We have been living in the UAE for a long time now. More than a decade – that’s long enough to be able to cook the cuisine of a country one is living in. But alas, that hasn’t been the case. The Emiratis have a closed culture. The UAE’s expatriate population had till now, a very limited opportunity to know about the Emirati Cuisine. Practically impossible for most of us until and unless someone has had the chance to be invited by an Emirati into his/her home. Our previous experiences of tasting Middle Eastern food had been limited to mostly Lebanese food, Jordanian food, Egyptian food and Iranian food. Although, we have been living in Dubai for quite a while, every time a guest would visit us and wished to taste local food, we would take them to probably a Lebanese restaurant. The best Emirati food experience that we have had till date was at the Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) a traditional UAE breakfast, followed by a walking tour of the Bastakiya region {you’ll get more information on the SMCCU website}. Our other Emirati food experiences were the occasionally Leqaimats, the golden crisp fried dough balls coated with date syrup and sesame seeds, made by the local womenfolk either at Heritage Village or in the Global Village. It’s only now that a few restaurants have come up {for example, the authentic Emirati food in Al Fanar or the Emirati breakfast in the Biker’s Café}. Recently, the Dubai World Hospitality Championship (DWHC) took an initiative to bring out Emirati cuisine from traditional kitchens and exhibit it to the world. A great learning for the Z-Sisters, who have ‘adopted’ Dubai as their home since their birth. To be able to click pictures of traditional Emirati women (usually, the local womenfolk prefer not to be photographed), tasting traditional Emirati food being cooked by the local ladies and sharing a traditional meal together with them while sitting down in a traditional ladies’ majlis/seating, was an amazing experience. These Bastakiya-like wind-towered houses formed quite an interesting contrast against the modern day architecture of World Trade Centre apartments. While you enjoy the pictures, please remember that although the local womenfolk have been specially educated to brave in front the camera (just like they were educated to wear gloves while doing their cooking!), I still have taken permission from each individual that I have clicked. Come, explore the world of Emirati cuisine and culture through my eyes and my lenses, as Dubai keeps its fingers crossed – 7 more days and we’ll get to know whether it gets to host the World Expo 2020 (grapevine has it that it already has won the bid)!

Unblogging it all… Ishita

PS1: Post updated as suggestions pour in. Arwa, an Emirati blogger who writes La Mere Culinare, chips in – There’s a new place in Jumairah called Local Bites. Haven’t been there but lots of people have praised it. There’s another place in the building close to Al Mamzar Center in Deira, called Al Khattar. Barzh, another initiative, is an online Emirati-food directory dedicated to educating everyone about Emirati food. Barzh mentions Klayya Bakery & Sweets, an Emarati bakery with an eclectic touch; White Coffee, in Khalifa City, where they serve traditional Emirati food with a modern touch; Fenyaal Cafe in Al Qasba, Sharjah, which serves Arabic coffee and a variety of teas with pastries and traditional Emirati breakfast

Disclaimer: Please note that this is not a sponsored blog and all the opinions and views stated here are my own and are independent. The Dubai World Hospitality Championship (DWHC) was created under the directive of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai. While you enjoy reading the posts with lot of visuals, please do not use any material from this post. You can see more pictures of my travel and food journey here.

Indoors of a traditional Emirati house (left); Emirates Towers at the backdrop (right)

The courtyard of a traditional Emirati home

Local womenfolk cooking in the balcony that surrounds the courtyard

The thin crispy Rgag that can be eaten plain, drenched in ‘Salona’ stew, sprinkled with fish sauce (endless options according to Arwa)

Leqaimat, crispy fried golden dough balls coated with date syrup and sesame seeds. This is one deadly-divine-dessert!

Puffed up fluffy Khameer sprinkled with Sesame seeds, to be had with Kraft Cheese (yes, you heard it right again!)

The Kadak Chai – every Emirati family has an unique way of making this and nobody shares their secret ingredients

Perhaps consulting the recipe App on the smartphone?

Harissa is a dish of boiled, cracked or coarsely-ground wheat and meat or chicken. Sadly, this wasn't ready by the time we had left

Harissa is a dish of boiled, cracked or coarsely-ground wheat and meat or chicken. Sadly, this wasn’t ready when we left

We devoured almost everything that was served inside the ladies’ majlis

Intricate Henna designs on the hands complement the sesame-sprinkled divine Lequimats

Traditional embroidery adorning the pillows and the cushions inside the Majlis

Lequimats all the way (left); the Z-Sisters absolutely thrilled (right)

A glimpse into an Emirati Kitchen

Inside the show kitchen

Embroidery of the Burga worn on the face. This isn’t part of the Islam religion but part of tradition (thanks Arwa!)

Traditional handicrafts from coloured Palm leaves

The cylindrical cushion like ‘thing’ on the stand is called the Talli. And the stand is called Kajoojeh and it’s used to make embroidered neck pieces for the Jalabiya, or the traditional dress that an Emirati woman wears

Memorabilia and nostalgia adorning the wall

Attar or traditional scents, the bottles that hold them are pieces of art too!

Pearl diving has been one of the oldest professions in the UAE

Huge billboards showcasing DWHC’s promise to hold a legacy of tradition and heritage

The contrasting backdrop of the WTC apartments against the recreated traditional wind-towered Emirati houses

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8 Comments on “The World of Emirati Cuisine And Culture | A Photo Essay

  1. Interesting post!
    There’s a new place in Jumairah called Local Bites. Haven’t been there but lots of people have praised it.

    There’s another place in the building close to Almamzar Center (in Deira) called AlKhattar.

    The Mhalla is usually made with sugar and eaten like that. Kraft cheese would probably be a new thing.

    The other bread you took a photo of which looks like mhalla but paler and more crisp is Rgag. That is eaten plain, drenched in “Salona” stew, sprinkled with fish sauce etc. Endless options.

    The thing the women was doing (which you mentioned is for her jalabiya) isn’t. It’s a Burga which she’s wearing on her face. This isn’t part of the religion it’s traditional.

    The next photo where there’s a purple sphere “thing” on a stand… That’s called a Kajoojeh and it’s used to make the thing for the jalabiyeh. This thing on the dress is called Talli.

    I guess I covered most of what I wanted to say lol

    Thanks for sharing Ishita!
    Wait till i move to my new house and you’ll be invited for REAL Emirati food! 😁

    • Thank you so very much Arva, this is exactly what I needed. I have updated my post with all the changes and I do hope that it reflects the tradition more accurately. I really cannot wait for you to move into your new house and settle down. Shall I come and help you? lol!

  2. Enjoyed reading the post and I completely agree how we have never managed to get up, close with the Emirati cuisine even after having lived here for more than decade. A recent visit to Al Fanar on your recommendation was extremely enjoyable, The ambience and food was a totally different experience.

    • Thank you Neel. This was a fabulous experience. I am so glad that you enjoyed Al Fanar. I believe more restaurants are coming up gradually. Let’s wait for a while then:)

  3. Pingback: Eat Greek | Kadaifi Jumbo Prawns Or Flamed Grilled Whole Calamari? |

  4. May i know who is in the first picture she actually look like me i get surprise when i saw her i am from philippines and i am here in dubai now

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