Googling two words, “italian” and “abu dhabi”, we Italians discover that to be an Italian in Abu Dhabi is deeply linked to the World of Eating, and please note, with capital E. Proud of that, we know that before or after, someone will ask us:
Do you (Italian) guys know where are great places where eating out in Abu Dhabi?
Living in Abu Dhabi since long time, and being a classic Italian fan of eating with capital E, I had the chance to go often out for eating, so I discovered some interesting facts about eating in Abu Dhabi and some interesting places. First of all, I discovered that eating out in Abu Dhabi can also be fun. In this post, we will start from very general, but basic information.
Eating in Abu Dhabi: general information, impressions and tips
👨🍳 “There is something for everyone” in Abu Dhabi is not a way of saying, especially when it comes to food: in Abu Dhabi all the most renowned culinary traditions of the world are represented, in all possible arrangements.
You will find the most infamous expressions of junk food and also the most accurate healthy delicious food, weird combinations of ingredients and masterpieces of flavours perfectly harmonized, traditional dishes from all over the world and menus that support the latest dietary trends.
Abu Dhabi, among other things, is home to festivals and events dedicated to cuisine from all around the world, such as Taste Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Food Festival or Chef’s Table (March-April), or Abu Dhabi Culinary Season, just to mention a couple, which are usually held between November and December, or in “winter” months.
In Abu Dhabi, however, there are not many places of authentic traditional Emirati cuisine, although in recent times Emirati food and restaurants are starting to appear more frequently over the media, thanks to initiatives to rediscover and enhance local traditions.
In November 2020, for example, before the National Day, the Abu Dhabi Department of Tourism launched the Emirati Cuisine program, to promote the local cuisine in hotel restaurants, with a series of initiatives, incentives and online courses, including video lessons held by Mrs. Khulood Atiq, a highly appreciated Emirati chef.
Since the end of 2020, after the opening of the UAE to Israel, kosher cuisine has also begun to be introduced in restaurants.
Where to eat in Abu Dhabi
😋 In Abu Dhabi you can eat well almost everywhere: in the restaurants of starred hotels as in many informal eateries, located in hidden corners of the City, which if you look at them from the outside you would not even enter shoves, but then they turn out to be a pleasant and tasty discovery.
Basically, all shopping centres have a food court with cafeterias and fast food restaurants where you can have a snack.
Shopping centres, such as Yas Mall or The Gallery, host restaurants often outdoors and in very pleasant, if not spectacular settings, you would probably consider more suitable for the evening.
On the other hand, if you are planning something really fast, in the “grab & go” departments of supermarkets you can find hot or cold takeaway dishes, also for all tastes and budgets.
The City is also plenty of “rotisseries”, where for a few dirhams you can take away a spit-roasted chicken or a shawarma of generous proportions, with equally generous side dishes and soft drinks.
If you like fish, there are a couple of secret and well hidden lovely “eateries”, definitely cheap: like in a fish market, you can choose at the counter the fish you prefer, and ask the chef to prepare and serve it as you prefer.
Furthermore, at the Fish Market in Al Mina, and in a couple of supermarkets with well-stocked fishmongers, it should still be possible to buy your fish and ask to have cleaned and grilled.
Abu Dhabi is also plenty of informal eateries, especially Iranian, Turkish or Levantine inspired, but also Filipino, which offer “all you can eat” menus and woe to you if you do not honour the menu: you risk finding the mortified chef at the table, usually a big man who with tears in his eyes asks you with a sad face what’s wrong and how can he make you happy.
In this regard, if you ask to take away the leftovers, even in restaurants that are not really informal, the gesture will be appreciated for both reasons, because you will show that you like their food and because food waste is frowned upon.
However, avoid using the term “dog bag”, which would sound not appropriate.
How much does it cost eating out in Abu Dhabi
💰 There are different price ranges, and affordable prices are not necessarily a sign of low quality.
Local newspapers are worth a look, such as Time Out Abu Dhabi, What’s on or Abu Dhabi Week (often for free inside hotels or malls), as they inform about the offers of the day, themed nights and coupons to get discounts. Children often eat for free.
Drinking in Abu Dhabi
🏺 Alcohol consumption and the kind of restaurant you choose are two factors that usually affect the final bill in Abu Dhabi in a significant way.
A decent bottle, or just a couple of glasses of wine, can literally make the bill go up, even if, at the end, prices are fairly in line with the figures we are used to in Europe and Italy.
The consumption of alcohol in Abu Dhabi is only allowed on premises that are licensed to sell it, usually restaurants and bars within the hotels (See also general information on alcohol consumption in our post Abu Dhabi Good To Know).
Unlicensed restaurants are usually cheaper. Among these, many offer “local” cuisine, meaning, by this very generic term, the rich Middle Eastern culinary tradition, and in particular the renowned and exquisite Lebanese cuisine. Very popular are also Indian and other Southeast Asian cuisines.
Drinking water in Abu Dhabi
💧 Local bottled water can cost you up to four times less than imported water: it is always better to specify your request when ordering.
Tipping in Abu Dhabi Restaurants
👛 At Abu Dhabi restaurants, tipping is neither mandatory nor required, but of course it is appreciated like everywhere.
In many restaurants you pay a service tax (generally 10%) and a tourist tax (6%), and since 2018, VAT.
Local taxes are often subjected to change. If taxes are not specified, or if you have your own reasons for doing so, the recommended percentage for tipping in Abu Dhabi restaurants is 10-15% of the total.
Pizza in Abu Dhabi
🍕 Let’s answer to another frequent question asked to Italian expats: Did you have chance to eat a good pizza in Abu Dhabi?
My answer is yes, and at least a couple of places. My personal test has been done on the simple Margherita, and I also had the pleasure of finding it with the base of whole wheat flour, light and tasty, with “organic” ingredients, and in the version of “pizza al metro” also.
The price can be quite different for several reasons: if you go in a very nice place which serves wine and beer, you have to expect a higher price, if you go at a “simple pizzeria” without the license for selling alcohol, the bill will be lighter.
In my opinion, it is worth tasting the “Levantine cousin” of pizza, the Lebanese Manaqish, made with bread dough topped with olive oil, local cheese or meat, and za’atar, a delicious blend of spices that varies according to the different traditions, and which almost always includes sesame, salt and thyme as a base.
Eating out in Abu Dhabi during the pandemic
• In my personal experience, hygiene and quality controls in Abu Dhabi have always been quite scrupulous. In times of pandemic, inspections are frequent and the managers are required to comply with a series of strict rules, such as the limit of people allowed (there is a cap, according to the trends of the pandemic and the outlet capacity), the distance between the tables and the maximum number of people who can sit at the same table, in addition to the use of safety devices and the frequent sanitation.
• Staffs are tested frequently, even after vaccination.
• Thanks to the climate, there are also many outdoor venues and large spaces in Abu Dhabi where it is easier to keep the distance.
• Especially in the case of dinner, it is advisable to book, to allow the staff to organize your evening in the best possible way.