I never expected my first visit to the UAE to be a foodie trip at the time, yet, to this date, it remains home to some of my most memorable eating experiences through the years. This includes my introduction to ‘Arabic’ food, along with other unlikely and unexpected food experiences, like a camel curry at Al Fahidi’s ‘Local House’ restaurant, and it’s hard to forget an evening of shisha and grilled meats at a Bedouin camp in the deserts of Dubai. And while the UAE is better known these days for its wealth and extravagance in dining, there are still some rather unique and intriguing eating experiences to find in Abu Dhabi to add to your list.
Grab a Camel Burger
As in my introduction with a camel curry, camel meat is fairly common in the UAE where the preferable cuts of meat come from the legs of this humped beast. So camel burgers are a thing, and to showcase both the unlikely staple and the wealth of the UAE, the most extravagant camel burger has to be at the Emirates Palace where the burger is served with Arabic pickles, bread, and it is topped with 24-carat gold dust. Would you like some tabbouleh and chickpea fries with that?
Lamb Madfoon (and Testicles)
Lamb Madfoon is a staple in the Gulf region and is easy enough to track down at a number of Abu Dhabi Restaurants. But few places do it better than at the Saudi Cuisine VIP Hotel in Abu Dhabi where the lamb is cooked under the ground, for hours, and is only served when the meat is dripping from the bone. As expected, the meat is deliciously tender and tasty, and it at the hotel it is compulsory to eat with your hands (no forks or spoons) while sat bedouin style on a goatskin rug. Alternatively, for something slightly more interesting, this speciality includes tasty lamb testicles at the Al Safadi Restaurant!
A Lengthy Pizza
Spacanapoli is a rather unique Italian restaurant where you order your pizza according to length with the minimum size starting at a meagre half-a-meter. To put that into perspective for us imperial folk that would be around 20-inches at its smallest. Fortunately, they do also have big long tables to accommodate these giant pizza feasts. Alternatively, for the more competitive eater, there is always the opportunity for a free 20-inch pizza at the Azur, given you can eat it all in 15-minutes.
Slimy Sea Cucumbers
The delightful speciality is found at the Shang Palace where the prize ingredient on the menu is sea cucumber, a marine animal that looks a bit like a giant slug. Not something you’d be quick to eat. But it does have health benefits, and at the Shang Palace, this somewhat bizarre sea creature finds its way to the plate braised and sliced, although, for those not fussed for the slimy body and rather off-putting smell, there is also the option of cooking sauces to make the sea cucumber a more palatable meal.
Fried Baby Sparrows, Please
This is in fact a Lebanese Delicacy, where, in Lebanon, they will consume the entire birds including the head and bones. Anyway, in Abu Dhabi, people will flock to the Byblos Sur Mer restaurant to feast on fried baby sparrows, only the chefs do take care to remove the heads, and also ensure a thorough cleansing of the insides. Before serving the baby sparrows are sauteed in a sweet-tasting, pomegranate-infused sauce. Bon Apetit!
Fancy Some Tandushi?
The Zari Zardozi restaurant serves a rather inventive dish titled ‘Tandushi’ which brings together tasty tandoori chicken, with seaweed and sushi rice, to create a rather unlikely fusion of spicy Indian food and subtle Japanese flavours.