You can find almost every cuisine under the sun in Dubai, but as an expat, you barely ever see or hear of local Emirati restaurants. That’s why I jumped at the opportunity to try Milas, an Emirati restaurant in Dubai Mall.
I was invited alongside a group of Dubai-based food bloggers for an exclusive tasting of the local ethnic cuisine. The restaurant was sleek and modern with it’s dark interior and accented pieces. The table was set up beautifully, with little messages addressed to each guest, welcoming us home. The name “milas” was inspired by the term “majilis”, which is the most welcoming part of an Emirati home.
In Emirati style, the staff took incredible care of us. They were taking care of things we didn’t even know we wanted. Chef Nader El Sayed came out to welcome us and explained the essence of Emirati food. He emphasized the use of all natural ingredients, avoiding all types of food coloring and processed ingredients. Rice is the base of Emirati cuisine, which is then paired with meat, chicken, or fish.
As with most cuisines, the spices are key. With Emirati food however, they work with only a few bold spices to keep the food simple yet flavorful. They mostly use cardamom, black pepper, ginger, and saffron.
“As a chef, I’m against too many spices because it takes the flavor out of the food itself. All you taste are the spices instead,” he explained. He was very passionate about Emirati cuisine.
The aroma of the food preceded the actual dishes. We started with freshly baked Emirati bread with thyme dip, alongside a rocca cheese salad and a delicious semsem salad. I had heard plenty about the Milas’ famous chicken halloumi, and it was just as incredible as it’s reputation suggested. I’m craving it just thinking about it.
They served traditional harees, which is cracked wheat and meat served with melted ghee. I wasn’t the biggest fan, but to be totally fair, it’s never been one of my favorite dishes.
The main courses were as simple and flavorful as the chef had suggested. We ate marinated chicken breast served with a yellow “Milas sauce”, friend nuts, crispy onion, all paired with saffron rice. Their sea bream fillet was also delicious, but a little too spicy for my palette.
We ended the evening with the Milas Kunafa and fried ice cream. I love all the kunafa variations from all over the region, so I was excited to try the Milas Kunafa. When the dish came down, I stared at the plate of what looked like red velvet cake in wonder. The kunafa was red and with a soft cake-like texture and a cream center. It was awesome. The fried ice cream was deliciously confusing. The fried outer layer was a little too friend for my liking, but the combination of hot and cold was divine.
While sipping on our Arabic tea, they brought out perfume for us to spray on ourselves. I remember that when we were leaving our Emirati friend’s home in Washington, the wife waved bukhoor, or Arabic incense, around my mom so that the scent would stick to her clothes. In the UAE, it’s a tradition to either bakhar or spray your guests with perfume before leaving after a meal to leave them with a long-lasting refreshing scent.
While the food was great, that wasn’t what stuck with me that night. It was the warmth of the Emirati ambiance. Emiratis have long been known for their kindness and generosity, and that was further spoken through their food and service.
I’ll be back to Milas soon. Especially for the chicken halloumi!
WE SAID THIS: Check out our review of BeStro in Dubai: Vegan Never Tasted So Good!.