Built on islands, it is inevitable that seafood features highly in the cuisine of Abu Dhabi. But there is more to local flavours than kingfish or fillet of hamour. Sampling the cuisine of the regional expatriate communities who have helped build the capital is a highlight, with Indian and Lebanese food scoring high on the list for good value.
Where to Eat
Abu Dhabi's top fine-dining restaurants tend to be found in the five-star hotels and newer shopping malls. In contrast, the streets one block south of Zayed the First Street, between Al Markaziah West and Al Manhal, present a geography of regional cuisine from Syria to Yemen, with each independent eatery occupying its own shopfront.
What to Eat
Abu Dhabi is a great city for sampling traditional Middle Eastern food. This usually involves small hot and cold dishes (mezze), such as hummus, muttabal (purée of aubergine) and sambusak (cheese-filled pastries), which are enjoyed over long chats and a watermelon juice to aid digestion. This is followed by rice and meat in various preparations with unleavened bread. Dessert is an afterthought.
When to Eat
A much loved city tradition is Friday brunch. This lavish buffet starts mid-morning and continues to mid-afternoon. Afternoon tea is another Abu Dhabi favourite offering an affordable opportunity to enjoy a fine dining environment. Dinner cruises set sail in the early evening, but most locals pile into the coffeehouses for light bites, coffee and shisha late into the night.
If you find yourself cross-legged on the timbers of a dhow with a communal plate in front of you, it's good to know a few tips about local protocol. Here are some of the main things to think about when dining the traditional Arab way:
- It's polite to be seen washing hands before eating.
- It's considered rude to eat with your legs stretched out.
- Don't take the best parts of the meat – if you're a guest, your host will be sure to lavish them on you.Strictly use only your right hand (the left hand is reserved for ablutions) for eating or passing food.
- Discard unwanted food in a napkin rather than returning it to the communal plate.
- Leave a little food on your plate to avoid inviting famine.Feel free to pick your teeth after dinner.
- Don't leave the meal before coffee is served…
- …but don't stay for too long afterwards. Most of the chatting is done before dinner, less during and almost none after!