel welcome. I’ve come here for Ramadan and got to try so many Emirati dishes! It’s a good pick if you’re wanting to try traditional food of UAE.

Cost 76 AED ($21)

10. Shuwaa / Ouzi

So I’ve seen other blogs calling this the national dish of the UAE but I’m not really sure where that came from? It’s actually not that commonly served in the UAE and you’ll only typically see it served at Ramadan.

This is meat, typically lamb served on a large bed of rice. The meat is wrapped in palm leaves and cooked slowly so the meat comes out really tender. It’s then sprinkled with nuts.

It really looks incredible if you go to a Ramadan buffet as you’ll see these huge pots with a lid and the Ouzi inside!

Siraj – Souq Al Bahar, Downtown

So this one is actually a fusion restaurant, serving Emirati, Lebanese and Syrian dishes. The inside looks like you’ve been transported to a European cellar which is pretty cool! It is a little bit more on the pricer side due to it’s prime location in Downtown Dubai! They serve Ouzi all year round.

Cost: 81 AED ($22 USD)

Thanks for visiting and reading

I hope you’ve learnt some more about Emirati food and are excited to try some of the traditional foods of UAE. Whether you’re living in Dubai or just visiting, I hope you have an amazing time and enjoy the food!

If you have already tried some of the dishes off this list, then let me know what you thought of them in the comments. Which are your personal favourites?

Want to learn more about Dubai and see more of our Dubai guides? Start here with “Everything you need to know about Dubai!”

Enjoyed this article? Give it a share!

Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by dannibindubai.com (See privacy policy)

You may also like

error: Love Danni\'s content? Let\'s collaborate! E-mail me (About Danni B)