Relax after your meal with a traditional Arabic coffee. (Photo: Alamy)
Contrary to popular belief, drinking alcohol isn’t prohibited in Abu Dhabi — but public consumption of it is, and restaurants, bars and cafés serving alcohol need a license to do so. But instead of limiting themselves to a select few places that serve alcohol, most tourists choose to forego booze and try the UAE’s popular local beverages.
Most traditional drinks in the UAE revolve around tea and coffee. Because of its cosmopolitan culture, the UAE has adopted drinks from other Middle Eastern and subcontinental countries, as well. We’ve rounded up the five local drinks you must try in Abu Dhabi.
Gahwa — Arabic Coffee
Gahwa, or Arabic coffee as it’s popularly known, is the UAE’s welcome drink. Served in every Emirati household, it’s the first drink tourists looking to explore traditional beverages should try. Gahwa is brewed in a beautiful coffee pot called a “dallah” and is served in small cups along with dates.
Gahwa is a favorite among the coffee lovers of Abu Dhabi — expats and locals alike. You’ll find it on menus in every Arabic restaurant and café.
Sulaimani — Mint and Lemon Tea
Brewed to a beautiful, golden brown color, Sulaimani tea is the perfect drink to savor after a heavy meal. Made from loose tea, cardamom, lemon and mint leaves, this sweet, tangy tea refreshes tired tourists instantly. If you’re trying local cuisine, ask for a Sulaimani after your meal, and you’ll be served in a clear glass with a mint leaf floating on top. If you’re out and about, try a local café or tea shop.
Karak Chai — Indian Tea
Karak means “strong” in Hindi. Considering the rich blend of loose tea and milk that comprises karak chai, the drink is aptly named. This subcontinental brew is a staple with both locals and expats. Mashal Abbasi, an Abu Dhabi resident, recommends the karak chai served at City Restaurant.
“It’s a classic! City Restaurant is near the fruit and vegetable market at Mina and is one of the oldest restaurants in the city,” Abbasi says. “While you’re there, try their Oman Chips sandwich, too. It’s the perfect snack to have with your karak chai.”
Another place you’ll find Karak Chai is at Yadoo’s House on Al Murror Street. “Yadoo’s House literally means “your grandmother’s house,” and they serve the most amazing cup of tea with delectable dates in silver pots in a very traditional setting,” declares Ayesha Bawany, an avid chai lover.
Another cold drink that refreshes on a hot day is jallab — a fruit syrup made from grape molasses, dates and rose water. The drink is made by diluting the syrup in water and garnishing it with crushed ice, pine nuts and golden raisins. Jallab is most popular during Ramadan when Muslims are fasting from dawn to dusk and need drinks that will keep them hydrated throughout the day. The Jallab at Ouzi House Restaurant in Baniyas is a local favorite.
Laban — Yogurt-Based Drink
Because Abu Dhabi is a desert city, locals need drinks that keep them cool in the summer. Laban, a salty, yogurt based drink, is the beverage of choice for kids and adults alike in those steamy months.
Best drunk cold, laban not only keeps the body cool, but boosts the immune system and is loaded with calcium, proteins and vitamins — the ultimate health drink. While most restaurants serve laban, it’s most popular in a pre-packaged forms. You’ll find supermarkets across the city loaded with bottles of laban. Pick one by any company — they’re all universally delicious. Stocking up on them is a good idea when sightseeing — especially in the summer.