At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks


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The United Arab Emirates is unlike any other place on Earth, and Dubai is its crown jewel. For thousands of years, Dubai was the land of pearls, and divers would risk their lives by diving as deep as 131 feet (40 meters) in search of the tiny, lucrative orbs.

Eventually, the magic and danger of pearling gave way to oil and industry. These days, Dubai is a hotbed of tourism, business, and energy, plus it’s home to the famous Burj Khalifa. Despite its evolution, its rich and eccentric heritage still shines through, especially in its delicious Dubai cuisine.

The food in Dubai still looks, smells, and tastes just as exotic and traditional as it always has been.

Delicious Food by the Beach

Whether you visit Dubai for business or pleasure, you’ll need to recharge with some food. As a city filled with diverse flavors, ingredients, and spices, eating in Dubai is a reason just on its own to visit.

Let’s take a look at a couple of Dubai foods you just have to try on your next trip to this enigmatic city. 

16 Best Dubai Foods

This list of must-try Dubai food is a delicious mix of flavors and spices, featuring common ingredients such as sesame seeds and olive oil. One thing is for sure – Dubai dishes will leave you wanting more.

Stuffed Camel in Dubai
Photo: blog.takeaway.com

1. Stuffed camel

Besides being named by the Guinness World Book of Records as one of the largest foods you can eat in the entire world, stuffed camel is considered one of the most luxurious and celebratory foods in Dubai.

Cooked on a spit over an open flame, the popular dish is filled with things like chicken, eggs, fish, sheep, and an array of spices.

Stuffed camel is still considered a traditional food in Dubai, but because it’s so over-the-top, it’s only served for special occasions. This could be a festival, Bedouin ceremony, or other important cultural or family events.

So, if you don’t want to miss this traditional dish, plan your trip accordingly.

Hot tip: If you’re not around for a special event, you can still try camel meat at a number of Dubai restaurants. Just don’t be disappointed when you’re served a camel burger instead of a whole stuffed camel!

Shawarma in Dubai

2. Shawarma

This famous food has traveled far beyond the UAE. Made from slow-roasted, spiced chicken or lamb, a shawarma is a kind of Middle Eastern sandwich.

Served in an Arabic roti, it can come with vegetables, fries, tomatoes, pickles, and garlic sauce — the sides seem almost endless.

While shawarmas can be found in New York City, Delhi, Moscow, Tokyo, and pretty much everywhere, eating one in Dubai is truly an experience of its own.

It is, indeed, one of the best things to eat in Dubai!

Al Harees in Dubai

3. Harees

Harees is a labor of love that literally takes hours to make, but its ingredients are remarkably simple.

A pinch of salt is added to a pot of cracked, coarsely ground, or boiled wheat, which is then cooked for hours until the texture is smooth. Then, lamb or chicken is added to the pot before it continues to cook again for another couple of hours (see now why I said it was a labor of love?). 

When it’s finally ready, the texture resembles something like a porridge and you can barely tell the meat from the grain. To finish it off, a spoon of ghee is placed on top, as well as fried onions, on occasion. 

In the land of decadent spices, harees is a simple dish that brings a surprising and welcome change to your palette.

Mehalabiya in Dubai

4. Mahalabia

Mahalabia (otherwise known as muhallebi) is a sweet but refreshing milk pudding, with exotic toppings like rosewater, pistachios, cardamom, and sugar syrup. It tastes like an oasis in a desert.

The simple base is made from corn flour or cornstarch, sugar, and milk. It’s then jazzed up by adding some flavors of choice. 

This dish is perfect for the diner who wants a refreshing after-dinner treat that isn’t too sweet. As you can imagine, mahalabia is especially popular with children.

Ghuzi in Dubai

5. Shuwa

Also called ghuzi, khuzi, or ouzi, this dish is made from slow-cooked lamb or mutton, raisins, and roasted nuts, served over rice.

When I say that the meat is slow-cooked, I mean it is really slow-cooked. The meat is first marinated in an array of spices before it’s wrapped in bags made from palm leaves or dry bananas. It’s then placed in an underground oven to cook for 24 to 48 hours. 

As you can imagine, the meat comes out super tender. 

Shuwa is considered a delicacy and it’s usually only served on extra special occasions, like Eid. 

It is easily one of the most popular dishes in Dubai because it’s considered a whole meal in itself. It’s also the national dish of the United Arab Emirates, which means any trip to the area without trying shuwa is incomplete.

Matchbous in Dubai

6. Matchbous

Matchbous is a dish traditionally made from lamb, chicken, or mutton, cooked alongside flavorful rice. 

This one-pot dish is made by cooking the spiced meat, tomatoes, onions, and loomi in a saucepan with stock or water until the meat basically falls off the bone. 

The meat is then removed from the dish and rice is added to cook in the flavors. Once the rice is ready, the meat is added back into the pot to bring together the final dish.

Matchbous is a traditional rice dish that has a unique, sharp, spicy, and rich flavor. Cloves, cardamom, cassia bark, turmeric, and baharat give it an impressive and satisfying depth.

Fun fact: Loomi is made from dried, ripe limes and saltwater.

Margoogat in Dubai

7. Margoogat

Margoogat (or margooga) is Dubai’s ultimate comfort food. 

This hearty stew is made from lamb or chicken, vegetables (usually baby marrow and potato), Arabic bread or thin dough slices, and fragrant spices (like cumin, turmeric, and bezar spice mix). 

It’s quite similar to the flavor of Matchbous (above), minus the rice and with the addition of bread of bread or dough. 

As the stew cooks away, the bread is soaked or the dough is cooked in the broth. This allows it to soak up all the delicious flavors and adds to the heartiness of the dish. After all, it can’t really be called the ultimate homely meal without a good bit of carbs.

Zaatar Mankousheh in Dubai
Image from Wikipedia

8. Manousheh

Forget the traditional egg and bacon breakfast in Dubai! Manousheh is basically an Arab pizza that’s typically served for breakfast. 

Yes, you read that correctly, this is a breakfast pizza – yum!

Originating from Lebanon, the base is made from a typical Lebanese flatbread, covered in a variety of toppings. Think minced lamb, olive oil, za’atar, cheese, and even the occasional sweet topping. 

When it comes time to devour this deliciousness, you can either cut it or simply just roll it up – no mess; no fuss. 

I don’t know about you but I simply can’t turn down the idea of pizza for breakfast.

Esh Hasarya in Dubai

9. Esh asaraya

Esh asarya is called “the bread of the harem” and is a dessert that puts all other desserts to shame. 

It’s basically sweet pieces of bread, covered in cream, and sprinkled with pistachio nuts. The texture is quite like that of a cheesecake but in a class all of its own. 

This is definitely a Dubai famous food and it can be found pretty easily, whether it be from a local bakery or a high-end restaurant. 

With rich, creamy, and sweet flavors, you’re going to want to save room for this dessert after your meal!

Pancake for Breakfast

10. Chebab

Chebab is like a traditional pancake with an epic Middle Eastern twist. Its appearance is similar to what a Westerner would call a pancake, although it’s often slightly bigger with a couple more holes. 

Instead of using baking powder, chebab is made from yeast, flour, sugar, eggs, and a couple of spices (usually saffron and cardamon). 

The result is a soft, fluffy, and slightly spicy pancake that is perfect to have for breakfast. 

Thanks to the holes created by the yeast, a chebab can perfectly soak up whatever topping you decide to put on. This could be anything from a simple brushing of ghee or butter to something a bit more punchy like sour cheese.

Sam'dan lokma tatlisi in Dubai
Image from Wikipedia

11. Luqaimat

Roughly translating to “little bites”, luqaimat are like little balls of sweet heaven. 

These dumplings are quite similar in texture to a doughnut, covered in a delicious sticky date sauce, honey, or sugar. 

Crispy and golden on the outside, soft and fluffy in the middle, and covered in sticky goodness – these are the perfect treat if have a sweet tooth that you can’t seem to satisfy! 

While they are a pretty popular snack all year round, you can especially find them during the holy month of Ramadan.

Fattoush mixed salad in Dubai
Image from Wikipedia

12. Fattoush

Fattoush is a Levantine bread salad originally from Lebanon. If you’ve had your fair share of stews and rice dishes and are looking for a healthy food alternative, then this is a must-try Dubai food. 

The salad is made from fried cubes of khubz (pita bread), tossed with lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, parsley, and spring onion. It’s usually topped off with a zesty sumac dressing to bring all the flavors together. 

The bread gives the salad a nice crunch, without being too heavy or taking away from its freshness. 

Dubai is obviously known for its sweltering weather, so this salad is great when you want to have a quick mid-day bite to eat that’s light but still tasty. 

Rice dish

13. Tahta malih

Moving away from the chicken and lamb dishes, tahta malih is a preserved fish dish served with rice. It’s a dish that can be found both in an Emirati family home or in an upper-class restaurant – which just goes to show how universally loved it is. 

The ancient technique of salting and preserving fish has been around for thousands of years. While any fish can be used for this specific dish, you’ll often find it made with yellowfin tuna, herring, mackerel, and queenfish in Dubai. 

Roughly translated, tahta malih means “layer” and “salt” – referring to the layers of salty, preserved fish. 

If you’re looking to try something that is truly quite unique, I suggest you order this on your next night out in Dubai!

Kellaj in Dubai
Image from Facebook

14. Kellaj 

This one is for all the pastry lovers out there! 

Kellaj is a traditional pastry made from phyllo dough that’s stuffed with halloumi cheese or a creamy semolina filling. It’s either grilled or fried and then drizzled with sugar syrup or dusted with powdered sugar. 

It’s crisp on the outside and ooey-gooey on the inside – basically like little pockets of heaven! 

Kellaj is especially popular during Ramadan and it’s the perfect bite-size snack when you’re feeling a little peckish. 

Chicken Skewers on the Grill

15. Shish tawook 

Shish tawook is a traditional Ottoman dish that has become a beloved favorite in the Middle East, with Dubai being no exception. 

This traditional kebab is usually made from chicken that has been marinated in spices, lemon juice, yogurt, or a tomato-based sauce. 

If you want to feel like a real local, you need to sandwich your shish tawook in a flatbread (which also makes it a lot easier to eat!). 

This is another one of those foods that can be found quite easily in Dubai; however, it’s a particularly popular street food. 

Gahwa in Dubai

16. Gahwa

Rounding off my list of food in Dubai that you need to try is gahwa. While this one isn’t actually a food, it’s still something you’ll need to experience at least once! 

Gahwa is a traditional Arabic coffee that is prepared and served in a specific way that has been passed down through generations. It symbolizes generosity and traditionally forms the basis of Emirati hospitality. 

In fact, it’s so important that it was listed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2015. 

It’s traditionally prepared in front of guests, over a kuwar (a clay pit with a stove). The beans used for the coffee blend are carefully selected, washed, dried, and roasted until brown or red in color. These beans are then brewed to perfection, giving gahwa its intense, rich flavor. 

Remember, gahwa is so much more than just grabbing a quick coffee; it’s a rich, cultural experience that’s deeply rooted in Arab tradition.

Where to Find Traditional Dubai Food

Now, that you’re clued up on what to eat in Dubai, you’re probably wondering where you can find all of these amazing local dishes.

Well, the good news is that you certainly won’t be struggling to find a good local restaurant (or 10) that serves Dubai cuisine. But if you really want to find the best of the best, I recommend joining a couple of the top food tours in Dubai. You could also try out a private tasting tour or a half-day street food tour.

Street food in Dubai

Even if you’re traveling on a budget, you can find delicious food along the streets of Dubai.

Dubai street food is a vibrant and delicious way to experience the city’s culture. The street stalls offer an array of dishes made with fresh ingredients and hearty spices, such as cardamom, cumin, and coriander, that make the flavors truly unique.

Whether you’re looking for a quick snack or a full meal, Dubai street food is a great way to explore the culinary delights of this special city.

Some popular street food in Dubai:

  1. Shawarma
  2. Saj Bread
  3. Falafel
  4. Kebab Roll
  5. Lahm Meshwi (Grilled Meat)
  6. Fish and Chips
  7. Manakeesh (Lebanese Flatbread)
  8. Maqluba (Rice-Based Dish)
  9. Al Hallab Street Sandwich
  10. Stuffed pigeon
Spices in the City Market

What Food Is Dubai Known For?

Dubai is known for its diverse and delightful cuisine. The city offers an array of traditional, regional, and international dishes that appeal to all taste buds.

From the sticky dates of Emirati food to the falafel of Lebanon, be prepared to go on a culinary journey. With its unique blend of flavors, spices, textures, and aromas, Dubai’s food culture truly has something for everyone to enjoy.

Final Thoughts on Dubai Foods You Need to Try

Any trip to Dubai promises to be a memorable one. After all, a mighty city of glass, concrete, and metal that rises like a myth out of miles of sand and crystal gulf waters will likely be impossible to forget.

The next time you travel to the UAE, take in its flavors along with its sights and business opportunities. From camel to rosewater, few countries taste as unique as Dubai.

7 Dishes You Have to Try in Dubai
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