When I arrived in the city of Sharjah, a modern metropolis of about 800,000, I met my new friend, a lovely woman in her early 30s, at a heritage center where local cooks give classes. Half a dozen women—all of them, like Al Qasimi, wearing black thobs, long robes that covered their clothes, their hair hidden by scarves—were in a large, traditional open-air kitchen preparing a goat stew, some spiced rice, and other dishes. Al Qasimi explained that while the country's large expat population from Iran, Palestine, India, and other countries had certainly influenced the local fare over the decades, true Emirati cuisine has its own distinct character. Fish from the Arabian Sea plays a major part in the diet, and meat and rice dishes are complexly spiced: Saffron and cardamom are the predominant flavors, and a spice mix called bzar, made with spices like cumin and coriander, is added to practically everything. Rice and flat breads are staples, and some of the dishes Al Qasimi served straddled the line between savory and sweet, thanks to a touch of sugar or date syrup. Al Qasimi also told me that camel meat is a specialty, particularly among Bedouin families, but that nowadays it is mostly reserved for special occasions.