Emirati food isn't really a thing in Dubai, Kate Christou, chef at LOWE, told me when I visited the city in early 2020. A melting pot of different cultures, Dubai is home to more than 200 nationalities and imports 80 percent of its food. As such, much of the city's cuisine is inspired by its neighboring countries and the Middle East and Asia at large: Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Oman, Egypt, and India, to name a few.
Of course, you can find classic Emirati foods—heavy on stew, fish, meat, and rice, and sweets drenched in date syrup—at a handful of traditional restaurants around the city. Our recommendation? Check out the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, which hosts delectable cultural meals for sampling a smorgasbord of Emirati dishes. The experience, which lasts 90 minutes, is led by an Emirati guide and is the perfect intro to UAE cuisine and culture.
Here are the top foods you have to try—and where to find them—the next time you're in Dubai:
One of the more popular breakfast items in the UAE, chebab is a type of Emirati pancake, with saffron and cardamom being the two key ingredients. You may see them topped with cream cheese or butter and honey—but the date syrup, drizzled over this heavenly concoction, is a must-try. Many Emirati restaurants and cafés feature them on breakfast menus but consider checking trying them at local favorites SIKKA Café or Logma.
Chewy, sweet, and nutritious, dates are the most ubiquitous fruit in the Emirates. According to local newspaper The National, the Emirates is home to more than 40 million date palm trees—though you can trace their origins back to Iraq, where date palm seeds have existed as far back as 5110 BC. With more than 200 types of dates ranging from soft and juicy to dry, common varietals include Lulu, Khadrawi, Razaiz, and Medjool (also known as "the king of dates," due to its global popularity). Best paired with Arabic coffee (without milk or sugar), they're typically served as a complimentary starter at most restaurants.
This classic Emirati snack or starter is like an un-mashed version of hummus without the tahini. It's relatively simple: plain chickpeas boiled in water with salt, red chilies, and other spices. Because it doesn't spoil quickly, it was common for Arabs to pack dango when traveling through the desert. You can order it at traditional Emirati restaurants such as Arabian Tea House and Al Fanar, located in Al Seef and Al Barsha.
Madrouba, which translates to "beaten" in Arabic, is rice mashed with onion, tomatoes, yogurt, butter, and spices. It's most commonly made with chicken, but you can opt for fish, lamb, or vegetables instead. If you'd like to try some for yourself, do sign up for a cultural meal at the previously mentioned Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Center Understanding. Along with a healthy serving of chicken madrouba, you'll also get the chance to sample 11 other traditional Emirati dishes like machboos, al harees, and saloona.
A spicier version of biryani, this basmati rice-based dish is slow-cooked with onion, baharat (a Middle Eastern spice blend), loomi (dried lemon), and meat such as lamb, chicken, or fish. Often competing with khuzi for the title of the UAE's national dish, machboos, or majbous, is typically enjoyed at family events—though traditional Emirati restaurants around the city serve it year-round. If you need help narrowing down your choices, Al Fanar is said to dole out some of the best in Dubai.
The Emirates' other national dish, khuzi (also known as ghuzi or oozie) is similar to its counterpart but unique in its own right: roasted lamb or mutton with nuts and vegetables served atop a plate of spiced rice. This hearty meal is usually whipped up for special occasions, including Ramadan and wedding celebrations, though many local restaurants are known to offer it.
Al harees is boiled or ground wheat, simmered with meat (think lamb, veal, or chicken) and beaten into a porridge-like consistency. Often topped with lamb fat or clarified butter like ghee, you'll find recipes that sprinkle in cinnamon or sugar for added flavor. While harees is traditionally served during weddings and religious holidays like Ramadan and Eid, you can find it at most authentic Emirati restaurants any time of year, including Tent Jumeirah Restaurant, Siraj, and Al Mashowa.
Often compared to Moroccan tagine, this stew is a delightful combination of slow-cooked veggies (pumpkin, potatoes, tomatoes, and marrow), meat (lamb, chicken, or goat), and local spices. It's accompanied by rigag—a crispy-thin Emirati flatbread made with flour, salt, and water—which serves as the base layer of the dish. Al Mashowa and Al Fanar feature it on each of their respective menus.
While saloona looks like curry, it's water-based, making it more like a stew. It's made with chicken, lamb, or fish, seasonal vegetables, and bezar (a spice blend of cumin, fennel and coriander seeds, dried red chilis, turmeric, black peppercorns, and cinnamon). Saloona is commonly paired with white rice, but you can swap that out for tanoor bread. It's easy to find around Dubai; eateries such as Tent Jumeirah Restaurant, Siraj, and Arabian Tea House all have it on offer.
Another type of Emirati stew, margooga is a mix of veggies (tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, and eggplant), meat, Qatari spice mix, and unbaked Levantine bread, which can be likened to a blend of pita and Ethiopian injera. The bread, added to the margooga when it's near-finished, perfectly absorbs the flavors of the stew. Be sure to try it at Siraj for a lamb-based version of this hearty dish.
If there is one dessert you absolutely must try, it's lugaimat. These deep-fried dough balls, made with cardamom and saffron, are perfectly crunchy on the outside, yet fluffy and delicate on the inside. The pièce de resistance is the date syrup that drenches the lugaimat in sugary goodness before they're sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Luckily, they're a staple on most Emirati restaurants' dessert menus. Be warned, though: You won't be able to stop at one.