Emirati and Qatari cuisine are relatively similar due to their Arab background. Similar though they are, Qatari cuisine is largely influenced by Iranian and Indian cuisine whereas the modern Emirati cooking is more cosmopolitan, featuring dishes from (and influenced by) the entire world. With a vast variety of dishes available in both countries, we have put together a list of the top 5 foods in the UAE and Qatar, so you know what to try when you relocate to one of these stunning countries.
Machbus (also known as Kabsa)
Machbus, the national dish in Qatar, is a meal that consists of meat, rice and vegetables. If you were to stop and ask a Qatari to recommend a dish, it’s fairly likely that they will end up recommending Machbus. Traditionally mixing rice, nuts, raisins, spices and either mutton, fish or chicken, this dish is a much-loved staple in the UAE. There are many kinds of Machbus that can be created, which brings uniqueness and variety to the dish.
Spices that are often used in the dish include pepper, cloves, cardamom, saffron, black lime, bay leaves and nutmeg, all of which can also be accompanied with various nuts such as almonds, pine nuts and peanuts. The meat for the dish can also be prepared in a number of ways including mandi, an ancient tradition where meat is barbecued in a deep hole in the ground; mathbi, where meat is grilled on flat stones above burning embers; and madghut, cooking meat in a pressure cooker.
Harissa or Harees
Harissa is possibly one of the most famous and traditional Qatari dishes, and is enjoyed across the whole of the Middle East – especially popular in the month of Ramadan. The meal consists of meat mixed with boiled, cracked or coarsely-ground wheat, giving the dish a consistency between porridge and a dumpling.
The dish has minimal spices and so is light and easy on the stomach after a day of fasting, and is simple, filling and delicious. The recipe is usually found at most parties, Eid, or a special occasion like a wedding. Harissa is the origin of another popular Middle Eastern dish known as Haleem, which was thought to have been enjoyed by the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
As Dubai is known for having the tallest building and the highest fountains in the world, it’s only fitting that it’s also home to the largest item on any menu in the world – the stuffed camel. Camel is a common and popular dish in the Emirates, and many Emirati dishes include camel as one of their main ingredients. The most famous dish in the whole of Dubai and the surrounding Emirates is stuffed camel.
There are a variety of steps to preparing stuffed camel. Firstly eggs are cooked and stuffed into fish, which is, in turn stuffed into chicken. The chicken is then stuffed into a sheep, lamb or goat, which is then stuffed into a whole camel. The camel is then cooked over a charcoal fire. The dish is a traditional Arab wedding dish, and there are various recipes detailing the best things to stuff the camel with.
Due to the size and expense of this dish, it can be quite difficult to find a high street restaurant that serves it. However, if you’re keen on trying some camel while you’re in the UAE, there are various other camel dishes that are widely available. These dishes are actually quite cheap too, due to the natural abundance of camels in the country.
Khameer, a golden brown, deep fried bread-like treat that can either be sweet or savoury, is traditionally a breakfast dish. There are a huge variety of ways this dish can be served, whether it’s with mutton and yoghurt, or with sweet yoghurt and nuts. Khameer is quite often eaten with cheese and fruit for breakfast, or on its own flavoured with cardamom and saffron, and served with a cup of tea or coffee. This was a traditional working class breakfast, but has gradually worked its way back up through the ranks and is enjoyed by many people across the UAE. It can also be served as a treat throughout the day or after a day of fasting during Ramadan.
Although this dish originated in Yemen, the UAE have steadily adopted it, leading it to become one of the most popular dishes available. Mandi is a simple dish made from rice, meat (lamb or chicken) and a vast range of different spices. However, it’s the way that the meat is cooked that really gives this dish the recognition it deserves. The meat, to give it its dewy texture, is cooked in a special type of oven called a tandoor.
The tandoor is essentially a hole in the ground covered inside by clay, in which dry wood is placed and burned to turn into charcoal. The meat is then lowered into the tandoor, without touching the burning charcoal, and then the tandoor is closed so as to not let any smoke out, giving the meat a rich, smoky flavour. Mandi is often the main dish served during special events, but is also widely available in most Emirati restaurants.