What makes Emirati food, Emirati? Why is it important to understand local culture, history and the national communit7? Food helps to tell and understand the UAE history and its rapid changes: recipes have been created and adapted considering the landscape and commerce and, in the past decades, the access to ingredients brought by the development of the country. Cars, roads, refrigerators, and the arrival of foreigners explain the recipe´s variation between mountain, coast and oasis, and how open (or not) certain communities are to innovation in their traditional dishes. In the UAE, Emirati food is presented as culturally important, in three main ways: 1) as a common ground of multicultural conviviality; 2) as gateway for introducing and teaching Emirati culture to foreigners, and 3) as a heritage to be celebrate and preserved.
A national cuisine is always continuously evolving, while it is possible to identify certain patterns of ingredients, flavours and techniques that would build an identity. The UAE is a young nation, and their cuisine is not yet fully consolidated. While we can find a number of dishes considered traditional and a clear differentiation between a home-based familiar kitchen and the Emirati food as is presented in restaurants, there´s no agreement regarding which is the national dish. Different institutions and Tourism and Culture Authorities have embraced projects of promoting Emirati food, together with well-known Emirati chefs, but results were uneven. A more coordinated effort between government and local restaurants is much needed to consolidate an Emirati National Cuisine.
Dr. Eloísa Martín, Associate Professor of Sociology. College of Humanities and Social Sciences, United Arab Emirates University