The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and vibrant culinary traditions. The country offers a diverse range of dishes that reflect its historical influences, Bedouin roots, and maritime trade routes. 

In this blog, we will take you on a delightful journey through 15 traditional foods of the UAE, exploring their flavours, ingredients, and cultural significance in Emirati cuisine.

How did the UAE Traditional Food come to be?


The traditional foods of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have a rich history that reflects the region’s cultural heritage, geographical influences, and historical trade routes. Emirati cuisine is rooted in Bedouin traditions and has been shaped by the Arabian Peninsula’s diverse culinary influences.

In ancient times, the UAE’s location along important trade routes facilitated the exchange of spices, ingredients, and cooking techniques with neighboring regions and beyond. The cuisine of the UAE carries influences from Persian, Indian, East African, and Levantine culinary traditions, resulting in a unique blend of flavors and dishes.

Historically, the people of the UAE relied on a diet based on local resources such as camel milk, dates, fish, and seafood due to the region’s desert environment and proximity to the Arabian Gulf. Traditional cooking methods, such as slow cooking in underground pits called “taboons” or using clay ovens, helped preserve moisture in the food and maximize flavors.

The UAE’s traditional foods often feature staple ingredients such as rice, wheat, dates, camel meat, lamb, fish, and various spices like saffron, cardamom, and turmeric. However, Emirati cuisine has evolved over time, adapting to changing lifestyles, globalization, and the availability of new ingredients. While modernization and international influences have introduced a wider range of culinary options in the UAE, traditional foods remain an integral part of Emirati culture and are celebrated during special occasions, festivals, and family gatherings.

List of Authentic Traditional Emirati Food

Majestic Mandi


Mandi is a popular Emirati dish consisting of tender, slow-cooked meat (usually lamb or chicken) marinated in aromatic spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. The meat is placed atop fragrant rice, cooked in the same meat broth, resulting in an irresistible flavor. Mandi is traditionally cooked in underground ovens called “tandoors,” adding an element of theatricality to the dining experience.

Mandi is deeply rooted in Bedouin traditions and is often associated with hospitality and generosity. It is a dish that brings families and friends together to share a delicious communal meal, showcasing the warmth and generosity of Emirati culture.

Flavorful Shawarma


Shawarma is a ubiquitous street food in the UAE that has gained global popularity. It features succulent slices of marinated meat (usually chicken or lamb) roasted on a vertical spit, resulting in juicy, flavorful layers. Shawarma is typically accompanied by fresh vegetables, pickles, tahini sauce, and wrapped in a warm, fluffy bread called khubz. It is a quick, satisfying, and delicious meal option.

Shawarma symbolizes the UAE’s diverse culinary influences from the Levant region. It represents the country’s open-mindedness and embrace of global flavors, while also providing a convenient and satisfying option for busy individuals.

Scrumptious Harees


Harees is a traditional Emirati dish particularly popular during the holy month of Ramadan. It is made from a simple combination of wheat and meat (typically chicken or lamb), slow-cooked until it reaches a smooth, porridge-like consistency. Harees is often garnished with ghee (clarified butter) and cinnamon, adding a rich and aromatic touch to this hearty dish.

Harees holds deep cultural significance and is often prepared and shared among family and friends to break the fast, signifying unity, compassion, and the spirit of giving.

Delectable Luqaimat


Luqaimat is a popular Emirati dessert that is enjoyed throughout the United Arab Emirates. It is made from a simple mixture of flour, yeast, sugar, and water, which is then deep-fried until golden and crispy. The result is a small, round dough ball that is crispy on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside.

What sets Luqaimat apart is its distinctive sweet flavor. After frying, the dough balls are traditionally drizzled with date syrup, known as “dibs” or “dhibs,” which is a thick and sticky syrup made from dates. This adds a rich and caramel-like sweetness to the dessert. Alternatively, Luqaimat can also be served with a dusting of powdered sugar or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Luqaimat is commonly enjoyed during special occasions and festivals, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan and Eid celebrations.

Delightful Machbous


Machbous is a popular rice-based dish that showcases the UAE’s culinary diversity. It is made by cooking long-grain rice with tender meat (such as chicken, lamb, or fish), aromatic spices, and a variety of vegetables, including tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers. Dried lime, saffron, and rosewater enhance the flavors. Machbous is often served during special occasions and gatherings.

Machbous is a dish that highlights the UAE’s historical maritime trade routes. It represents the country’s connection to the sea and the diverse flavors and ingredients that have been incorporated into Emirati cuisine over time.

Refreshing Saloona


Saloona, also spelled Salona or Salooneh, is a flavorful and aromatic stew that is commonly enjoyed in the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries. The dish is known for its rich combination of spices and tender meat or vegetables.

Saloona typically consists of a variety of ingredients such as meat (chicken, lamb, or beef), vegetables (such as tomatoes, onions, carrots, and potatoes), and a blend of spices. The specific ingredients used can vary depending on personal preference and regional variations. The stew is often seasoned with spices like turmeric, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and black pepper, which give it a distinctive Middle Eastern flavor.

It is often served over a bed of fragrant basmati rice or accompanied by Arabic bread. It is a versatile dish that can be made with different types of meat or made vegetarian by using only vegetables or legumes.

Saffron-infused Rice (Kabsa)


Kabsa is a flavorful rice dish prepared with fragrant long-grain rice, meat (usually chicken, lamb, or goat), and an assortment of spices, including cardamom, cloves, and saffron. The dish is typically garnished with fried onions and nuts, adding crunch and texture. Kabsa is a staple in Emirati cuisine and is a symbol of hospitality and generosity.

Kabsa is a dish that represents Emirati hospitality and generosity. It is often served during special occasions and gatherings, demonstrating a warm welcome and the desire to please guests.

Flaky Samboosa


Samboosa, also known as Samosa, is a popular savory snack or appetizer enjoyed in the United Arab Emirates and throughout the Indian subcontinent. It is a triangular-shaped pastry filled with a savory mixture of spiced ingredients and then deep-fried until golden and crispy.

The filling of a samboosa typically consists of a combination of ingredients such as minced meat (often beef or lamb), onions, peas, potatoes, and a blend of aromatic spices. The spices commonly used include cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, and chili powder, which give the filling its flavorful and spiced profile. The ingredients are cooked together until well combined and seasoned.

Traditionally, samboosas are deep-fried until they become crispy and golden brown. The frying process gives them a satisfying crunch while the filling remains moist and flavorful. Samboosas are often served hot and can be enjoyed as a standalone snack or as part of a larger meal.

Aromatic Balaleet


Balaleet, also spelled Balaleet or Balalit, is a traditional Emirati breakfast dish that combines sweet and savory flavors. It is a unique and delightful combination of vermicelli noodles, eggs, and spices, often served with a sprinkle of powdered sugar or a drizzle of date syrup.

The dish begins by cooking vermicelli noodles until they are soft and slightly golden. The noodles are then mixed with a spiced egg mixture, which typically includes ingredients such as saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, and sometimes rose water. The noodles and egg mixture are cooked together until the eggs are set and the flavors have infused into the noodles.

Balaleet is often enjoyed as a sweet and savory dish. The sweetness comes from the addition of powdered sugar sprinkled on top of the cooked dish, while the savory flavors are derived from the spices and the combination of noodles and eggs. It creates a unique flavor profile that is both comforting and satisfying.

Creamy Thareed


Thareed is a traditional Emirati dish that is popular in the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries. It is a hearty stew consisting of layered pieces of torn or crumbled bread, vegetables, and tender chunks of meat, all cooked in a flavorful broth.

The preparation of Thareed typically begins with a base of onions and garlic sautéed in oil or ghee (clarified butter). Meat, such as lamb or chicken, is then added and browned to enhance its flavor. Spices like turmeric, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon are commonly used to season the meat. The bread component of Thareed is what sets it apart from other stews. Pieces of bread, typically pita bread or flatbread, are torn into smaller chunks or crumbled and layered on top of the stew. 

Thareed is often served as a main course during the holy month of Ramadan, as it provides sustenance and comfort to those breaking their fast.

Savory Madrooba


Madrooba is another traditional Emirati dish that holds cultural significance in the UAE. It is a savory dish made with a unique combination of ingredients, primarily wheat flour, chicken or meat, and spices. The dish is characterized by its thick and creamy consistency, similar to a porridge or a thick soup.

To prepare Madrooba, the wheat flour is cooked with water until it forms a thick paste, which is then seasoned with spices and cooked further. The chicken or meat is cooked separately and then shredded or finely chopped. 

Madrooba is often enjoyed during religious occasions, such as Eid celebrations and other gatherings. It symbolizes unity, blessings, and the joy of sharing a meal with loved ones.

Nutty Margoogah


Margoogah, also known as Margougah or Margouga, is a traditional Emirati dish that is popular in the UAE and the wider Arabian Gulf region. It is a hearty and flavorful stew-like dish made with a combination of meat, vegetables, and spices.

To prepare Margoogah, meat, such as chicken or lamb, is cooked with an assortment of vegetables, including tomatoes, onions, zucchini, and carrots. The ingredients are typically seasoned with a blend of spices such as cumin, turmeric, and black pepper.

What sets Margoogah apart is the use of small, hand-rolled dough balls that are added to the stew.The dough balls absorb the flavors of the stew as they cook, adding a unique texture to the dish. It is often cooked slowly, allowing the flavors to meld together and create a rich and aromatic stew. It is served hot and can be enjoyed on its own or with bread.



Jareesh, also known as Harees or Jareesh Laham, is a traditional dish in Emirati cuisine. It is made from a combination of cracked or coarsely ground wheat and meat, typically chicken or lamb. Jareesh has a rich and creamy consistency, similar to a porridge or thick soup.

To prepare Jareesh, the cracked wheat is soaked in water for a period of time to soften it. The meat is cooked separately until tender and then combined with the soaked wheat. The mixture is simmered together with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper until the wheat grains break down and the dish reaches a smooth and creamy texture.

The dish is typically enjoyed hot and is served as a main course during festive occasions, such as Eid celebrations and weddings. In Emirati culture, Jareesh holds significance as a symbol of generosity and hospitality. It is often prepared in large quantities to share with family, friends, and neighbors.


The traditional food of the UAE not only tantalizes the taste buds but also holds deep cultural significance. From the symbolism of hospitality in Mandi to the unity and togetherness represented by Harees, these dishes are a reflection of Emirati traditions, values, and the joy of sharing flavorful meals with loved ones. Exploring the UAE’s traditional cuisine provides a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the country’s rich cultural heritage and experience the warmth and generosity that define Emirati culture.

About Author

Hanna Rico

About Author

Hanna Mae Rico is a skilled content writer. With a bachelor's degree in English Language Studies, Hanna has spent over three years working in the digital marketing industry. Her versatility shines through her ability to captivate audiences with lifestyle, travel, and other engaging topics. Her love of written words and her innate ability to transport readers to different places make her a true wordsmith.