By Soren Rivero
The United Arab Emirates (Arabic) cuisine is super diverse, as it takes heavy inspiration from its surrounding countries. You’ll find anything from Persian and Levantine staple foods to dishes from India and even Europe.
Though much of the food in the UAE is meat-based, there are plenty of plant-based dishes you can find! Here are 10 vegetarian-friendly foods in the UAE, particularly Dubai.
This dish is a staple in Emirati cuisine and is usually served for breakfast. It takes inspiration from popular pasta dishes in Indian cuisine, namely Sheer Khurma. Sweet vermicelli noodles are spiced with hints of cinnamon, rose water, cardamom, black pepper, and other spices then topped with a saffron omelet. The result is a sweet, salty, crunchy vegetarian dish in Dubai that can be eaten as either breakfast or dessert.
Not to be confused with the Japanese sticky rice treat of the same name, Dango is a simple snack/meal that’s both vegan and vegetarian. The simplicity of it comes from the fact that it's pretty much just chickpeas and spices. The beans are boiled overnight to help in cooking time then cooked again in oil (sometimes butter) and then seasoned with cayenne, black pepper, and salt.
Fattoush is a staple in many cuisines along the Middle East and most of the Mediterranean. Put simply, Fattoush is a hearty vegetable salad mixed with khubz (bread) and dressed in lime vinaigrette. Try out this vegan dish in Dubai for a healthy taste of the Middle East!
If you’re looking for vegetarian dishes to eat in Dubai, Shirin Polo is the way to go. This dish is sometimes known as Persian wedding rice or Rosh Hashanah rice. Derived from Persian cuisine, this rice dish is designed to represent jewels and royalty which are easily identifiable by the lavish ingredients. Persian seven spice, sugar, saffron, and orange are used to give basmati rice flavor. The ‘jewels’ in the dish are represented by barberries, black currants, carrot, golden raisins, and pistachios.
Fatteh is another adaptation of Persian and Levantine cuisine, though is quite popular in the UAE. The original recipe consists of three layers. At the bottom are pieces of bread– either soaked, grilled, fresh, fried, or stale. Next, the bread is topped with salted chickpeas. The final layer is a thick coat of zesty yogurt mixed with lemon, cumin, cilantro, and pine nuts.
Sometimes referred to as the Arabic version of cheesecake, Knafeh is a sweet cheese pastry that has a pull apart more satisfying than pizza. This dish starts off with a pastry called kataifi which is similar to baklava but spun to get a stringy texture. The pastry is then soaked in a sweet syrup and topped with loads of cheese for a very delectable dessert – unless you’re lactose intolerant.
Not exactly a dish itself, falafel is another Middle Eastern food that’s a core element of the culture’s vegetarian side. It looks like a meatball, but is instead a crunchy and savory mix of chickpeas, fava beans, or both. You can have it on the side of rice or vegetables and find it as a vegan-friendly option in Dubai at stalls serving gyros.
If you want something hearty yet light, you should definitely try out kousa mahshi. These little morsels are zucchinis stuffed with rice and are consistently ranked as one of the best foods to eat in Dubai. Once the zucchinis are stuffed with rice, they’re cooked in a hearty tomato broth until they’re soft and boiling hot. Be careful trying these out if you want to eat vegetarian in Dubai, as they are sometimes stuffed with meat (so be sure to ask).
Take one bite of mujaddara and you’ll be tasting the heartwarming dish that many Arabic people grew up eating. Made from seasoned lentil beans mixed with basmati rice, this dish is perfect for anybody looking for vegetarian-friendly food options in the UAE. It’s topped with onions and sometimes other vegetables. Just one note: it might be hard to find this as it’s a very “home-based” dish. But if you do happen to find it, it is absolutely a must-try vegan food!
Luqaimat is one of the most popular desserts in Dubai, and across many other Arab countries. These small spheres of sugary goodness are made from butter, flour, milk, sugar, saffron, and cardamom. They’re almost like donut holes– just with more flavor. Be careful though! One, or two, or ten, may never be enough…
Which of these vegetarian/vegan dishes will you try in the UAE?