In this post I have collected a couple of notes on some characteristics of Emirati cuisine.
Until recently, it was not very common to find restaurants with authentic Emirati cuisine, and we are happy to notice that now Emirati food and restaurants are starting to appear more frequently, thanks to interesting 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 professional Emirati chef, highly appreciated. If you are curious, as I am, on YouTube you can find her series “Simply and Delicious – Learn how to cook Emirati Food”, with English subtitles, where Mrs Khulood explains, and prepares live, old traditional recipes.
Here I share my notes, taken during my explorations, just to have a general overview.
Main dishes of the Emirati tradition are based on meat or fish, usually grilled or cooked for a long time with vegetables (potatoes, onions, courgettes), flavored with spices and accompanied with rice or other grains.
Among the meats are commonly used lamb, goat, mutton, beef, and poultry, slaughtered according to Islamic prescriptions (Halal certified) while for fish the Gulf catch of the day is preferred, such as the very popular Hammour or Kingfish.
Spices are fundamental, and in Emirati cuisine, cardamom, saffron, ginger, turmeric and thyme are widely used, among others.
Common starters are basic salads and raw vegetables (commonly cucumbers or tomatoes) or soups: I personally really like the traditional Emirati lentil soup, accompanied by a lemon wedge.
In Abu Dhabi I learned also to appreciate the dates, rich in nutrients and used for desserts, stuffed with pistachios, almonds, walnuts or covered with chocolate.
The dates you find in Abu Dhabi are mostly locally produced or from neighboring Gulf countries, such as Oman or Saudi Arabia.
In supermarkets you can also find date paste, to spread or to use in the preparation of desserts.
At the Al Mina date market, and more and more frequently also in local supermarkets, you can find fresh dates, which, compared to dried dates, are considered less caloric, with a higher content of vitamin C but with a lower content of calcium and iron.
Dates, served with gahwah (Arab coffee spiced with cardamom, or saffron, cumin or cloves), are the symbol of Emirati hospitality and are offered to welcome guests.
Among the most common Emirati sweets: the Bathieth, made with dates, butter, wholemeal flour, almonds, sesame, hazelnuts and rose water (widely used in the preparation of desserts, together with orange blossom water), Khanfroush, a fried dough of rice, eggs and sugar and Luqaimat, made from butter, milk, sugar, flour, yeast, cardamom and saffron, traditionally prepared during Ramadan.
In supermarkets, for some time now, it is also easy to find camel milk (better: “dromedary milk” to be more accurate) fresh or long-life, with a slightly strong taste, at least for me.
Camel milk seems to contain excellent properties, and in fact it is considered a “super food”.
Laban is also obtained from camel milk, a kind of buttermilk, local milk-chocolate, and cosmetic products for the skin, which you can find almost everywhere, even in souvenir shops or at Abu Dhabi airport.