Of the many tourists who visit Dubai, few take the time to seek out Emirati cuisine, dazzled instead by the sheer choice of international eats — from Lebanese to Indonesian — in the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan and multicultural city. But for your first meal in this super-luxe destination, why not try something other than the standard breakfast fare of pancakes, waffles and bacon?
Peppered with influences from Iran, India and its Middle Eastern neighbors, an Emirati breakfast comes with all the goodness of honey, dates, saffron and cheese, flavored with aromatic cinnamon, cardamom and rose water.
With a surprising mix of sweet and savory tastes that tickles the taste buds, it’s absolutely worth it to begin your tour of Dubai with a little local breakfast adventure.
YOUR EMIRATI BREAKFAST PRIMER
Arabic coffee and dates
Arabic coffee (or gahwa) is the perfect start to a hearty Emirati breakfast. Made of lightly roasted beans and fragrant from the addition of cardamom and saffron, it’s served without milk in tiny, narrow cups that keep the coffee from getting cold.
Dates are a favorite source of nutrition in the region and many locals like to begin their morning routines with one or two of these sweet dried fruits before facing the day.
A puffy, round flatbread with fennel, cardamom and saffron, and topped with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, fresh khameer is so soft it almost melts in your mouth.
Split it open — the top and bottom layers separate easily — and smear the insides with your spread of choice like labneh (soft cheese), butter or cream. But locals like it with dibs (date syrup) and creamy Kraft cheese that is, surprisingly, a staple in the homes of Emiratis and longtime Dubai residents.
The Emirati take on the pancake, chebab is a crispy, golden yellow flatbread pepped up with saffron, fennel, cardamom and, sometimes, a dash of turmeric.
This light pancake is also served with date syrup and Kraft cream cheese; slather on a little of each for the ultimate sweet-and-savory delight.
Muhalla is a thin traditional bread that looks like a crepe and is made with pitted dates, eggs, flour, yeast and a pinch of salt. The dates give the bread its distinct rich brown color and sweetness.
Enjoy it with a brush of cream cheese, labneh or a drizzle of honey.
A filling stew-like meal, dangaw consists of chickpeas boiled with spices and dried red chilies served with a wedge of lemon. This classic dish stems from nomadic Bedouin heritage, due to its ability to last, and was often the meal of choice for people traversing long distances across the desert.
Beidh wa Tomat
Beidh wa tomat are Emirati-style scrambled eggs. This traditionally simple breakfast dish packs a flavorful punch with the addition of tomatoes, coriander, herbs and spices.
A calorific but delicious breakfast specialty, balaleet is a dish of sweet fine rice vermicelli cooked with scrambled eggs, caramelized onions, raisins, cardamom, saffron and rose water.
In some versions, the egg is added as a plain, thin omelet on top of the vermicelli. Offering a unique sweet and savory combination, balaleet is also often enjoyed as a dessert.
While the soft, flaky, malawach flatbread originally comes from Yemen, it has found its way to the Emirati breakfast table, offering international appeal — similar breads are staples in Indian and North African cuisines.
It can be topped with honey or served like a wrap stuffed with scrambled eggs, spices and cheese.
Another North African specialty that is a hit with both Emiratis and expats in the UAE, shakshouka is poached eggs in a thick, aromatic stew of onions, chili peppers, tomatoes, garlic and spices.
While the breakfast favorite takes more than 20 minutes to prepare, once you dip a piece of bread into the delicious, rich sauce, you’ll realize the wait was worthwhile.
WHERE TO GO FOR AN EMIRATI BREAKFAST
Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding
This cultural hot spot hosts an excellent authentic homemade Emirati breakfast in a heritage villa in the historic Al Bastakiya district. The quarters were once home to wealthy merchants, but today it houses art galleries, teahouses and schools.
In addition to fine fare, the center also provides a unique opportunity to learn about local customs and cultures from friendly Emirati guides.
Time travel to the Dubai of the 1960s at Al Fanar, a restaurant that not only specializes authentic Emirati cuisine, but completes the experience with Old World décor and rustic seating areas. This nostalgic spot is also one of the only places in Dubai that serves an all-day Emirati breakfast. Its balaleet and beidh wa tomat come highly recommended.
Logma is your trendy neighborhood Levantine eatery with a breezy, casual vibe and quick, friendly service, making it the ideal place to taste a little bit of everything Emirati.
If you find yourself a bit indecisive when it’s time to order, try the Logma Benedict, a delicious shakshouka spin on the breakfast classic served on khameer.
While exploring the elegant downtown area, be sure to make a pit stop at Mama Tani for a contemporary take on Emirati soul food. Sample its indulgent chebabs filled with saffron, rose or cardamom cream, balaleet and the grand Mama Tani breakfast.
The café also has a wide, mouthwatering selection of burgers, sandwiches, stuffed khameers as well as creative offerings like quinoa biryani with lamb, green lentils and fresh coriander.
This motorcycle-themed café in the heart of Jumeirah delivers a laid-back setting to grab a traditional Emirati morning meal.
Opt for the Royal Platter or Heritage Tray. Both come with an assortment of local breads, pancakes, breakfast dishes and sides, and are a great value.