Food and Drink in the UAE

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Food and Drink in the United Arab Emirates (UAE)

UAE Cuisine

Dubai and, to a lesser extent, Abu Dhabi offer a vast spread of food from most of the world's major cuisines. By Western standards most restaurants are quite affordable although it is easy to find extremely expensive food too. Most upper-end restaurants are located in hotels.

Due to the large expat populations, Indian and Pakistani restaurants abound, offering affordable and succulent choices. Also popular are Lebanese, Syrian and Jordanian cuisine restaurants.

A popular favorite is grilled chicken, available at most of the open-air cafeterias by the roadside which can be relished with other accompaniments like Khubz (Arabic Bread), hummus, etc., and the most popular rice dish is Biriyani, with grilled chicken or fish or lamb. Traditional Shawarma and falafel sandwiches are readily available and are quite cheap and delicious.

Very few traditional Emirati dishes are served at restaurants; and the closest is the Mendi-style cuisine of Yemen, in which platters of fragrant rice are topped with lamb, chicken or fish that has been slow-roasted in a pit.

Drinks and Drinking in the UAE

Dubai has a burgeoning nightlife scene and even formerly straitlaced Abu Dhabi has loosened up and tried to catch up. Alcohol is available in alcohol stores, 5-star hotel restaurants and bars in all emirates except Sharjah, where you can only drink in your home or in an expat hangout called the Sharjah Wanderers. As a tourist, you are permitted to buy alcohol in bars and restaurants to drink there. If you are a resident, you're supposed to have a alcohol license (never asked for in bars) which also allows you to buy alcohol at alcohol stores (they do check).

During Ramadan, no alcohol is served during daylight (fasting) hours. Dubai and Abu Dhabi permit bars to serve alcohol at night, but bands stop playing, background music is off or quiet, no dancing is allowed and nightclubs are usually closed. On certain holy days in the Islamic calendar, no alcohol is served publicly in any of the UAE.

Do not under any circumstance drink and drive in the UAE. If by chance you are in an accident, this becomes a card for going directly to jail — especially during Ramadan. Taxis are widely available if you have been drinking and are a much safer and wiser option given the insane driving habits in the region.

A wide variety of international cuisines can be found in the UAE and eating out can be fairly inexpensive, although of course there are many upmarket restaurants and hotels where dining is correspondingly more expensive. A popular local dish Shawarma consists of tasty slow roasted shaved chicken served with flat bread. Generally, Arabic food is tasy and nutritious and considered to be similar to that found in Greece and Lebanon, often focused on skewered and grilled meats such as lamb and chicken with a mild spicy flavour derived from cumin and saffron.

Alcohol is available to tourists in liquor stores, many hotel restaurants and bars in all emirates except Sharjah, where alcohol can only be consumed in the home. During the festival of Ramadan, no alcohol is served between dawn and dusk. Dubai and Abu Dhabi do permit alcohol to be served in some bars after sunset during Ramadan, but all music is turned off and no dancing is allowed. Consequently the nightclubs are closed. Other holy days in the Muslim calendar prohibit the public sale of alcohol anywhere in the Emirates.

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