Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine


A journey to any new place is incomplete until you’ve eaten what the locals eat. If you have been following my recent blogposts on Sharjah, you must have guessed that I’d have had my fill of Emirati cuisine. I am a big eater, and was easily tempted by the interesting dishes served up before me while I stayed there.

Don't fall for the typical English breakfast trap!

Don’t fall for the typical English breakfast trap!

Perhaps the worst thing to do on any foreign trip is to stick to what you know and what you’ve always been eating. Life is too short to waste your time on the same dishes everyday and every vacation. Let your tastebuds explore new countries through their cuisines! When you heap up your plate with the complimentary breakfast at your hotel, don’t follow the crowd to the egg and toast counter. Instead, take spoonfuls of the new items you’ve never tried before. You’ll love yourself for giving your palate a break!

Keep Your Date With Arabic Coffee

In Sharjah (read – Sharjah at First Sight), I would begin my mornings with a cup of Arabic coffee and a date. I like my coffees strong – without milk or sugar. I love the raw flavour of the brew. Emiratis have a habit of chewing on a date while they take their coffee. This eliminates the need to add any sweetening agent to your beverage. Dates are a beloved accompaniment also for teas. And the dates you get in this part of the world are undeniably the best! I have never seen so much variety in colour, size, succulency and sweetness in the dates which are imported to my country.

Introduction To A Full Course Emirati Meal

Middle East has so many dishes on offer that your plate will not be able to hold them all!

Middle East has so many dishes on offer that your plate will not be able to hold them all!

All of my lunches and dinners in Sharjah during the annual Light Festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival) were elaborate affairs. They would begin with some soup and salad, and follow on to the mains, and finally, end with an array of desserts. My routine during those 5 days was to eat, explore the city, eat again, see the light festival, eat some more, and finally hit the bed! I had gained so much weight that I was really looking forward to my upcoming hiking vacation (read – Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone).

Middle Eastern Dips & Salads

Salads and dips to whet your appetite

Salads and dips to whet your appetite

Middle Eastern salads are among the most nutritious, with an abundance of greens, chickpeas, eggplant and pomegranate. Fattoush is a healthy mix of vegetables and toasted flat-bread which adds a nice crunch to your mezze. Parsley lovers should give tabbouleh a try. You will be surprised to learn that foul madamas, a dish made of fava beans, which looks like something you’d have for dinner, is a breakfast staple here. When you are in Sharjah or any of its surrounding towns (read – Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret), don’t return unless you’ve had a ladle full of their delicious dips – hummus, mutabbal and baba ghanoush. Baba Ghanoush is similar to mutabbal (both have eggplant), except that it has pomegranate and parsley also. Mutabbal, on the other hand, is yogurt-based. All the three dips have tahini – a paste of powdered sesame seeds.

Breaking Bread in UAE

After you pick up some pita and other breads, it's time to get some pickles!

After you pick up some pita and other breads, it’s time to get some pickles!

With the dips, you will need some bread. There are several varieties of Arabic pita, naans and phulkas. The breads are rarely plain; they mostly come spiced with some thyme and sumac for enhanced flavour. Many restaurants will serve unlimited hummus and bread with their compliments when you order the mains. These breads are best enjoyed warm. So, if your bread has turned cold and chewy, ask for your breadbasket to be replaced.

Tickle Your Tastebuds With Some Pickle

So many pickles, you'll be spoilt for choice!

So many pickles, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

You can have bread not just with Arabic dips but also pickles. Emirati pickles are not like Indian pickles which are mostly fruit-based. They eat a lot of pickled olives (both green and black), jalapenos, carrots and cucumber. Another interesting accompaniment is the labneh – a sour Arabic cheese which is balled up and pickled, sometimes, also with zaatar – powdered herbs.

A Whole Meal

A vegetarian Emirati fare - Arabic bread, fattoush, baba ghanoush and mutabbal with some eggplant

A vegetarian Emirati fare – Arabic bread, fattoush, baba ghanoush and mutabbal with some eggplant

As a vegetarian gourmand, I am always looking to satiate my hunger for local food without compromising on my dietary choices. It is a myth that Emirati cuisine is mostly about meats. Yes, they do have a lot of exotic meat dishes (including camel-based dishes where an entire camel is stuffed with Levantine dips and condiments and cooked), but there is a plethora of vegan-friendly items one can have! You will notice the generous use of brinjal and olive oil, as many of their dishes are borrowed from the countries on the eastern side the Mediterranean Sea (Egypt, Syria, etc.). If you stay away from the meats, you will find that Arabic food is a healthier alternative to most other Asian cuisines. (Olive oil has mono-unsaturated fatty acids, or MUFA, which is much better than other oils used in Asian cooking.)

Indulge Your Sweet Tooth

When I am in UAE, western desserts can wait

When I am in UAE, western desserts can wait

When the mains are done, it’s time for the sweet dish! 🙂 All the 4 and 5 star properties in Sharjah that I dined at had a decent spread of continental desserts – mousses, cakes and chocolate boats, to name a few. The walnuts and almonds used in their plat du jour, however, were the highlight, as those were of a superior quality. The emirates are one of the best places to get your dry fruits from!

Delectable Desserts

Bored of the pastries (which one can find in about any country with ease), I was on a mission to find restaurants that would serve me Sharjah’s authentic desserts (which were playing hard to get). I had the privilege of tasting some unique Middle Eastern desserts at the Tulip Restaurant in Golden Tulip. I relished the Umm Ali (a milk-based pastry-pudding garnished with raisins, cashews and pistachio), Asabe’ Zainab (a hard deep fried semolina-dough drizzled with a sweet syrup), Aish El-Saraya (sweet bread slathered with cream) and  Luqmat al Qadi (honey-coated deep fried morsels) I had there.

 

Another great find was Zahr El-Laymoun by the Sharjah waterfront. Their classic cheesecake was topped with pomegranate seeds and lavender. The Halawat Al Jibn (philo pastry sweet rolls dressed with pomegranate and ground pistachio) was served with some rose water on the side, which was to be poured over the dish just before consumption.

Tea & Cookie After Lunch

The last course after dinner - tea with a ghorayeba cookie

The last course after dinner – tea with a ghorayeba cookie

After a large meal, you need some tea for the food to settle in. My pot of fragrant chamomile tea came with a locally baked ghorayeba biscuit which crumbled with ease in my mouth.

With this, we have come to the end of my Emirati dining experience. I hope you now know that there is more to this cuisine than shawarmas and hummus! 😉

Khor Fakkan - a town in Sharjah where the platter is just as beautiful as the panorama

Khor Fakkan – a town in Sharjah where the platter is just as beautiful as the panorama

Are you vegetarian and skeptical about trying local cuisine? Do you know about more middle eastern dishes which I haven’t tasted? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with all the foodies you know! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Onboard Air Arabia’s A320


I’m not a fan of late night flights, but there is little you can do to control the time you fly out of your home city (Mumbai in my case)  when you wish to arrive at your destination in the morning. I still remember my first flight to Goa over two decades ago, when I was only 4 and my sister, 2. I had thrown up just before the landing, and all the passengers had to leap over the puddle of vomit on the aisle. Those days of free unlimited candies and poor cabin pressure management are long gone. Cut to the present, and one can get an exclusive first class suite and a pre-booked slot for a shower cabin up in the air!

This post, however, is not to highlight the milestones the airline industry has crossed, but to tell you about my in-flight experience on Air Arabia.

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

Chaos at the airport. Sounds familiar?

A Look At Air Arabia’s Hub – Sharjah

The Sharjah airport is nothing to write home about. But this cost-effective hub means the planes landing and taking off from here will have to pay them less, and in turn, your flight tickets will be more affordable (hopefully). Being a low-cost carrier, Air Arabia has no exclusive lounge at this airport. The airport itself is like a fish market, full of commotion and little regard for queues. The staff seems reluctant to help. At the boarding gates, the ladies in charge behave like school teachers trying to tame an unruly class. After a couple of hours at the airport, it is finally time for me to board my plane.

There's nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

There’s nothing like a hot cup of tea to calm your senses!

The Experience Onboard

Our A320 was a nifty aircraft, and I thought my seat in the economy class was fine. I asked for a cup of tea to relax for the next few hours that I’d be airborne. It must have worked, because I slept well. I always carry my eye mask and inflatable neck pillow to catch up on my sleep, which I never seem to get enough of (even on vacations). I was was in Sharjah to cover the light festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival), and I did too much in too little time.

I pick what I'll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I pick what I’ll be reading before the cabin lights are dimmed.

I usually prep my mind to sleep by reading the in-flight magazine and waiting for the plane to go quiet. I previously wrote about my onward trip to Sharjah (read – Flying with Air Arabia), but on my return trip, the excitement had worn off as I wasn’t looking forward to going back to office and continuing with the long hours of work (usual at the investment bank). The air hostess soon cheered me up by getting me some dinner.

Time for Food! 🙂

My vegetable biryani arrives with coconut chutney on the side.

My vegetable biryani arrives with some raita on the side.

My early morning snack on my onward journey was a couple of dosa rolls with a filling of potato and chutney on the side. On my return journey to Mumbai, I had vegetable biryani with some raita. I thought the food was quite appetizing, even if a little too spicy for my palate. The portions were good too. They say that the way to a person’s heart is through her stomach. The rest of my flight seemed smooth after the meal, and the airline’s timing again was perfect! Here’s a selfie from my arrival in Sharjah (the smile is thanks to a full stomach 😉 ):-

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

I land just in time for the middle eastern sunrise!

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret


“Sharjah” – this name would often conjure up an image of a desert with mosques scattered across its parched terrain. I thought this Arab city would be a quick trip – a short walk by the souqs, a desert safari, and I’d have seen pretty much all that this place has to offer. I would realize on my maiden trip to this emirate how wrong I was in my imagination.

Khor Fakkan - beyond the desert plains

Sharjah – beyond the desert plains

Big Surprises Come in Small Packages

On my third day in Sharjah, the plan was to visit the town of Khor Fakkan. Little has been spoken or written about this place which technically is a part of Sharjah, but geographically surrounded by Fujairah. It was a long road journey which took us through the Hajar range of mountains, and well into the emirate of Fujairah.

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Our terrain transforms from plains to mountains

Time-Traveling to the 15th Century

We passed a couple of mosques on our way to Khor Fakkan, but the most striking of all was Al Bidiya – a mosque wrapped in layers of plaster from 1446 AD. This mosque is quite unusual in its architecture as it has four pointed domes – something missing in the modern mosque designs.

We had started ascending the Hajjar Mountains soon enough. And, I knew this when it started to get cold. I wasn’t carrying a jacket as I’d assumed Sharjah would be anything but cold on that sunny afternoon. I did not have the time to hike up those mountains, and I know I’ll have to go back to do just that someday.

We start gaining altitude on the Al Hajar mountains

We start gaining altitude on Al Hajar mountains

Mountain-Top Local Markets

We stopped for a while in a little village to have some Suleimani chai and succulent dates. You will be surprised to know of the amazing variety of fruits and vegetables that are grown in the Emirates, especially around oases. The fertility of the soil varies here. This land is not all dry and barren. Local markets are also where you can bargain well. The friendly shopkeepers will let you taste some of their dry fruits on display when they know you will be buying. Food aside, you can also find warm kaftans and jackets with middle eastern prints as you stroll through the roadside.

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

A fruit market in a village in Fujairah

Seeing the Arabian Sea

As we drove further, our view changed completely! We were driving along the Gulf of Oman, gulping down the dazzling waves of the Arabian Sea with our eyes. Khor Fakkan (which literally means ‘gulf of jaw’) is the only town in Sharjah which lets you see the Gulf of Oman.

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

The Gulf of Oman beckons!

A Bite of Luxury at the Oceanic Hotel

Khor Fakkan’s 4 star Oceanic Resort and Spa was the perfect place to put up my feet and take in the view of the turquoise waters of the Khor Fakkan Beach. Even though alcohol is strictly prohibited all across Sharjah, you will miss none of the beach excitement when you can spend your lazy afternoons sipping on some iced tea and gazing into the horizon before you.

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Chilling at the private beach of the Oceanic Resort at Khor Fakkan

Meandering into Mleiha

A short drive from Khor Fakkan lies the Mleiha Desert. Its sand is distinctive with a touch of orange in the light brown. The Mleiha Archeological Centre is where they study fossils unearthed from this desert. There is a museum here that every kid touring Sharjah must be taken to. It’s quite experiential and informative.

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

We arrive at a gorgeous oasis and see scores of palm trees

Time for Desert Safari

Mleiha is also where you can take a desert safari over the undulating sands. Unlike in Dubai, the experience you have in Sharjah will be more intimate as you won’t have the crowd. This is also a no non-sense desert safari which focuses on nature, and skips the belly dance in the end. Plus, you get to stop at some locations to examine some fossils yourself! (I can already see the paleontologists smiling 😉 )

The smooth sands of Meliha desert are perfect for a safari!

The smooth sands of Mleiha desert are perfect for a safari!

Khor Fakkan and Mleiha may not be Sharjah’s only (open) secrets, but they sure are worth exploring! We often make the mistake of judging a place by the first look or through someone else’s opinion. It is time we went out on our own to discover what popular media won’t tell us. Some secrets are better kept when shared, don’t you think? I’ve let you in on Sharjah’s secret. Won’t you tell me yours?

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Soaking in the breeze of this arid land

Have you also discovered lesser known things about popular places? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who think Sharjah is all about sand! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Flying with Air Arabia


It is past 2 in the night. My brain is only half awake. I cannot quite remember how I dragged my sleep-deprived body out of the waiting chair in front the boarding gate for my Air Arabia flight. I blinked through the aisle of this Airbus A320, found my window seat, took off my sneakers, pulled on my eye-mask and got ready to sleep through my 3 hour flight from Mumbai to Sharjah.

Air Arabia's Airbus A320 - the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Air Arabia’s Airbus A320 – the flying machine that brought me to Sharjah

Because Kids Do It Better!

I was woken suddenly by a bunch of babbling children reminding me to fasten my seat-belt and keep my seat-back upright. Air Arabia’s in-flight safety video is the cutest one I’ve ever watched! I’ve flown with this airline to Moscow before (read – Glimpses of Moscow – A Photo Essay), and I quite enjoyed watching the same clip. I think you should watch it too! 🙂

You Cannot Fly Without Reading At Least One Magazine!

It is hard to fall back into deep sleep once you’ve been woken. I shrugged at my situation and decided to skim through Nawras – Air Arabia’s in-flight magazine. ‘Nawras’ literally means ‘seagull’ in Arabic. The name is so apt for a publication aboard a plane! That month’s edition had stories from the places where Air Arabia flies. You may also want to read about my first impressions of Sharjah – Air Arabia’s hub.

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Ignoring my jet lag with the in-flight magazine

Food and Beverage

Before I could doze off again, the flight attendant brought me my pre-ordered meal of masala dosa and tea. Now, Air Arabia is a low-cost carrier, and its fare does not cover any in-flight meal. But you can buy your grub onboard or online. I really wasn’t hungry as this was way past my dinner time and too early for breakfast. But I never say “no” to food.

Time for some midnight snacking!

Time for some midnight snacking!

We Reached On Time!

I looked out my window, hoping to catch 40 winks before the landing, but I could already see signs of civilization, glittering to signal I should lace up my shoes and fold up my tray table. Sigh! But I perked up, remembering why I was in this emirate – to attend the Sharjah Light Festival (read – Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival).

Bird's-eye view of Sharjah - just before we land

Bird’s-eye view of Sharjah – just before we land

Have you flown with Air Arabia before? I’d like to know your feedback in the comments below!

Do follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures and stories from my travels! Please spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who are looking for pocket-friendly airlines to fly to the UAE! 🙂

Disclosure: My flight to Sharjah was sponsored by Air Arabia. However, all views are entirely my own.

Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival


Winters in Sharjah are special. Not just because the weather is pleasant, but also because Sharjah’s famed light festival is celebrated in that season. With the onset of February, I flew over to this emirate to witness the celebrations which not a lot of tourists are aware of. I’ve brought back pictures and videos for you to enjoy vicariously! 🙂

When water shines and light rains

When water shines and light rains

When to Visit

This 2017, the Sharjah Light Festival was held from 2nd to 11th Feb across 14 locations. Each evening, the drama would unfold after the sun went down. I was fortunate to have good seats before the crowd would normally gather. It helps to get to the spots early, so you can position your cameras and have a clear view.

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall - before the show begins

All eyes on the Sharjah University City Hall – before the show begins

Opening Ceremony

On our first evening, we waited at the University City Hall’s open air amphitheatre for the inaugural show to commence. The heavens had other plans, however! It started pouring, and we had to pack up our camera kits. We did manage to see the scientific marvel the next day. I’ve made a timelapse for you to see a bit of the projection-work in a jiffy:-

Al Noor in the Night

One night, I took a walk around the Khalid Lagoon (read: Sharjah at First Sight) to watch the beautiful Noor mosque lit up in an array of colours. The work of light on this building was so smooth, that the facade appeared to be painted. The paintings would not be still, though. The patterns changed dynamically. Before my mind could feast on one, a new design was laid up before my eyes.

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Khaled lagoon shimmering in the twilight

Where Parks are Golden

Sharjah knows how to build up the tempo to the main attractions during this fest. Even the sprawling gardens become a part of the light festival when they hold tunnels of coloured lights for kids (and adults who are kids at heart 😉 ) to saunter through. The tunnels I crossed zigzagged about the palm trees, making them glow as well.

Light Falls on the Waterfront

Al Majaz is one area you cannot miss when you’re in Sharjah! The promenade along the waterfront makes for a refreshing walk. It’s wonderfully breezy here, and incredibly magical once the skyline is bedecked in jewels of light. The still waters look ethereal as they softly reflect the gleaming towers.

Al Majaz waterfront is silent before the show begins

Al Majaz waterfront is silent in anticipation of the spectacle

Music, Fountains and Lights

The light and water show in front of Al Majaz was perhaps the highlight of my SLF experience! Here’s some footage from my film:-

En Route to Al Qasba

Qanat Al Qasba – the mosque which draws its architectural inspiration from one of the mosques in Oman, is another building of note. It was a sight to behold at night! Its minarets were swathed in golden hues, with emerald at the top. The rest of the building looked a patchwork of ruby and sapphire as the light effects brought colours to this masjid.

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

Al Qasba mosque is bathed in colours

The Story Unfolds at Al Qasba Canal

I stayed till very late at Al Qasba canal. From the bridge, I watched with wonder as the history of Sharjah was told through light and sound works on the buildings on either side of the canal. If you are here during the day, take a boat ride through the lagoons.

Al Qasba waterfront at night

Al Qasba waterfront at night

I know many who complain about the lack of a nightlife in Sharjah. Well, “nightlife” is honestly how you define it. If you are not into drinking and clubbing, this emirate has a soulful display of light-artwork across the city to keep you intoxicated with enchantment!

It all begins when the sun goes down ;-)

It all begins when the sun goes down 😉

Have you been to any light festivals around the world that you’d like to share? Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

Don’t forget to follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures, tips and stories from my travels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with your friends who might be interested in travelling to Sharjah! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.