DiningWhere to try traditional Emirati food in Dubai

Chef Musabbeh Al Kaabi, the first Emirati chef and one of the region’s most passionate culinary experts, recommends his favourite local food in the city

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Dubai is probably best known for the glittering array of Michelin-starred chefs and international cuisine that take up residence in the city. However, take a moment to try the most delicious traditional Emirati food in Dubai. Local dishes reflect the region blending succulent meat and fresh seafood dishes, with spices that reveal Dubai’s rich trading history.

We asked one of our Emirati chefs, Chef Musabbeh Al Kaabi, for his recommendations as to what dishes he would recommend we try, and where would be the best place to eat them. Chef Musabbeh is the chef in-the-know, he began his culinary career in Dubai in 2000 and has honed his skills through two decades of working at some seriously distinguished kitchens. Now a world-renowned pioneer of Emirati cuisine, he also shares his passion in a TV educational series spanning the UAE, Kuwait and the USA.

Balaleet

Simultaneously sweet and salty, balaleet is a traditional Emirati breakfast dish of sweetened vermicelli and eggs spiced with cardamom, saffron and cinnamon, served hot and topped with pistachios. Popular as a first meal of the day during Eid, it can also be served cold, as a dessert. Taste it at hip eatery Logma in Boxpark, where you’ll also find fun takes on Western breakfasts such as eggs Benedict with khaleeji spices.

 

Kabsa

Kabsa (also known as al machboos) is a dish of succulent lamb or chicken cooked in one pot with an aromatic blend of rice and vegetables, spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, nutmeg and bay leaves – reasonably similar to an Indian biryani. Originating in Saudi Arabia, it’s today considered an Emirati speciality and is often served piled in a mound in the centre of the table. Try it at Al Fanar, in the Dubai Festival City Mall – you can’t miss it thanks to the vintage Land Rover parked inside it, one of many decorative nods to a pre-oil Dubai.

Khuzi

The national dish of the United Arab Emirates, no trip to Dubai is complete without a plate of khuzi (also known as ghuzi or ouzi). Roasted lamb or mutton served on a bed of rice with crunchy hazelnuts, it’s a filling and usually generous full meal, so you may want to go easy on starters. As it has to be cooked in large quantities – the lamb or mutton is usually roasted whole – it’s a staple at any Emirati household gathering. For authentic khuzi, head to Bu Qtair Restaurant in Umm Suqeim, where you can enjoy a smaller serving in no-frills, canteen-style surrounds.

 

Traditional lamb ouzi

Al Harees

A simple dish utilising wheat – one of few ingredients available to local Bedouins and pearl divers hundreds of years ago – al harees takes at least three hours to make, but the result is a delicious, substantial labour of love. Wheat, salt and ghee are cooked until smooth, before chunks of meat are added and the mixture is baked until it reaches a porridge-like consistency. It’s often given a hint of cinnamon but is otherwise relatively spice-free – try it at Kaneen, a simple, traditional Emirati restaurant near Dubai Festival City Mall.

Luqaimat

Finish off your meal with this delectable doughnut-esque dessert, a favourite across the Emirates. Crunchy, deep-fried dough balls soaked in honey or date syrup and sometimes garnished with sesame seeds, they blend sweet and salty to lip-smacking effect. Try them at the Arabian Tea House Restaurant and Café, a former pearl merchant’s house in the Al Fahidi historic district, where you can sit under an apple tree and savour every bite alongside a steaming glass of tea.

 

Traditional Emirati luqaimat

If you’d like to sample some of Chef Musabbeh’s wonderful cooking, stay with us at Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, from where you can also explore all his recommendations to try traditional Emirati food in Dubai.