The giving and receiving of hospitality is an important part of Arab and Bedouin culture. At mealtimes, guests may be invited to join in the traditional mansaf of whole lamb and spiced rice. The meal is laid out on trays and people help themselves from the trays. Arabic coffee, known as ghawah, is served after the meal.

 Reception rooms where meals are eaten are known as majlis. Majlis are reserved for celebrating special occasions or entertaining important guests. These rooms are spacious, decorated with carpets and cushions. The majlis of ruling sheikhs are exotically furnished and are open to all on special days. 

Before meals a mezze, or appetizer, is served. The most famous mezze dish is hummus, a puree of spices and chickpeas. Another popular dish is tabbouleh, a salad of cracked wheat and parsley with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and olive oil. Vine leaves stuffed with rice are also widely enjoyed. 

The large population of immigrant northern Arabs have made Lebanese cooking popular. Indian and Pakistani as well as Oriental dishes are also well known. Western-style fast foods have also become popular.

 Every imaginable spice can be found in the spice streets known as atarinehs of UAE's markets. Spices are sold in paper cones called dukkahs. One of the most popular mixtures is made up of cinnamon, cayenne pepper and paprika. Other popular ingredients in Emirati cuisine include sesame oil, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds and parsley.

Coffee is an important part of Arab hospitality. It is served black, without sugar, and is usually flavoured with cardamom or cloves. Arab coffee is served everywhere, from the feasts of the ruler to the smallest shop or office. In the old days, coffeehouses were the main meeting places in the Gulf. As well as coffee, they offered the traditional smoking pot known as the gaduo.

 Emiratis do not eat pork or drink alcohol, as both are forbidden by the Muslim religion. Also, during the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast during the daylight hours. Except during Ramadan, alcohol is available only in hotels and restaurants. Foreigners who wish to buy it for private consumption at home must apply for a licence.


 1 litre wheat flour
675 ml seh (ripe sticky dates)
1 tsp. cardamom
300 ml toasted sesame seeds
175 ml vegetable oil


 Brown the flour in a skillet, stirring to avoid burning. Stone the dates and pull them apart. Place in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle with the cardamom and sesame seeds. Gradually add the vegetable oil and browned flour, a little at a time, working the ingredients in with the fingertips. When all is well blended, the mixture should resemble large biscuit crumbs. Serve with coffee.