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.


10 Things You MUST do in Pondicherry

This is the winning entry for the Prismma Holiday 2014 contest

(Fortnight of 10-23 March 2014)

In our fast-paced lives, we are always hard-pressed for time. Long vacations are a luxury that even money can’t buy. This is primarily why we must learn to “pack a lot in a little”. With this post, I flag off the 10-Things-Series for the benefit of those who wish to “do-it-all” in the limited time that they can prize out for a trip.

My 2-day trip to Pondy and Auroville seemed short while I was planning it, but turned out to be just right for all the things I set out to do. Here’s a list of things you MUST experience when you find yourself in Puducherry:-

1. Sample the French Cuisine:

Pondicherry isn’t called the ‘French Riviera of the East’ for nothing! There are cosy restaurants on every other lane and most eateries have French dishes on their menu. Ensure at least one meal you have here is unfailingly Français (pronounced fhaan-say). Though vegetarian options are limited (most French delicacies have at least one martyred animal), this cuisine can hold its own against most cuisines that have plenty to offer the herbivores. Here’s what yours truly ate:-

Ratatouille with bread

Ratatouille with bread

2. Sip on some Fine Wine:

When all the eating is done, can the drink be far behind? The French dining experience remains incomplete without wine. Although Puducherry is not the most famous wine-producing area in India, it imports good wines from across the country and the world. I had a glass of dry Shiraz Rose` which held its acidity boldly against the spicy rice dish that my companion ordered.

Some rose wine to wash down the food

Some rose wine to wash down the food

3. Walk on the Soft Sands: 

Pondy has a beautiful coastline which can be marvelled at from a number of beaches. The Bay of Bengal gleams like a bed of blue sapphires under the setting sun. Promenade Beach is among the better known beaches that skim the posh French side of this city. It is advisable to err on the conservative side while dressing for the waters as there are rarely any sunbathers on the beaches here.

By the Promenade Beach

By the Promenade Beach

4. Ride on a Rustic Rickshaw:

This city is so small that a pair of legs is all you need to travel from one end to the other. For those who’re not very fond of walking, there are bicycles and auto-rickshaws. There’s also the occasional yellow oh-so-French Vespa that zips by. But what makes Pondy so charming is the cycle-rickshaw! Taking this open-roof, doorless ‘green’ vehicle is an incredible way to savour this beautiful city.

Riding on a cycle-rickshaw

Riding on a cycle-rickshaw

5. Look out of a French Window:

The bungalows and buildings in Pondy are indulgent in the way they go all out to to appear French. Apart from the omnipresence of the colour yellow, it is the windows that are strikingly French in their appearance. It is highly recommended to have your afternoon tea by the window so you can appreciate how architecture can make time move slowly.

Let there be light!

Let there be light!

6. Visit a Nursery in Auroville:

Much has been written about the environmentally sustainable ways of Auroville, but to truly be one with nature, one must spend a few hours in the homes of young plants (a.k.a. nurseries). The oxygen I breathed here is one of the purest I’ve breathed in India. Of course, the purity comes not only from the plants but also the committed people that work towards building this universal township.

This nursery has a “green” sky!

7. Stay in a French Bungalow: 

Don’t miss the opportunity of staying at one of the few boutique hotels in White Town (French side of Pondicherry). I stayed at  Le Dupleix, but you can also consider The Promenade (a Hidesign hotel). Most of the residences are spacious, with wooden flooring and glass-walled bathrooms (perfect for honeymooners 😉 ). My hotel had tables laid out on the patio for open-air dining.


View from my French castle

8. Eat Creole, Vietnamese and Italian:

You don’t have to do everything only the French-way! The restaurants in Pondy can serve up some mean spreads from several other cuisines that you’ll only be too glad to tuck into! Off the top of my head, I can tell you they offer Punjabi, Moghulai and South Indian fares. And, I have personally tried Creole (available only at Le Dupleix), Italian (there’s hardly a place that doesn’t serve Italiano! 😀 ) and Vietnamese (served only at Le Vietnam). Pondy is a gourmand’s paradise in every sense of the word!

Mmm... smells of Vietnam!

Mmm… smells of Vietnam!

9. Spend a Lazy Evening at a Cafe`:

The cafe scene is quite evolved in this Union Territory. The beachfront has a string of cafes that let one ‘do absolutely nothing’. Pondicherry is a place best enjoyed by doing nothing in particular while you let the sea-breeze stroke your face. Le Cafe is the most famous of all the cafes around. But don’t let that stop you from going off the beaten path to experience other little-known cafes.

Conical roofs of a quaint restaurant

Conical straw-roofs of a quaint cafe (Madam Shante’s)

10. Join the Local Activists:

I happened to come across a number of activists on the beach-promenade on St. Bastille’s Day. I gladly took this opportunity to create some awareness about vegetarianism and it benefits. To catch the jamboree and jollity of Bastille’s Day, plan your trip around 14th July.

Vegetarian is the way to go!

Vegetarian is the way to go!

And finally, when you have done all of the above, let me know if my advice was worth it! 🙂