Taken after midday prayers,_ al-ghada'a_, or lunch, is something to linger over in the Arabian Gulf. Before me today at Al Arish, a traditional Emirati seafood restaurant in Abu Dhabi's Mina Zayed Port, is a platter of_ rubyan meshwi_, massive grilled prawns slathered in a tomato and soy sauce marinade spiked with chiles and white pepper, as well as samak meshwi, whole grilled shaari—flaky, white-fleshed Persian Gulf bream—brought ashore this morning on one of the wooden dhows that still ply the waters off this booming port city. The fish's charred skin is redolent of cinnamon and black pepper thanks to besar, a heady blend of cumin, coriander, and other spices. My server brings out fragrant basmati rice and a dish of ghee to drizzle over the top. Al-ghada'a is a meal meant to be shared, but since I'm traveling alone, I strike up a conversation with the three men seated at the table next to mine. They're college pals who get together whenever they can, which, one notes, is less often these days. Over the past 40 years deserts dotted with Bedouin tents and coastal fishing villages have transformed into steel metropolises where Western-style workdays and fast-food chains have edged in on al-ghada'a. Still, as a waiter pours rose water on our hands to end the meal at Al Arish, the friends insist that lingering lunches are one tradition they'll try to maintain.
Mina Zayed Port
Abu Dhabi, UAE