United Arab Emirates, Dubai, Bastakia, historic quarter, Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding,
Tibor Bognár/age fotostock
Dubai isn’t just about shopping and architecture. The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers enriching and intellectually stimulating tours, meant to engage and inform visitors about Emirati history and culture. Visit the center for a communal Emirati breakfast followed by a walking tour of the surrounding Bur Dubai neighborhoods, where Dubai’s rulers have lived since the early 20th century. And if you’re eager to visit a mosque, the center runs the only mosque tours for guests of all faiths. The center is close to several historical and cultural attractions, including Al Fahidi Historical District and Al Bastakiya.
Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
Don’t miss an opportunity to have a meal (breakfast or lunch) at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). This modest structure is tucked into the Al Bastakiya neighborhood and offers tourists and locals alike an opportunity to find out about Emirati culture, both ancient and modern. The food, which features local specialties, such as balaleet, a sweetened vermicelli mixed with eggs and raisins and spiced with saffron and cardamon, is good but the real draw is the conversation that comes with the meal: the hosts invite questions, no matter how odd: What do men wear under their dishdashas? Can I wear a bikini at the beach without being thought culturally insensitive? Make sure to make your meal reservation a few days in advance so that you don’t miss out.
Deeper Cultural Understanding—and Delicious Food
The quickest (and tastiest) way to get to the heart of a culture is by sampling the local cuisine and asking questions. So let your tongue lead you to Bur Dubai, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods down by the creek, or the Khor as it’s locally known. There in the courtyard of a traditional bastakiya house, a coral and adobe combo cooled by a wind tower (an anciently ingenious system of air conditioning), you’ll find warm, smiling Emiratis dishing out all you can eat servings of traditional cuisine and culture while answering your questions about their culture. Guests enjoy the Arabic flatbread, foul (beans), balalee (vermicelli with eggs) and for desert, lgemat, (Emirati style donut holes). Like the Jumeirah Mosque, questions of a cultural nature are highly encouraged.