Food & Drink

The cultural diversity of the population is reflected in the vast range of culinary delights available in the country. Anything from Mexican and Asian fusion to an English roast dinner is available. Most of the popular restaurants are in hotels, where alcoholic drinks are also served. Some of the tastiest food can be found in the small streetside cafeterias, where two people can often feast on less than Dhs.50. Fast food fans searching for the familiar will also find McDonalds, Burger King, KFC and Subway – the latter three all offering home delivery.

When it comes to food shopping, there are a number of supermarkets that stock many international brands. French chain Carrefour is one of the largest with a huge selection, while LuLu Hypermarket and Co-op stores offer similar choice and are popular with those on a budget. Spinneys, Abela and Waitrose are more expensive but sell an excellent range of British, South African and American food.

Pork is taboo in Islam. Muslims should not eat, prepare or even serve pork. In order for a restaurant to serve pork on its menu, it should have a separate fridge, preparation equipment and cooking area. It also needs a specific licence. In restaurants where bacon appears on a menu, you will usually be served beef or veal bacon. Supermarkets that sell pork are also required to do so from a separate area clearly labelled for ‘non-Muslims’. These are more common in areas with high expat concentrations. Outlets of Spinneys, Choithrams and Park n Shop all have pork sections within their stores. As pork is not locally produced you will find that it’s more expensive than other meats. All meat products for Muslim consumption have to be halal, which refers to the method of slaughter.

Alcohol is widely available in hotels plus a few leisure clubs, such as golf clubs and sports clubs, and the very occasional non-hotel bar/restaurant. During Ramadan, alcohol is only served after sunset, and there are ‘dry’ nights before certain public holidays. Officially you need a liquor licence to buy, transport or even consume alcohol, whether at home or at a hotel; you must also be a non-Muslim resident. Alcohol is sold at specially-licensed stores across the UAE. Sharjah is the only dry state in the UAE, and alcohol is not sold or served in any hotels there. If drinking, always be mindful that you are in a Muslim country; drunken behaviour is not tolerated, neither is drink-driving.

Also known as hookah pipes, hubbly bubbly or nagile, smoking the traditional shisha (water pipe) is a popular pastime throughout the Middle East. Shisha pipes can be smoked with a variety of flavours, such as strawberry, grape, mint or apple. Unlike a normal cigarette or cigar, the smoke is softened by the water, although it still causes smoking-related health problems (1g of shisha smoke has 100 times the tar content of a cigarette). Smoking shisha is an enjoyable experience but it’s wise not to make it a habit. During Ramadan, when Iftar tents are erected throughout cities, shisha smoking is particularly popular.

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