Since its founding fathers came to the UAE and based the country around the coast of Dubai, fishing and pearl diving became some of the main sources of income and, naturally, seafood became the base of Emirati cuisine. With the growth of farming, meat was added to dishes and rice was traded from nearby regions. Travelers brought in spices and inspiration grew, as did the cuisine. Dishes eventually became rich in meat, rice, seafood and spices, but pork and alcohol were never used as the Emirati culture follows the Islamic religion.
An Emirati meal begins with a variety of fresh salads and juices followed by a main dish. Mandi, a traditional rice dish seasoned with a mix of spices, dried nuts and fruits, covered with roasted fish, chicken or meat, is a delicacy in the UAE. A few authentic restaurants still serve the dish in its traditional way, with guests seated on the ground with cushions around the set area to enjoy the meal – a simple and warm setting. Emirati culture is famous for its hospitality, and visitors are always welcomed with tea, coffee, fresh fruits, juices and a warm homemade meal, whether they are in a restaurant or a family home. Desserts are based on natural flavors from dates, nuts and wheat pastry, and are served with traditional tea or coffee at the end of each meal.
Today the UAE is a travelers’ hub, connecting East and West with a growing population of expats who bring with them their traditions and cuisines into the UAE’s food scene. This has led many visitors to confuse the Levantine cuisine of shawarma, falafel and hummus for part of the Emirati cuisine, although these dishes have only recently been added to the country’s collective menu.