I just returned from visiting my mum in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates. Our trip took us to nearby Dubai and Al Ain as well. I must admit that I knew pitifully little about the region’s history, culture and politics before. This experience has allowed me to gain insight into a fascinating, seemingly insular society. It’s definitely the most exotic destination among my travels.

On our first day trip to Dubai, we arrived just in time for lunch at the obscenely huge Dubai Mall. Our choice was a Lebanese restaurant called Wafi Gourmet, where I got my first taste of Middle Eastern cuisine:

The friendly, smartly-dressed service staff impressed me.

Love the rich blue embossed menu, which offsets the dusty hues of the desert so well.

A chef in charge of the meat kebabs  (they smelled really good when they were sizzling!)

Along the waterfront outside the restaurant (Dubai and Abu Dhabi have the clearest, most sparkling turquoise waters I’ve ever seen).

We were served some sort of pufffy pita bread with a variety of salads like tabouleh and fattoush. The array of ingredients that went into them is occasionally strange-sounding (bulgur wheat, toasted pita bread) but surprisingly tasty. They are highly seasoned with herbs and lemon juice, making for a tangy, addictive palatte. If you thought salads were boring, you haven’t tried Middle Eastern ones.

We then had a platter of grilled meats including lamb, beef and chicken, which are marinated in spices. Middle Eastern food is also characterized by its variety of flatbreads like naan, lavash and pita. My favourite one is zaatar, a round bun sprinkled on top with herbs, spices and sesame seeds, which I like to have for breakfast. Breads are commonly served with dips like baba ghanoush (eggplant) and hummus/ hoummos (chickpea). The rice is of the basmati sort and is very flavourful, but we didn’t have it with this meal.

Drinks include black Arabic coffee (very strong and heady), mint lemonade (oh-so-refreshing) and avocado shake (decadently, lip-smackingly rich). There’s nothing better than a chilled beverage to stave off the blistering heat.

What a great way to start our Middle Eastern adventure (with a kick to our taste buds)!