Abu Dhabi’s Culinary Delights : Exploring Local Dishes and Best Dining Spots (2023)
Emirati food is a reflection of the traditional UAE heritage in Abu Dhabi. Infused with spices, herbs, dried fruits/ nuts, and different flavours, the food of Abu Dhabi is a must-try. The culture of eating and dining in Abu Dhabi is associated with street food, authentic Emirati dishes, and delectable Arabic cuisine with international fusion. The best part about dining in Abu Dhabi is that even the finest restaurants offer the best culinary experience without charging a fortune. Unlike many other occasions in Abu Dhabi, food is comparatively affordable.
Top Local Dishes to Try in Abu Dhabi
Arabians have one of the best hospitality in the world, and the finest way to experience it is via their food. To enjoy the same, here are some of Abu Dhabi’s traditional food and the best restaurants. Get deeper with our culinary guide to Abu Dhabi below. Let’s begin.
1. Harees (Al Harees):
This traditional dish combines wheat, meat and salt, resembling porridge. Harees are especially popular during Ramadan and festive occasions. It is prepared by first cooking ground wheat and salt and later slow-cooked with meat. To complement the taste, a hot coal-filled hole for hours adds an aromatic taste to it. After that, it is served with delectable ghee on top.
Samboosa isn’t something unique but the Emirati version of classic Indian Samosa. Instead of potato and peas filling, the Emirati Samboosa consists of a flavorful combination of spices, veggies, and meats. This crunchy snack is ideal for teatime along with local Kahwa.
This nutritious dish is prepared using various salt-cured fish, Emirati sauces, and spices. The dish is prepared using a large wooden spoon called midrib and is enjoyed with raqaq, a type of flatbread. Madrooba is popular during Ramadan and other festivals.
This iconic street is famous not only in Abu Dhabi but all across the UAE. You can find Sawarma easily in roadside stalls, mid-range restaurants, and even at high-dining places. This snack features tender, juicy chicken or lamb, soggy fries, and hummus or garlicky yoghurt sauce wrapped inside Lebanese bread. Due to its flavours and fulfilling nature, it is a go-to meal for many.
It is a special kind of Emirati pizza popular amongst vegetarians and meat lovers alike. Manakkish features a sizeable circular flatbread topped with cheese, veggies, and meats baked in an oven. While it may sound simple, it has a burst of flavour with every bite.
A must-try dish in Abu Dhabi, Fareed is basically a lamb stew poured over thin Reqaq flatbread. The hash is prepared using tender lamb/goat meat, marrow, and a variety of vegetables and is noted as a comforting food option. It is a popular street food choice as well as served during festivals.
Not only savoury and spicy dishes, but Abu Dhabi is also famous for its desserts. Luqaimat is a mouth-watering dessert prepared using flour, yeast, milk, butter, saffron, and cardamom to form a batter that is later fried into ball shapes. The balls are then soaked in a sweet date syrup.
8. Shish Tawouk Sandwich:
This Middle Eastern delight features thinly sliced chicken, pickles, veggies, and spices wrapped inside a flatbread. It is an ideal go-to snack while exploring streets and mountains around Abu Dhabi.
9. Chips Oman Roll:
This crunchy and cheesy street food features a soft roll with Oman Chips, Tabasco sauce, and olive oil inside. This no-fuss delicacy is undoubtedly a nostalgic treat for many Emirati kids.
10. Khuzi (Ghuzi):
Khuzi is the national dish of UAE, and when in Abu Dhabi for a food tour, you cannot miss it. Khuzi consists of whole roasted lamb or mutton on spicy rice infused with aromatic spices and garnished with nuts and vegetables.
11. Al Harees:
Al Harees is another traditional dish you can try in Abu Dhabi. It is similar to biryani but has a different touch to it due to the addition of dried lemon. This rice and meat dish is enjoyed as a comfort food as well as during festivals and celebrations.
12. Stuffed Camel:
Stuffed camel is a ceremonial dish prepared by pressing a lamb into a camel, which is further loaded with chicken, rice, eggs, or fish. It is reserved for special occasions and cultural ceremonies, given its size and complexity of preparation. Stuffed camel is, in fact, considered the World’s Largest Dish by the Guinness Books of World Records.
This sweet and savoury vermicelli dish is prepared by cooking vermicelli with sugar, nuts, saffron, rose water, and cardamom. It is further topped with an egg omelette and is served either as a dessert or for breakfast.
If you still need french fries in Abu Dhabi, consider trying Falafel. These fried patties or balls are made from ground chickpeas and are the Middle Eastern version of french fries or Indian Pakoras. Falafel is slightly spicy and is best enjoyed with a dip.
15. Esh Asarya:
This Emirati cheesecake with a cream frosting is also known as the bread of the Harem. It is prepared with bread soaked in lemon juice, rosewater, and orange blossom water and topped with cream.
While trying any of the savoury, meaty stews in Abu Dhabi, pair it with Khameer or Khameeri roti. This Arabic bread is prepared using yeast, flour, and powdered milk. Besides spicy stews, it is also enjoyed with cheese and honey.
Best Places to Eat in Abu Dhabi, UAE
1. Home Bakery in Umm Al Emarat Park:
Located in the serene Umm Al Emarat Park, Home Bakery offers a satisfying breakfast experience with regionally inspired dishes.
Recommended Dish: Rolled croissant topped with labneh, pickled eggplant makdous, house-made dukkah, and poached eggs.
Sweet Option: Saffron karak French toast with ganache flavoured with karak chai.
This hidden gem near Yas Marina Circuit is nestled in a modern residential complex. Maylas is a local favourite, and enjoying authentic Emirati dishes with vintage decor here is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.
Recommended Dishes: Balaleet, pancakes, and paste-like hares.
3. Al Fanar Restaurant and Cafe:
This popular place to eat in Abu Dhabi offers authentic Emirati and Gulf cuisine. The restaurant is also famous for its interiors designed with barasti outdoor booths, mud brick rooms, and a mini souk. They have multiple branches across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and even the United Kingdom.
Known for its Emirati cuisine and luxurious setting, Mazlai is a must-visit place to eat in Abu Dhabi. The restaurant has classic and royal Arabic decor. The best section here is the outdoor terrace overlooking the sea.
5. Yadoos House:
Also translated to Grandmother’s House, the Yadoos House is where you can enjoy traditional Emirati cuisine in a homely ambience. The comfortable sofas and warm hospitality add’ to its popularity.
6. Zahrat Lebnan:
Zahrat Lebnan has been operating since 1983 and is famous for its authentic Lebanese cuisine.
Highlights: Hummus and shawarma.
7. Shish Shawarma:
If you are craving the best shawarma in Abu Dhabi, reach Shish Shawarma. They have outlets at three different locations, including West Corniche Road, Muroor Road, and Khalifa City. Not only are they famous for their Shawarmas but also for reasonable pricing and various options.
8. Bu Tafish:
Operating since 1968, Bu Tafish is where you can try the best Arabic-style seafood in Abu Dhabi. This seafood institution isn’t just famous in Abu Dhabi but is also a highlight in the food scenes of UAE.
Recommended Dishes: oven-baked fish, grilled prawns, calamari, and creamy bechamel seafood tajen.
9. Villa Mamas:
Villa Mamas is famous for its authentic Bahraini flavours. The restaurant is located in the Emirates Red Crescent General Secretariat building and is a hit amongst both locals and tourists in Abu Dhabi. Chef Roaya Saleh from Bahrain has some fantastic options to offer. The best part is that 20 per cent of profits here goes to the Red Crescent for humanitarian efforts.
10. Al Aqsa Sweets:
This small restaurant in Abu Dhabi has been operating for over 40 years now. They serve traditional Palestinian Nablus kunafa along with other varieties, including crunchy khishnah and smoother na’ama.
11. Freej Swaileh Restaurant:
The Freej Swaileh Restaurant in Abu Dhabi is famous for its generous portions of Kuwaiti flavours. Not only the food but the family-friendly atmosphere and traditional decor keep attracting a large crowd here.
House Specialty: Ragag (Emirati bread) with milk and honey.
12. Saudi Kitchen:
This down-to-earth eatery is located in Al Mushrif and is famous for its Saudi Arabian dishes. If you are a fan of Emirati cuisine but want a shift, the Saudi Arabian dishes are a must-try. While they are similar, they can offer you some variations.
Highlights: Mathlotha (spiced chicken rice) and fried seafood with flatbread.
13. Najd Palace Restaurant & Kitchen:
For traditional and modern Gulf and Arabic dishes, the Najd Palace Restaurant & Kitchen is a must-visit in Abu Dhabi. Operating since 2012, the restaurant has multiple branches in the city and is quite a hit amongst both locals and tourists.
Highlights: Madhbi (Yemeni chicken rice), shakshouka, and madfoon.
14. Al Dafra Dinner Cruise:
Lastly, for a unique dining experience in Abu Dhabi, hop on the Al Dafra Dinner Cruise. This cruise experience is on a traditional dhow along Abu Dhabi Corniche. It departs from Mina Zayed Port into a long two-hour journey offering breathtaking views of Abu Dhabi’s nighttime landscape. The cruise consists of sumptuous cuisine on board from a diverse menu featuring international, Emirati, and delightful seafood selections.