Hospitality is a highly prized virtue of the Arab world, and you will encounter a warm welcome in Sharjah. The fabled hospitality of the region stems from the culture of the desert, where the graciousness and generosity of others enabled inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula to survive thirst, hunger and sudden raids, and infrequent travellers were hailed as the sole source of news and information.
Guests are traditionally welcomed with Arabic coffee (gahwa), infused with cardamom and saffron, and served with fresh dates. Coffee is poured from the long-spouted Arabian coffee pot known as a dallah into small cups. You can accept one, two or three cups; to signal you have had enough, shake the cup gently from side to side and return it to the server. Incense is customarily burnt to scent houses and clothes, with the burner passed around so guests can lean forward and draw in the fragrance.
The traditional cuisine of the UAE is influenced by the hearty meat stews of the desert-dwelling Bedouin tribes and seafood from fishing communities along the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Reflecting the UAE’s centuries-old trading heritage, dishes are flavoured with spices such as cardamom, cumin and turmeric. Bread and rice are staples, as flour and rice were easier to carry across the desert than fresh fruit and vegetables. In some areas, oases fed by natural water sources and ancient aflaj irrigation systems allowed for the farming of fruits and vegetables, including dates, figs and maize.
Typical Emirati dishes include maleh (salt-cured fish), machboos (a spiced meat and rice dish similar to biryani), saloona (chicken or fish stew flavoured with bezar spice mix) and luqaimat (fried dough balls drizzled with date syrup). At home, Emiratis often prefer the traditional style of eating, which is sitting on the floor and using the right hand.
Traditional clothing is an important part of the history and heritage of the UAE and a matter of deep-rooted pride for locals. You will see Emirati men wearing the kandura, a white ankle-length robe also known as a dishdash. A gahfia (small skull cap) is worn under the guttrah headdress, and this is held in place by an igal, a black rope-like cord.
Emirati women, meanwhile, wear a long flowing black gown known as the abaya over their clothes, and the majority wear a sheila (scarf) to cover their hair. You may also see some of the older generation wearing a burqa that covers the eyebrows, nose and mouth, originally worn by Bedouin women for protection from the harsh desert climate. Henna is also very popular. Originally used for its naturally cooling effect on the skin in the desert climate, the herbal paste is applied to the hands and feet as decoration, often in elaborate patterns.