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Food and Drink

United Arab Emirates (UAE) - Food and Drink


The United Arab Emirates is rich in culture and traditions that can be seen in people’s day-to-day life. When it comes to the cuisine in the UAE, it is mostly a blend of Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine that comes with various spices. Cosmopolitan cities such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai accommodate various food cultures providing expats with a wide range of options.

Restaurants in the UAE are quite affordable. However, you can still find high-end restaurants serving expensive foods. Traditional UAE cuisine is cheap and readily affordable with spicy flavors and controlled amounts of calories.

In the past, staple foods in the UAE included dates, rice, fish, camel milk, and meat made with various spices. The bzar is an Emirati spice mix consisting of cardamom, pepper, ginger, coriander, and nutmeg. Every family creates its own recipe of the bzar to make it unique.

As much as these staples have not really changed, that does not mean that you will not find different dishes in the cosmopolitan cities. There are various international selections from Japanese cuisine to African dishes. With the wide variety of cuisine available in the emirates, it is easy to overlook the local options. When you visit the UAE, make a point of sampling the following treats.

Harees
A traditional dish quite popular during the Ramadhan and Eid IL Fitr season. It is also common in weddings and other special occasions. The meal is made from wheat and a meat of choice, which can be chicken or lamb. The dish is first soaked in wheat berries and slowly cooked with the precooked meat and butter. It has a porridge-like consistency that is seasoned with salt, pepper, and cinnamon.

Shawarma
You will probably have heard of this meal even if you have never been to the UAE. It bears similarities to ith the Turkish doner kebab or the Greek gyros. It is made from meat that is grilled on a vertical spit. It is mostly served with fries or vegetables as a side dish or placed in a type of bread with other spices, accompaniments, and dressings.

Machboos
As a one-pot dish made from meat, rice, onions, loomi, and spices. Loomi are dried limes used to give the dish a unique taste. The meat is boiled with the loomi and the spices. Once tender, the meat is removed from the pot and then the rice is added and once it is ready the meat is added again as the entire thing cooks.

Falafel
A side dish often known as the Middle Eastern version of french fries. It is not an original Emirati dish as it is a Middle Eastern treat. They are fried patties made from chickpeas or fava beans and balls of herbs served in a wrap with dips or a side meal. There are various falafel street food chains that offer a range of falafel dishes.

Biryani
This is a favorite in most households and can be found on most restaurant menus. The major ingredients are rice with meat or fish. The meat is marinated in spices and fried afterwards. The rice is cooked but not fully. A combination of rice and meat is then placed in a pot and left to steam for a while. It is served with a garnish of fried onions and nuts.

Stuffed camel
According to the Guinness book of world records, this is considered the world's largest dish and you will not find it on every street corner! Mostly this is served at huge events such as a sheikh’s wedding. The broiled camel is stuffed with lamb, which is stuffed with one or more chickens that have been stuffed with eggs and rice or fish. It is an interesting meal fit for a huge feast.

Drinks

Every good meal is accompanied by a suitable drink. Popular drinks in the UAE are mostly strong and spiced, such as the black coffee called gaqhwa or a cold salted yogurt drink known as ayran. Karak chai, which is an Indian style tea, also accompanies many meals.

For shawarma, a banana and strawberry blend compliments the meal. There are other blended and fruit based drinks such as jellab, which is a mix of grape molasses and rose water, and Tamar Hindi, a mix of Indian dates and tamarind. Qamardeen is another popular drink made from water and dried apricots. Alcohol is not served in Emirati restaurants.

Nightlife in the UAE is active with even the once strict Abu Dhabi loosening up to catch up with Dubai. Alcohol can be found in most bars, hotels, and liquor stores except in Sharjah. Those in Sharjah can only drink alcohol in the comfort of their homes or in an expatriate joint called Sharjah Wanderers. Tourists are allowed to buy alcohol in restaurants and bars and to drink it there. Residents are expected to produce a liquor license that permits them to purchase alcohol in liquor stores.

In the Ramadhan period, alcohol is not served during the fasting hours of the day. Abu Dhabi and Dubai allow bars to serve alcohol at night but no bands play and there is little or no background music. Dancing is forbidden and most nightclubs are closed during this period. During the Islamic holy days, alcohol is not publicly served in any of the states.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and it will directly land you in jail, especially during Ramadhan and the other holy days. There are taxis available to ferry you to your destination if you have been drinking.

Over time, the increasing expat population has led to the rise of different cultures’ cuisine to accommodate the foreigners. At the same time, expats continue to enjoy the rich Emirati culture displayed in the various cuisines. The local population is free to eat meals during regular meal times except during the Ramadhan period. For these 30 days, Muslims fast during the day and eat at dusk. The Ramadhan period only affects Muslims, though in a bid to be respectful of their culture most foreigners eat indoors during this period.


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