Your Ultimate Guide to Eating in Abu Dhabi
As the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Abu Dhabi is an exciting destination for travelers from around the world. From the awe-inspiring skyscrapers to the shopping mega centers, the Yas Marina Circuit – F1 Track to the vast Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, there is plenty to see in Abu Dhabi in terms of sights.
Another way Abu Dhabi shines is through its food culture, which offers visitors a chance to try some of the world’s most innovative and interesting dishes. Whether you are looking for fine dining in Abu Dhabi or a once-in-a-lifetime type of food experience, you have plenty of options. To help you navigate your taste buds while in the city, read on for your ultimate guide to eating in Abu Dhabi.
The Variety of Cuisines
Undoubtedly, one of the greatest parts about eating in Abu Dhabi is the variety of cuisines on offer. Due to the prevalence of expats and multinational corporations, the city is highly multicultural, which can be seen in the exciting smorgasbord of global cuisine.
Japanese cuisine is highly prominent in the UAE as the country’s thriving fishing industry makes for high-quality sushi and sashimi. If you are craving a Japanese meal, consider dining at Zuma Abu Dhabi, Toki, or Tori No Su.
Korean is another popular cuisine in Abu Dhabi, with many authentic restaurants offering delicious versions of ramyun, bibimbap, and kimchi fried rice. Some of the top Korean eateries in the city include Manna Land Korean Restaurant, Hankook Restaurant, and Madang Korean Restaurant.
Abu Dhabi has a significant Indian population, which means you can find plenty of delicious Indian restaurants. For vegetarians, an Indian meal is an excellent option as many of the dishes are prepared meatless. If you are in the mood for palak paneer or tikka masala, make a reservation at Punjab Grill Restaurant, Angar, or Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor.
Finally, you can still get your European cuisine fix while spending time in Abu Dhabi. French and Italian restaurants are both very popular with locals and travelers alike. For French food, La Brasserie and Bord Eau are two firm favorites, while the Al Afiya French Bakery and the Pascal Tepper French Bakery are ideal if you are craving French bread or pastries.
There is plenty of discussion over where the best Italian food in Abu Dhabi can be found. Still, there is no denying that Villa Toscana, Cafe Milano, and Circo all provide unparalleled dining experiences. Whether you want pizza, pasta, or antipasti, you can trust that these three restaurants are going to go above-and-beyond.
Of course, the essential cuisine to try is the local Emirati, which has evolved throughout the UAE’s trading history. Often, travelers to Abu Dhabi are trying Emirati food for the first time and are pleasantly surprised by how delicious and healthy the dishes are. Some of the most popular Emirati dishes include Balaleat, a sweet and salty breakfast dish made from vermicelli and eggs, and enhanced with orange blossoms, cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon. The UAE’s national dish is Khuzi, which is roasted lamb, served with rice and vegetables.
Other Emirati dishes to try are:
- Al harees, a porridge-like dish consisting of lamb and wheat
- Al machboos, a meal prepared with red meat or chicken that is then boiled with spicy seasonings and lime
- Fattoush, a traditional vegan recipe combining lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, mint leaves, onion, garlic, lemon and olive oil on top of pita bread
- Thereed, a slow-cooked stew made of lamb or goat and roasted vegetables
Additionally, fish is an integral part of many traditional Emirati dishes. For example, Al Madrooba combines salted fish with spices and a thick sauce and is a local favorite.
A large part of Abu Dhabi’s local cuisine revolves around street food. Every day you can expect to see the Emirate’s residents grabbing a quick, relatively cheap meal from one of the many street vendors. Shawarma is the most common street food and an essential addition to your food bucket list. Shawarma consists of thinly sliced chicken, lamb, or beef stuffed into a soft flatbread and then topped with fresh vegetables and a delicious spicy sauce. When it comes to shawarma, taste and preparation method often vary between eateries, so make sure to try out a few different places!
Other classic street food dishes to look out for are:
- Shish tawouk sandwich: a flatbread filled with thinly cut chicken, vegetables, and pickles and then seasoned with garlic and spices
- Manakeesh: a savory Lebanese pizza topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat
- Moutabal: a roasted aubergine dish that is slightly spicier than a baba ghannouj
- Sambousek: a fried pastry that can be stuffed with cheese, meats, and spices
The Michelin star ranking system is utilized by the Michelin Guide to identify high-quality restaurants around the world. In Abu Dhabi, you can find several Michelin-starred restaurants, including Hakkasan, which offers modern Chinese cuisine and Bord Eau, a fine-dining French restaurant.
Other top Michelin-starred restaurants in Abu Dhabi include Marco Pierre White Steakhouse & Grill, Rasoi by Vineet, Martabaan by Hemant Oberoi, Villa Toscana, Al Maqam, Indigo, Marakesh, and Market Kitchen.
Whether you are looking for an Indian, Moroccan, Italian, or Japanese fine-dining experience, you are guaranteed to find it in Abu Dhabi. Moreover, there are plenty of romantic restaurants in Abu Dhabi, which are ideal if you are traveling for a honeymoon or a vacation with a loved one.
For Meat Eaters
If you are an adventurous eater, then you may be interested in trying camel meat, which is a familiar and much-loved meat in Abu Dhabi. One of the reasons it is so popular is that it is a healthy option as it is filled with vitamin C and is relatively low in calories. Additionally, as there are so many camels in the area, camel meat is one of the most affordable options in Abu Dhabi.
Stuffed camel is one of the most renowned Emirati dishes and is often served in wedding ceremonies. This dish is comprised of a whole camel, that is then stuffed with lamb, chicken, eggs, fish, and rice.
For something slightly smaller, you can try a camel stir-fry, a camel burger, or have the meat be a topping on your pizza. Alternatively, in Abu Dhabi, you can find camel chocolate and camel milk for a sweeter treat.
When it comes to fine dining in Abu Dhabi, there is no denying that a meal at one of the city’s top steakhouses is required. As there are a variety of options to choose from, you want to ensure that you are going to one that will provide the type of experience you require.
The finest steakhouses in Abu Dhabi only serve the top three grades of steak (Prime, Choice, and Select) and offer them in a range of cuts, including ribeye, filet mignon, New York strip, T-bone, and Porterhouse. The type of steak you choose to order depends on your personal preference and how tender you prefer your meat to be. As customer service is unparalleled in Abu Dhabi, you can speak with your waiter to ensure that your preferences are met.
As the UAE is a Muslim country, pork is not consumed by the local population. While non-Muslims can eat pork in specific restaurants, you won’t find it on many menus. However, when they are available, these dishes will be cooked separately from non-pork dishes.
As in many parts of the world, brunch in Abu Dhabi is an integral part of everyone’s week. In the UAE, the weekend falls on a Friday and Saturday, so brunch usually happens on Friday afternoon. As they are a combination of breakfast and lunch, these meals are typically offered from noon to 4 pm. One of the best brunches in Abu Dhabi can be found at Boa Steakhouse as it features a special a la carte menu and free-flowing house beverages.
As Friday brunch is a popular meal, it is recommended that you make your reservations in advance to be sure that you can get a table.
Dessert is an essential component of every mealtime in Abu Dhabi and another area where you can expand your taste buds. Luqaimat is the preferred dessert of many locals. These are petite fried dough balls that are flavored with sesame seeds and date syrup. Khabeesa is made from roasted flour bread crumbs that are combined with sugar, rose water, cardamom, saffron, ghee (clarified butter), and crushed dates.
For those travelers with a sweet tooth consider trying these places for incredible desserts in Abu Dhabi:
- Godiva Chocolate Cafe
- Sugar Factory
If you want to drink while you are in Abu Dhabi, you will be required to obtain an alcohol permit from a licensed venue, such as an African + Eastern store. To be granted the 30-day permit, you must be over 21 years old and non-Muslim. When you arrive at the licensed venue, you will need to fill out some paperwork and show your passport. Keep in mind that even with the permit, you are not allowed to drink alcoholic beverages in public places.
Also, you can buy alcoholic drinks from licensed establishments such as restaurants and hotel bars. Abu Dhabi has many places that offer happy hour discounts, which are highly recommended for more reasonably priced drinks.
In Abu Dhabi, tipping is not expected but is common. Many fine-dining restaurants will include a service charge (customarily around 10%) and a tourism levy (6%), which will be incorporated into the menu prices. That being said, if you are pleased with your service, it is customary to leave a tip on top of those included charges. If the restaurant has not included those charges, consider adding 10-15% of the bill as a tip.
Many visitors like to experience the local food by taking a dinner cruise along the Corniche of Abu Dhabi. You will climb aboard a traditional dhow boat and enjoy the seas from the upper deck. By including this in your Abu Dhabi itinerary, you can savor the flavors of Emirati cooking while taking in incredible views of the Persian Gulf.
Another option is to take a food tour, as it is the best way to learn more about the food culture of Abu Dhabi. During your food tour, a local professional will guide you around the city, taking you to eateries that you wouldn’t necessarily find through your own research. For travelers, this is a fantastic way to ensure that you are maximizing your time in the city because you can be assured that everything you taste comes recommended by those in the know! Throughout the food tour, you can ask your guide questions about Emirati cuisine and culture, making it an educational and delicious experience.
Moreover, desert safaris are another avenue for you to have a cultural and foodie experience. On a desert safari, you will learn about the traditional Bedouin culture while taking part in activities such as camel riding, hot air ballooning, sandboarding, dune buggy riding, dune bashing, and quad biking. Additionally, you can expect to be entertained with belly dancing and falconry while you enjoy shisha smoking and local cuisine.
Due to their popularity, there are plenty of companies to choose from when it comes to booking your desert safari, and many offer different experiences. You may want to spend a night sleeping in the desert or do a full-day excursion that starts in the early morning. Keep in mind that taking a desert safari in the evening will enable you to witness a beautiful sunset over the dunes.
As you can tell, there are plenty of options for curating your ideal food experience in Abu Dhabi. From fine-dining options to cultural experiences, must-try street-food to innovative fusion cuisine, this is a city with a thriving food scene.
If you are planning a trip to Abu Dhabi any time soon, make sure to keep all of these considerations in mind when planning your itinerary!
Have you ever been to Abu Dhabi? Do you have any more recommendations to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!