We can sometimes be anxious and hesitant about trying new food, especially if it has ingredients we have never heard of before. Even if we are curious to try different foods, many times, while eating out, we stick to the food we know. I am ashamed to admit that we had never delved deeper into Emirati food in five years of living in Dubai. Of course, we have tried local food here and there but never had a food tour or explanations of what we ate. However, last weekend, we had an extraordinary cultural food experience. We had a chance to taste Emirati local food prepared with love just for us.
Last Friday, our friend made a tasty surprise for us. She sent us homemade traditional Emirati food — Biryani Maleh. That was a feast!
We got a huge pot of a special dish for lunch. Biryani Maleh mainly consists of steamed long-grain Basmati rice and maleh (salted fish) with a blend of traditional Emirati spices. The dish represents the resourcefulness of the Bedouins and the spice and rice trade with India. So much heritage can be found in one recipe.
I have never heard about maleh before. Apparently, however, it is one of the Emirati wonders. Maleh means preserved fish. The name originates from the word “milh,” which in Arabic means salt. It was a natural way to preserve fish back in those days when refrigerators did not exist.
The preparation of maleh takes from three to six months. First, the fish is cleaned. The head is cut off, and the fish is sliced into pieces. Salt is then sprinkled all over. Finally, the fish is left in a box to absorb all the spices and salt. The sun’s heat is an essential factor as it helps to cook the fish and absorb the salt. Nowadays, there are factories that dry and marinate the fish in special machines. However, there are still many locals preparing this Emirati food at home in the traditional way.
It was so good—such a mouthwatering dish with a unique flavor! Eating it in a restaurant just wouldn’t be the same. The food was so special because it was created and sent by Emirati people who have been part of the culture for many years. I was reminded again of what a difference a personal touch makes.
We are so grateful for such an extraordinary cultural food experience. It awakened our curiosity, and now we are eager to try some other local dishes too. I would like to further embrace the culture of this region. It is time to discover more traditional Emirati dishes that are rich both in taste and ingredients.
Food is the ingredient that binds us together. Let’s taste and celebrate good food, friendship, and cultural diversity.