To mark the commencement of Mawlana Hazar Imam's Diamond Jubilee on 11 July 2017, TheIsmaili Nutrition Centre is pleased to launch "Taste of Culture" - a celebration of our cultural diversity through the joy of food. Travel around the world with us, as we dish out food secrets from the locals themselves. From Dar-es-Salaam to Dallas, discover some of the most notable and mouth-watering local dishes that promise to make you a cultural connoisseur! Our next stop: Dubai, United Arab Emirates!


Home to one of the six established Ismaili Centres, Dubai is a cosmopolitan city famous for its sandy beaches, expansive shopping complexes, and modern architecture. This populous UAE city also boasts the world's tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa, which features a restaurant and lounge at soaring heights over the Arabian Gulf. Dubai is no less than legendary for its exotic culinary scene as well. Featuring a blend of Asian and Middle Eastern influences, the city's cuisine is often marked by aromatic spices, succulent meats, and fresh vegetables. Many traditional dishes include complex carbohydrates, a characteristic introduced by the nomadic Bedouins who relied on food to provide enough energy for travel. Read on to experience the assortment of spicy dishes, sumptuous desserts, and refreshing beverages that make Dubai a paradise for food-loving tourists and locals alike!

1. Mandi and Madhbi

Mandi and Madhbi are traditional chicken or meat dishes served over long-grained Basmati rice that has been simmered in a rich stock. Mandi is usually served with baked or steamed chicken, while Madhbi is presented with crispy grilled chicken. Both dishes promise succulent, melt-in-the-mouth morsels of meat and aromatic rice. The final plate is accompanied with a light lentil soup, thick fresh yoghurt, crunchy pickled vegetables, and a curry or salsa-like tomato sauce to dip the chicken in. To enjoy the mandi or madhbi experience to its maximum potential, you're better off eating with your hands - and don't forget to lick your fingers to savour every tasty and unforgettable mouthful!

This popular meat and rice dish is famous for its spicy aroma and smoky flavour.
This popular meat and rice dish is famous for its spicy aroma and smoky flavour.
Adeel Javaid

2. Shawarma

Chicken or lamb shawarma is one of the most widely eaten food items across the United Arab Emirates. It is made with finely chopped lamb or chicken generously slathered in a mix of garlic sauce, pickles, tomatoes and lettuce, and then wrapped in Arabic or Lebanese bread and eaten with pickled carrot and spicy green peppers on the side. Shawarmas are the go-to snack whether you want a quick meal on your way out, or need something to ward off hunger pangs. Whether you're at a five-star restaurant or a roadside café, you can always count on a good shawarma to satisfy any food cravings you may have!

3. Falafel

These deep fried balls are made with chickpea and/or fava bean flour mixed with various spices like cumin, ground coriander, and fresh parsley. These crunchy fritters can be enjoyed both on their own or nestled in a pita pocket. In terms of popularity, falafel is on par with chicken or lamb shawarma, especially for vegetarians who often enjoy it as an alternative to the meaty shawarma. Coupled with a tahini dip (sauce made with roasted ground sesame seeds), this snack is best eaten on a rainy winter evening with some mint tea.

Fried to perfection, falafel are crispy on the outside but soft and tender on the inside.
Fried to perfection, falafel are crispy on the outside but soft and tender on the inside.
Adeel Javaid

4. Kunafa

The United Arab Emirates boasts of being home to various desserts and traditional pastries and while the ever popular baclava often steals the spotlight, the sweet-tooth underdog of the UAE is definitely kunafa! This simple dessert is made with vermicelli and cheese or cream that is baked in the oven to get the perfect toasted colour and crispiness. The hot cheesecake of sorts is then generously drizzled with a sugar-based heavy syrup. One spoonful of this is enough to indulge your sweet tooth!

5. Fruit Cocktail juice

Dubai is famous for its small cafeterias that serve everything from grilled chicken to chicken tikkas, Chinese cuisine to Mexican food, and of course the local favourites like shawarmas and falafel. However, the one item that is almost ubiquitously found in all restaurants around the UAE is the variety of pocket-friendly fresh fruit juices and shakes. If you don't like anything that's on the menu, most shopkeepers are happy to concoct any combination you can think of, so don't be afraid to let your imagine run wild! Yet, by far, one of the most popular juices is known as the Mixed Fruit Cocktail. Every cafeteria has their own special mix of fruits that they use, but the end result is always a refreshing glass full of pure, natural bliss!

Having grown up in Dubai, Khairunnissa Bhola has always been surrounded by cuisines from around the world. With the number of expatriate nationalities living there, she never had to go far to savour delicacies from different countries. The never-ending variety of tastes and treats found in Dubai keeps this Pakistani foodie’s palate satisfied.

Having lived in Australia, Canada, Pakistan, Thailand, and the United States, Khatidja Gilani has used her global travel experience to explore a diverse range of different cuisines and cultures around the world. The relationship between food, language, history and tradition is one that Khatidja values most deeply, and seeks to understand by immersing herself in the local culture wherever she is. Currently pursuing her Masters in Melbourne, you can find her wandering in local cafes, popular food joints, and undiscovered food havens around town in her free time.

Edits: Noor Pirani | Shahzadi Devje RD, CDE, MSc