United Arab Emirates Essay

Food Culture in UAE


The culture of the United Arab Emirates has changed over the last few decades. After the discovery of oil in the mid-20th century, the country has grown from its original fishing-based economy to a tourism and international trading hub in the Middle East. The intensity of trading has brought together people from different cultures and the country has had to adjust its culture to accommodate the new cosmopolitan population. Today, the country hosts many tourists of diverse cultural backgrounds every year, making it necessary for them to adjust to new trends and accommodate them. Traditionally comprising of majorly Muslim population, the UAE had its culture, including their food based on their faith. While the state of Islam has not changed much, much of their cultural trends have changed to become more westernized and accommodating to some of their practices. However, they have held their core cultural beliefs in place and have established their ethical standards for their visitors. Current paper identifies some of the changes that the UAE society has allowed in their food culture.

Setting while Eating

The United Arab Emirates’ community was based on Islamic practices. One of these practices is that people ate together as a family and any person visiting the family would be invited during meals. However, this practice has been abandoned, especially by the younger generation. While families would traditionally live together and share households, the case is different today because people no longer live with their families. Economic needs have increased beyond food and they are separated as they search for money and better lives. Therefore, many young people live away from their parents and live alone, making it only ideal for themselves to take their meals alone. Furthermore, the young UAE population is occupied in jobs and they cannot afford to come together during meals and take it as a group. The trends have changed today and unlike the traditional pattern where only men were breadwinners and were expected to financially provide for their families, everyone with energy is today involved. Therefore, they work in shifts and their jobs may not allow them to come together and share meals. At the same time, there are many foreigners in the UAE who are not bound with dining rules, which are more formal and are seen as a way of socializing. These new immigrants have introduced their cultures and keep fragmenting the culture of the original UAE residents.

Limited Food Choices

The traditional setting of the UAE society was based on family structure. Food was served at an extended level and people would eat the same food. It was a part of the etiquette for visitors to adhere to these small rules of dining as they would not allow alcohol and pork in their meals. People visiting the nation today still face the same rules although there are several adjustments to the modern world. While it was traditionally regarded as a poor fishing nation before the discovery of oil, the UAE has changed this and opened up to the rest of the world. Traditionally, fish was main food and people did not have many choices, but this is no longer the case as different foods from all over the world have found their way into the society. European, American, and even African foods have been introduced to cater for many immigrants and the UAE populations has embraced these foods and accepted them. They have consequently abandoned their traditional fish-based meals because they did not have choices and they can now choose the food they are comfortable with or the one they can afford to pay for.

Introduction of New Components in the Diet

Traditionally, the United Arab Emirates did not allow any drinking of alcohol either after meals or for fun. It was considered as illegal and was punishable whenever one was found drinking or in possession of alcohol. However, with many changes in the population composition, especially tourists who visit the country every year, alcohol is slowly getting integrated in the nation. Although it is highly regulated and has adversely strict rules, it is today possible to drink inside the UAE, something that was completely not allowed in the past. There are other foods such as pork that have not managed to break into the UAE society even with many tourists who visit the country every year.

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Traditionally, food was sought and taken in groups. Exercises such as fishing were very communal and food was served for whole families, at times extending to some members of the extended family. This has however changed today and there is little communal work in looking for food today. Today, people are keen to look for food for their families and there has been little consideration of neighbors and extended families. The sense of communalism has slowly thawed and been replaced by a more individualistic sense in food culture.

A Shift in Places of Eating

The people of the United Arab Emirates were respectful to family and such settings and would only eat their food with their families. However, modern developments have changed these settings and more people are frequenting into restaurants where they take their foods alone. The trend of eating food in set atmospheres has changed and the emergence of fast food places has crashed this system to allow people to take their food anywhere and in a manner that is not as organized as it used to be in the traditional times.

Food Preparation

As mentioned earlier, food was family-based. This traditional setting dictated roles played by every family member and the system provided order and responsibilities within families and by extension the entire society. Food was an important part of the setting and men were tasked with seeking for food and women would prepare it. It was rare to find a man preparing food for the family. However, this trend has changed and there is a different approach as wives are no longer tasked with preparation of food. This new role has been left to house managers who are employed to take care of children and manage the house for the entire family. This is a big change because marriages were based on such responsibilities as wives preparing food for their husbands and children. The new trend is that even women are involved in employment, are economically productive, and are expected to work as hard as men, which is why their roles in the family have also changed and they are not always available to prepare the meals. They have resolved the problem by seeking people to prepare the meals for them and they hire other women to take the responsibility. In some homes, especially of richer individuals, they hire professional chefs who are supposed to prepare food for their families.

Food Availability

During the earlier years, food was sought locally from fishing in the sea and farms. People spent a lot of time looking for food and the country was poor; hence, there was very little importation of food. Camel meat was also common because this is the main animal that survives in deserts. This has changed today and the UAE residents can get food from all over the world. Since the country is more of a desert and few foods are found there, they now import food from all over the world as long as it does not contravene their eating habits and traditions that they refer to as Halal. They population does not entirely rely on their local food and have diversified their diets.

The traditional setting allowed for men to seek for food that would be eventually eaten in their families. Therefore, most of this food was not preserved and was taken fresh either from their slaughter or from their small farms. This has however changed today as food that is imported is usually preserved in cans and some chemicals are used in the process. While traditional foods were fresh, modern food is sourced from far and is therefore preserved to reach the markets. Furthermore, the locals no longer spend much of their time looking for food in exercises such as fishing. There are many grocery outlets and food selling places that enable the population to just buy food instead of looking for it.

The United Arab Emirates is located inside a desert and there is a limited number of crops that can grow there. People therefore have a problem with their local diet, which is confined to just few crops and meat. This was a big deficiency in their traditional food as they were not able to have fruits and some nuts in their diets. Modern food is however very different as they have access to avocados, apples, and oranges among other foods from all over the world. The population is financially empowered and they can easily purchase fruits that are today included in their diets, which was not the case in their traditional foods. Tourists who visit the country are also particular about their diet and fruits are among the most sought items among these visitors. As local citizens seek to meet the needs of their visitors, they also adopt their way of eating and have accepted many fruits in their modern diets.


A change in the composition of a society as well as the change in their economic activities can lead to change in their culture. This was evident in the UAE where the discovery of oil led to a change in the economic capability of the individuals. The immigrants led to a change in the UAE residents’ native practices including their food culture. Despite the changes, there still remain core guidelines for the food culture among United Arab Emirates natives due to their strong religious beliefs. With the economic development still growing in the country, and increasing number of visitors both as tourists and as workers, the food culture might continue to change into the unforeseeable future.

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