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Emirati cuisine: a complete guide from Markus Wischenbart

These days you can find all kinds of food in Dubai. Anything from Oriental to Western. At times, if you come to a restaurant and ask for Chinese food, they may be confused. It is very likely we will need to clarify, because here, for example, numerous things. Markus Wischenbart, a well known Dubai expert, explains what is considered classic Emirati food.

 This question is often asked by those who are in Dubai. The fact is that Emirati cuisine has undergone a lot of changes in the last century. The bulk of those who live in Dubai, do not dine true classic movement of the UAE. Including young Emiratis do not dine them every day, especially those who live in more cosmopolitan parts of the state, such as Dubai.

Including when you go to an Arabic restaurant, the bulk of the items in the diet are Lebanese or Egyptian dishes. Hummus, one of the most beloved dishes in the UAE, is actually of Levantine origin. And this is not a bad thing, because customs and cuisines undergo a lot of changes in the process of formation. But for the moment we are putting on the hat of a gastronomic puritan.

Classic Emirati Food

Like everywhere else, Emirati cuisine is still a reflection of the culture, climate, and resources of the area. It has undergone many changes. Since the discovery of oil and the influx of foreign people, their cuisine has undergone many changes. For example, chicken beef is a relatively fresh addition to the common food in Dubai. Until now, camels, goats, and other birds, such as houbara, were used to make meat. Because fishing was widespread among the Emirati, fish constituted an important portion of the viands.

Here we shall look at the principal foods which the Emirati themselves consider as their own. We will look at them one by one, from breakfast to dinner, to desserts.

Balalit

An intricate blend of savory and salty ingredients. It’s a breakfast dish made with scrambled eggs and noodles. Sugar, cinnamon, saffron, cardamom, and orange blossom or rose water are added to flavor it. Spices are added to the sweetened vermicelli and a dainty egg omelet is placed on top of it all.

Balalit is both breakfast and sweet at the same time. For Emiratis, it is considered an unavoidable part of iftars and Eid al-Adha celebrations. A close relative of balalit is encountered in other cuisines as well. Persian faludeh and Indian shir khurma are similar ceremonial noodle dishes.

Balalit is served warm for breakfast, and as dessert, it is required to be cool. At times, Balalit is also served with garbanzo beans and black-eyed beans. Legends say that Balalit became part of Emirati cuisine when they experimented with pasta.

Bidh wa Tomat or Shakshuka

In common parlance, Shakshuka is scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers. The tomatoes are topped with thyme and coriander. In lieu of scrambled eggs, there is another manner of shakshuka – with poached eggs. Shakshuka is a simple and calorie-dense breakfast dish that can be made with everyday ingredients in the kitchen and with the help of a single frying pan.

Chabab bread – Emirati pancake

It is an elegant, crispy, and tasty bread that looks and feels quite similar to a South American pancake. The leading components of chab bread are flour, egg, melted butter, and yeast. A few fennel and turmeric make it even tastier. The name “chabab” comes from the fact that the bread is cooked until it is light brown or golden yellow on both sides.

Chabab bread and Chami cheese (or Kraft cream cheese) are usually served together. Chami is a salty cheese made from buttermilk. Chabab bread is served with date syrup or honey. Sometimes it is also decorated with sesame seeds. Serve this dish hot for breakfast.

Khamir Bread

This bread can boldly be called the smoothest bread in the world. Hamir bread is a round, puffy flatbread with 2 layers that simply separate from each other. In place of sugar, dates are used to sweeten this bread. Fennel, saffron, and cardamom are used as flavorings in this bread. You will need an oven to make this bread. In the olden days, the Arabs used coal ovens to bake khamir bread.

Sprinkled with sesame seeds on top, khamir bread has the ability to remind you of a hamburger bun. At mealtime, it is possible to divide the layers and pour butter or cream inside. The bread is so smooth, in fact, that the brisk hamir melts with the touch of your tongue.

Hubz regag – rakak bread

Rakak is a crispy, dainty bread made from whole wheat flour. The dough is flattened and cooked in a frying pan or on a hot steel plate. It is practically the same as the Indian flatbread chapati. The name Reqaq itself comes from the Arabic text reqa, which means “graceful. 

It is the most famous type of Emirati bread and is regularly prepared in Emirati homes, especially for dinner during Ramadan. Reqaq is served with the meat dish Tharyd (Fareed in some dialects). In case you prefer dessert, roll out the bread and drizzle it with honey or dine it with cheese and sugar.

Dango – boiled chickpeas

It’s essentially boiled chickpeas, but with reddish chilies and spices. The dish is preserved for a long time and does not spoil. As a consequence, the Arabs used to take it with them when they set off on endless journeys through the desert. Dango can be made on the first claim. On this basis, it is also considered a famous evening snack.

Dango is the Emirati version of Levantine hummus. But instead of turning chickpeas into a paste, they are boiled until soft with salt and spices. 

To reduce production time, chickpeas are soaked in water overnight. Water used to boil chickpeas is not thrown away. It is used to make soups and stews.

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