What is harees, the Arabic dish added to Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage list?

The dish is particularly prominent in Gulf countries

SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Ð Sep 7 : 'Harees' one of the traditional dish served during the Iftar at Humaid Al Bloushi home in Sharjah.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For Arts & Life.
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Unesco recently added seven Arab traditions to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list, one of which is harees, a staple in the Gulf region.

Recipes of the Arabic dish vary from country to country (and even household to household), but it's predominantly made of wheat, chicken or lamb, butter or ghee, water and a dash of spices, notably cinnamon sticks.

The dish is especially popular during Ramadan, as it is nourishing and easy to digest, as well as filling, making it an ideal go-to during iftar or suhoor for those fasting.

Although it looks like a simple porridge-like dish, and can be made with basic ingredients, harees can take hours to prepare. It starts with boiling wheat in slightly salted water for a couple hours, before the meat is added, which adds another few hours of cooking time. Some prep the wheat and meat together to infuse the flavours.

Emirati dish harees takes centre stage at museum during Ramadan

Emirati dish harees takes centre stage at museum during Ramadan

Taste and utility aside, harees holds a special place in Arabian culture, particularly in the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia, where it is mentioned in folk stories, proverbs and poetry.

As Unesco notes of the symbolic dish: “Preparing and serving harees is viewed as a sign of hospitality and generosity. A means of promoting social connection, the practice strengthens bonds between people and communities while enhancing cultural affinity in the societies concerned.”

The dish is also served during important social events such as weddings and during the pilgrimage season, as it's usually prepared in large quantities.

Many Emiratis consider harees a comfort food. Civil engineer Hassan Al Marashi from Dubai says he has “happy memories enjoying harees with my family and with my son, who loved it as a baby. I don't know how to make it, but my dad does, so maybe I'll have to get him to teach me.”

Although the dish is traditionally made at home, several restaurants across the UAE serve variations of harees – from hole-in-the-wall venues to more upscale options.

Emirati restaurant chain Al Fanar offers harees starting from Dh41 for a small plate, while Emirati-Levantine dining spot Siraj at Souk Al Bahar serves lamb harees for Dh90. Diners at Al Jawareh Traditional Restaurant in Al Qusais can order harees as a side dish for Dh18.

Updated: December 06, 2023, 12:20 PM