Harees: This is probably one of the best-known Emirati dishes. While every Arab country (and some Indian regions that interacted with Arabs from the seventh century) has its own version, the Emirati variant is unique for using white wheat. Most use green wheat, or fareekah. The dish strongly resembles a thick porridge and is mixed with chunks of lamb and a hefty helping of clarified butter.
Bezar: Bezar is the Gulf’s answer to masala. The spice mix varies in every emirate (and in every home), but the essentials remain the same. Bezar (which incorporates cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and a range of other spices) is the predominant flavouring in many Emirati dishes.
Aseedat bobar: It’s true that one doesn’t associate pumpkin with the UAE, but Al Ain has long grown them. The rare red pumpkin is actually indigenous to the area, and is the main ingredient in aseedat bobar, a smooth custard also made with saffron, rose water and cardamom. It’s a heavy, sweet dish often served early in the day or during Ramadan.
Biryani samak: Many associate biryani with India, but its reach is both global and ancient. It has been a staple of Emirati cuisine for centuries. Biryani samak – cooked with kingfish and a range of spices – is a traditional dish at Eid Al Fitr.
Khabeesa: Many Arab countries have their own take on khabeesa, but the Emirati rendition is unique. This light dessert is traditionally creamy, while in the UAE it’s more crumbly, thanks to a helping of roasted flour and cashews. It is also mixed with sultanas and saffron. It’s a comforting dish for a chilly winter in the desert.
Saloona badawiah: This traditional Bedouin dish resembles a hearty stew, made mainly from root vegetables, tomatoes and lamb. Oases such as Al Ain were the only places capable of growing these vegetables, and the dish was traditionally served to guests visiting the Bedouin camp.
Madroubat al-dijaj: You’re not likely to find this in too many restaurants, but it is considered by many to be the national dish. A heavy dip made with boiled chicken, Emirati spices and crushed wheat, madroubat makes a wonderful accompaniment to Emirati bread.
Rigag: This wafer-thin bread is a generations-old tradition. Made from a soft flour paste that is then heated over a pan, it isn’t too far from a French crepe. It is often served with meat or white cheese.
For more information and images, see Dubai World Trade Centre’s 30th anniversary cook book, ‘A Culinary Journey: Celebrating 30 Years of Our History’, available at Magrudy’s, Kinokuniya, Virgin Megastore, Borders and Dubai Duty Free.
Try Emirati food at Al Hadheerah.
Try Emirati food at Al Makan.
Try Emirati food at Local House.