Dubai is an explosion of flavor — from savory international street food to refined glitzy dining and traditional Emirati cuisine, there is an experience to satiate every craving. Take your tastebuds for a tour through one of the world’s most diverse cities in Dubai, where a large population of expats from 200+ countries around the world offer their delicacies on every corner. In this guide, we’ll venture into charming hole-in-the-walls and glamorous restaurants that will inspire us to whip up new dishes at home. Let’s experience the flavors of Dubai.
Let’s start with coffee. In Dubai, coffee culture clings to Arabian tradition and modern technique. Gahwa (Emirati Arabic dialect word for Arabic coffee) is a weak coffee infused with cardamom and sometimes rose water and saffron. Sipping this warm spicy drink bonds you to centuries of Bedouin heritage. Though it is contested whether coffee beans were discovered in Ethiopia or Yemen, Yemen was responsible for opening its ports to coffee bean trade via its port city Mokha— a city whose name later inspired the infamous “mocha.” Yemen’s coffee is what began the evolution of Arabic coffee tradition. Enjoy Arabic coffee at an Emirati restaurant, or many other restaurants throughout the city. Even better, make a friend and enjoy a few cups in a local’s home to learn the importance of the Gahwa ritual yourself.
For a more modern take on Dubai’s coffee roots, visit Mokha 1450, “the heart of coffee,” where commitment to tradition and equity fill every cup. Mokha 1450 sources exclusively farmed coffee and is dedicated to equitably supporting female coffee farmers who have traditionally been underpaid and overworked. They are changing this norm by properly compensating their female farmers while sharing the tradition of Arabic coffee in a modern environment.
MULTICULTURAL STREET FOOD
Moving on to street food. Walking down the streets of Dubai will quickly send one on a journey through the cuisine of the world — with so many residents who have imported the tastes of their origin cultures, this is truly an international gastronomic destination where the signature dishes of your favorite cuisine are always within reach. Here are a few you must try.
Falafel is a standard Middle-Eastern food made of parsley, chickpeas, cumin, and other spices and deep fried in oil. It’s often served with an assortment of vegetables, hummus, and cocooned in a pita. In Dubai, you can also try stuffed falafel, which is made by carefully incorporating a paste of sumac, onions, and chili into a falafel mold before it is deep fried and served in a pita.
Feteer (Egyptian Pizza)
Feteer is made by stretching an extremely thin dough, sprinkling cheeses and cured meats into the center, and folding the excess dough over the toppings before it is coaxed into a stone oven. In a matter of minutes, this Egyptian delight arrives on your plate sizzling and golden brown.
Regag, meaning “thin” is a traditional Emirate crepe-thin bread folded with cheese, egg, and local fish sauce, or with crushed potato chips and hot sauce. It’s also custom to drink a salted yogurt called Laban while you enjoy this savory treat. Many smaller markets sell this quick snack at their entrances providing fresh Regag to customers all day long.
Called “Kadak” in India, Karak is a hot Indian black tea served with fresh milk or evaporated milk. This tea is very dark, making it a great afternoon pick-me-up for visitors and locals on-the-go. Drive into a Karak vendor’s lot and order from your car.
After a day on your feet in the blazing Dubai sun, chances are that you’ve worked up an appetite. Below are a few restaurants whose carefully curated atmospheres are as remarkable as the food they serve. You’ll leave these more extravagant locations totally inspired.
To escape the city bustle, dine at The Farm where lush greenery and water features adorn the outdoor dining area. Enjoy a multicultural menu with dishes such as Vietnamese summer rolls, Peruvian ceviche, Fattoush salad, Tom Yum soup, fish and chips, and much more. Their menu is clearly marked with vegan, gluten-free, keto-friendly, nut-free, paleo, and dairy-free options while also stating flexibility for customers with specific dietary needs. Be sure to book your table in advance to secure a spot near the waterways.
Inspired by aesthetics of the African outdoors, Flamingo Rooms by tashas is an interior designer’s paradise with chic detailing lining every inch of this space. Don’t forget your camera so you can capture the glamor yourself — from zebra patterned upholstery, to giant golden feathers lining the bar. Flamingo Rooms by tashas define luxury. Menu items include cornflake chicken schnitzel, calamari, lobster pasta, and tuna tartare.
If you’re craving a little bit of magic, spend an evening at Pai Thai, where just arriving is an event. Enter a glamorous hotel and continue outside where a line-up of boats wait to bring diners down a waterway to this upscale Thai restaurant. Their menu has vast offerings of traditional Thai dishes that are meticulously labeled for special diets. You might have a hard time leaving when the meal is done.
Competing with Pai Tai for the title of most magical dining experience in Dubai, Pierchic is a one-of-a-kind restaurant situated at the end of the Burj Al Arab’s private pier, as the name suggests. The cuisine offered by Michelin-star head chef Beatrice Segoni is as elevated as the space itself, the menu full of authentic Italian dishes inspired by her decades in some of her home country’s most storied restaurants.
Now that we’ve sampled Dubai’s diversity, we can narrow in on the local culinary traditions. Enjoy Emirate dishes rooted in coastal and Bedouin heritage at restaurants such as Al Fanar and AlJalboot. Native dishes offered here include:
- Jasheed — a seafood dish in which shark meat is finely chopped and fried in oil with onion and spices, served with rice.
- Marak — a fried fish stew.
- Tharid — crispy layers of pancake with gravy, vegetables, and meat.
- Madrooba — shredded chicken cooked with grain resulting in a porridge-like dish.
- Balaleet — vermicelli noodles cooked with saffron and cardamom and topped with an omelet.
- Luqaimat — a dessert of fried dough-balls, drizzled with date syrup and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Dubai’s dining culture is limitless. Let us know what you’re most excited to try, and if you already have a favorite spot, share with us in the comments or on Twitter!