Are you traveling and want to know what to eat in old Dubai? Growing up in this city and being an avid foodie, I can help you with the best things to eat in Dubai while you’re on holiday here!
Dubai Food Culture:
Dubai is a mix of Indian, Pakistani, Filipino, and various other cuisines like Lebanese, Iraqi, Egyptian, Palestinian, Turkish, and of course Emirati.
While the new counterpart of Dubai has top restaurants and beautifully plated dishes, I encourage you to explore the local side of Dubai; more commonly known as Old Dubai.
The Dubai local food scene is nothing like that of Thailand or Malaysia, but it sure stands on its own for a food culture that might not be present in other parts of the world. This is mainly due to the location of the United Arab Emirates on the world map, being centrally located means that its traditions and culture takes inspiration from all its neighbors. There’s a bit of East and some influence from the West, but that what makes Dubai what it is!
What to eat in Old Dubai:
To cover some of the best street food in Dubai for a Dubai street food tour, we head to Al Rigga Street, famous for its long line of restaurants, access to metro, and lots of shops nearby.
This area is also inhabited by most of Dubai’s younger, working crowd and you’ll see this food street bustling mostly during evenings.
Spoiler alert: There’s lots of food coming up below mentioning the must-try food in Dubai. Be warned that by the end of this you will be craving food even if you’ve just had a meal! Also, trying most of this food isn’t possible in just one day so I’d recommend you to at least spend a week in Dubai to really enjoy the food culture here.
Here are some of the things you should be eating in Dubai:
Fatair or fatayer is a thin layered pastry. Think about it like crepes lined on top of each other and stuffed with your favorite filling
Watching it is made is truly magical. Ask for your choice of meat, chicken, cheese, or even sweet cream filling. A fatayer packs a punch and is easily shareable with an approximate cost of AED 15 for medium size
However, that doesn’t stop people from ordering and selling it here in the UAE. There are many shops that specialize in Arabic sweets but I always head to Feras Sweets and it is the best in my opinion.
The second best location is Qwaider Al Nabulsi located at Al Rigga street for the same price and taste. The store also specializes in other Arabic sweets and has a menu with Palestinian food.
Try the Chicken Msakhan, it’s a flavorful dish with bread and chicken topped with sumac, spices, and pine nuts. This is a popular Palestinian food almost considered as a national dish there.
Ask anyone about their most loved shawarma place and they will show you the direction. Yes, people take shawarma pretty seriously here in the UAE! It’s loved with almost religious zeal and is a common “treat” people use for celebrations too.
This is very similar to a doner or wrap stuffed with meat/chicken rotating on a spit. The wrap is also stuffed with tomatoes, onions, garlic, tahini sauce, and sometimes french fries
A concept from India that became very popular here, Karak tea is a sweet milk tea sold in almost every cafeteria. Originally pronounced as “kadak” in India, the name took a slight change as the Arabic language does not have the sound “d”.
Having a Karak is one of the must-try drinks in Dubai! The tea is brewed fresh in the evenings as this is the time when most offices are done for the day, and employees rush to their nearby cafes to grab one for themselves after a long day.
Manakeesh is what you’d call an Arabic pizza. It is baked in a traditional wood oven and topped with cheese, zaatar (Arabic spice), olives, chicken…or anything you like. One of the best places to eat in Dubai for manakeesh is Al Mallah. You will find many branches of this restaurant as it’s quite popular for being one of the first places for eating out in Dubai.
I wouldn’t necessarily name this as street food, but it’s more like a snack that you should have in plenty! Oman chips are originally from Saudi Arabia but most of us Dubai kids will have childhood memories with it. This costs only AED 1 and used to be the snack I bought regularly at my school canteen!
One of the mixed fruit drinks in a local cafeteria
Now, this is something you wouldn’t find on the best food in Dubai lists. UAE food culture has a convenient way of ordering in from your car. It’s almost like a drive-thru, but even better. What you basically do is, park your car at a cafeteria and the server brings a menu to order and eat inside the car.
Some cafeterias specialize in lovely mashups of fruit juices and milkshakes that you absolutely must try for your Dubai food tour!
If you’re a vegetarian and can’t have shawarma, you must try a falafel sandwich. No doubt, it is the second most popular food in Dubai after the non-vegetarian counterpart. The dish is primarily made of chickpeas with herbs and then fried. It is mostly served with tahini; paste of sesame seeds.
A common dessert in all Arab homes, these are dough fried dumplings topped with date syrup and sesame seeds. In UAE culture or heritage, older women would sit together shaping the dough and frying the luqaimat expertly. You can still see this if you visit some of the older bazaars in Old Dubai. Highly recommended as a Dubai traditional food!
Arabian breakfast staples
Now, you haven’t really explored Arabic food Dubai if you haven’t tried a traditional Arabic breakfast. Some standard Emirati food Dubai includes chebab, regag, and khameer. All bread type dishes that are similar to pancakes, crepes, and pies
Where to Eat in Dubai:
A common misconception is that the UAE only specializes in Emirati food. This isn’t true and if it was, I couldn’t imagine living here with such ease! Dubai has a throng of restaurants and it would be impossible for you to try each cuisine before you leave from your vacation. However, just so you don’t miss out much, read on for some of the best places to eat in Dubai.
For traditional food of UAE, I love going to Logma where you can snack of Arabic sandwiches whilst watching the dancing fountains at The Dubai Mall. I would suggest visiting even if you are in Dubai for one day and want to have a great experience.
Right next to Logma is Huqqa, if you are into sheesha while dining. The mall has numerous outdoor restaurants in Dubai that have a fantastic view of the dancing fountains so you can skip the crowds. Also, it is really something to view the attraction from the top!
If I have to mention a traditional experience in Old Dubai, The Sheikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding is the best example. In addition to mosque and heritage tours, they also provide cultural meals in Dubai for tourists to better understand UAE culture. Click here to view more details.
For meat fanatics, the grills at Al Ustad Special Kebab are the most talked about in town. Standing tall since the start of Dubai, the place specializes in tender and flavorful grills with the most friendly service you can imagine! I remember picking this place to treat my family for my first paycheck. Everyone loved it and the experience was truly great!
Some other restaurants in the older side of town for UAE food are Arabian Teahouse and Local House. Both are located in Meena Bazaar, a souq area that is great for shopping in Dubai while haggling. Here you can tick your foodie bucket list for trying shark and camel meat. These kinds of meat are specialties in Arab cuisine and a must food to eat in Dubai.
Another Dubai famous food dish is Mandi. Slow cooked meat and rice with spices served with spicy tomato sauce and yogurt. The Arabs don’t cook with many spices like the Indians and keep their dishes simple. Mandi is a large meal usually enjoyed with friends and family on large plates shared between 2-3 people.
Mandi restaurants in Dubai are plenty and are usually housed with private rooms where one needs to remove their shoes before going in. The rooms have a majlis seating to sit on the carpet and enjoy the meal. Traditionally, the meal ends with hot Arabic tea or coffee.
Some Other Places to Eat in Dubai:
As a country dominated by most South East Asians, Pakistani and Indian food is very common here. For local Pakistani food, I often head to Ravi. It has many outlets in Dubai and serves the best Aloo and Kheema parathas (potato and minced meat pancakes). When I want a traditional desi breakfast, this is where the husband and I visit. Don’t forget to end your meal with a lassi (thick yogurt shake)
While I personally prefer dining in Old Dubai for the authentic taste and local feel, you wouldn’t complete your activities to do in Dubai without having a bite on the newer side of town.
I hope all your questions about what to eat in Dubai have been answered. If you have visited Dubai and tried something that I haven’t mentioned, feel free to ping me! I will surely add it to the list 🙂
Until then, happy eating! xx
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