It is true that some cereal crops were grown in the mountainous areas where the rains tend to fall. But the main food influences were from nearby countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, East Africa and Indian. Goat meat, fish and spices were readily available. Rice was imported, therefore featuring in the most well-loved dishes. Biryani is often considered a local dish, and harees, too, is thought to be a local dish. Harees is based on goat or mutton and cooked at length with ground wheat until a soft consistency.
Date palms grow readily in Dubai and produce an abundance of fruit. If you are lucky enough to have a mature date palm in your garden, you will have enough dates for your family, your friends and the local bird population.
You will hunt a long time to find a restaurant claiming to serve Emirati food, but being a modern international city, Dubai is equally international in the restaurants on offer.
The restaurants fall into two distinct categories: restaurants in hotels are licensed, most others are not. For this reason, it is in the hotels that the more expensive restaurants are to be found – top end license restaurants can be found in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).
In addition, many chain cafés are represented in the UAE, for example, Starbucks and Costa.
Most of the food consumed in Dubai has travelled a lot of food miles. Fresh food comes from Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Africa, Morocco, North and South America, New Zealand and the UK. Organic food is increasingly available and there is an organic supermarket chain – the Organic Foods and Café.
There seems to be a mini-supermarket on every residential block in Dubai and they all deliver. There are also various large supermarkets like HyperPanda and Choitrams. However, the big three are Spinneys, Waitrose and Carrefour.
Spinneys was the original western style restaurant chain in the UAE and has been joined in recent years by Waitrose. Both chains feature food from around the world with many British favourites. Carrefour supermarkets are large and offer a French flavour. One or other of these supermarkets is usually located on the ground floor of the main shopping malls.
There is a concerted effort to provide for the diverse population. However, no alcohol is sold in supermarkets. And, although pork is available, it is in a separate pork section access to which is denied to Muslims this being an Islamic country.
Every year in the month of March where the weather is still comfortable, you can get the chance to try some of the most delicious food available in restaurants around Dubai at the Taste of Dubai food and music festival. Dishes are served in entree sized portions and alcohol is served. There’s an entry fee of 80AED, however, dishes are moderately priced.