With the Eid break upon us, it's time to hit the road. Hajj pilgrims, Sudanese truckers, Omani university students and Irani traders have given us their favourite places to eat on the road.
Here is our guide to 15 of the best truck stops in the United Arab Emirates and Oman, covering the 5,681 coastline from Saudi to Salalah with a few stops in desert towns of the interior.
1. Star of Aden Restaurant, Al Ghuwaifat: For mandi
The highway to Saudi is a barren landscape of salt flats, and the restaurant at the border town of Al Ghuwaifat is equally as sparse. Take this as a good sign: any mandi restaurant worth its salt forgoes the frivolities of chairs and cutlery. Eat on the floor, eat with your hands. The Yemeni dish is all about the basics: chunky portions of chicken or meat served up on a heaped plate of rice flavoured with cardamom, cloves, peppercorn and nutmeg. Ghuwaifat is a perennial pit-stop for pilgrims, truckers and road-tripping families on their way to the Kingdom.
Highway E11, GPS 24.12591, 51.62878
2. White Sands Restaurant, Hameem: For Afghan nan
Since 1978, White Sands has provided for the men who live and work in the dunes between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain. For camel herders and labourers far from the city, it is a place to unwind, watch cricket and collect groceries. The food – Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Arabic – is fantastic and a bargain at Dh6 a plate. Highway E65, GPS 23.6608, 54.40098
3. Oyoun Al Reem Cafeteria, Dubai: for Chips Oman sandwich
The paprika flavoured Chips Oman is a brand beloved across the Gulf, and its namesake sandwich has been a part of the khaleeji childhood since the 1980s. This concoction is greater than the sum of its parts: crumbled Chips Oman crisps, a dollop of jar cheese and a douse of hot sauce, all wrapped in the tight embrace of a flaky, fried paratha. But are the best Chips Oman sandwiches even Omani? Arguably, the best Chips Oman sandwiches aren't even called Chips Oman sandwich. They're called Chillies Za'abeel and sold at Oyoun Al Reem Cafeteria behind Dubai's World Trade Centre on Za'abeel Road. Cooks claim to have served the sandwich to sheikhs, ministers and celebrities including Hussain Al Jassmi and Akon.
GPS 25.22423, 55.29636
4. Special Tea Cafeteria, Umm Al Quwain: For cornflakes
What is the quintessential Emirati snack? Is it luqaimat dumplings? A kunaizi date? Or is it a bowl of cornflakes eaten from a styrofoam cup? There was a time when any self-respecting cafeteria served cereal in a cup. For those who want to truly honour khaleeji road culture, you can't do better than stepping into a roadside cafeteria on the old E11 highway in Umm Al Quwain. Special Tea Cafeteria brews 30 litres of karak tea a day, but we suggest opting for the favourite afternoon snack of yesteryear: a cup of cornflakes. Cornflakes cost Dh3 a cup.
Highway E11, GPS 25.50096, 55.57511
5. Shanzilezi, Umm Al Quwain Corniche: For shisha
Join the mariners of Umm Al Quwain for a round of cards or a double-apple shisha at this cafe on the Umm Al Quwain waterfront. Shanzilezi is the antidote to the tension of Emirates Road. At the water's edge, there's no stress and no hurry. "From the day it opened I've been coming here," says Azzam Al Ali, a Shanzilezi regular form Umm Al Quwain. "That's 20 years and now my age is 38. It's a calm place with a simple life." A shisha costs Dh15 and tea is Dh3.
GPS 25.59033, 55.56797
6. Al Yaqoot Al Afghani Restaurant, Ras Al Khaimah: For lamb
Staunch meals make Al Yaqoot a popular choice with rock climbers and truckers. Think stewed lamb with ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chillies, and coriander served on Afghani pulao topped with raisins, cloves and shredded carrot. Customers dine under portraits of Sufi poets and paintings depicting pastoral scenes of the Hindu Kush and the Mazar-i-Sharif (Blue Mosque). Groups can call ahead to order mutton or chicken karahi – a tomato-based stew in roasted coriander, cumin and black peppercorn. A meal of stewed lamb, grilled fish, lady finger curry served with soup, hummus, dal, bread and tea costs Dh62. Two dishes are enough to feed four.
Highway E11, GPS 25.75666, 55.91203
7. Khasab, Musandam: for Irani kebab
Visitors to Khasab usually hop on a dhow and enjoy a biryani lunch at sea. Those who stay in town, can visit hole-in-the-wall Iranian restaurants serving traders seasoned ground lamb and chicken kebab before they jet across the Gulf. Toman, a superunit of the Irani currency, is accepted as tender.
8. Al Waseef Cafeteria, Kelba: For slow roasted shawarma
The last stop before the Oman border, this cafe offers shawarma roasted the old-fashioned way. Waiter Mohammed Mohideen rotates chicken and meat shawarma by hand to get extra crispy meat. The eatery's two-page falooda menu is another throwback to the turn of the millennium, including classic names like The Lexus, Disco, Splendour, Abood, Galexy, Burj Al Arab and The Titanic. The mutton and chicken shawarmas cost just Dh3.
Highway E99, GPS 25.00699, 56.34968
9. Al Suwaihara Restaurant and Coffee Shop, Sohar: For Suhoor
It's not easy to be on the road during Ramadan. Truckers and commuters get around the holy month by flipping to a nocturnal schedule and driving through the night. For them, dawn marks the end of the work day, and suhoor the final meal before a much-needed rest. Al Suwaihara Restaurant and Coffee Shop is also a favourite with students from Sohar University, who come for a Dh10 suhoor plate of rice, meat, dates, salad and yogurt that carries them through 14 hours of fasting.
Batinah Highway, northbound near Suwaihara roundabout
10. Luqaimat, Barka: For qaroos pancakes
Known for exorcists, bulls and Omani halwa, Barka also happens to have Oman's best collection of tea cafeterias. Luqaimat is a sweet dumpling restaurant chain in Oman offering a dozen variations of the Khaleeji treat such as crunchy pistachio, honey and cheese, as well as condensed milk with coconut. In truth, its luqaimats are mediocre. Instead, order qaroos. These spongy, cardamom pancakes drizzled with date syrup are known in the Emirates as chebab. Light and delightful, the qaroos costs Dh3 for a small serving and Dh5 for a large.
Beside Barka Fort
11. Rawazan Restaurant, Ibra: For mandi
Situated between the Sharqiyah desert and fertile wadis, Ibra was once an important stop on interior caravan routes. Ibra is still the place for travellers to eat before exploring the turquoise pools of the nearby Wadi Bani Khalid or the two-storey clay ruins of Ibra's old merchant town. The best spot in town is the Rawazen Restaurant on the Highway 23, 100m north of the Oman Oil Petrol station in Ibra's downtown. Rawazen serves grilled meat, fish and chicken served with the usual salad and seasoned rice. Clean, good service and meals for under Dh100. Ibra is at its busiest on Wednesdays, when buyers and sellers from across the Sharqiyah region to hold a women's only souq offering perfumes, cloth and second-hand traditional dresses.
Highway 23, GPS 22.7159, 58.52974
12. White Coffee Shop, Sur: For luqaimat
During Eid, the parking lot of this cafeteria is packed with cars bearing plates from Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, all of whom who have come to cruise along the Corniche of this picturesque city. White Coffee's speciality is the sweet luqaimat dumplings made from a yoghurt-base dough that give it a tangy aftertaste. Luqaimat is simple to make but tricky to perfect. White Coffee gets it right, serving crispy orbs sprinkled with sesame seeds and black seed. A large sign beside the cafe reads: "Do not despair with living". In Sur, life is sweet.
GPS 22.5661, 59.53734
13. Fish Sale, Al Ashkharah: For grilled fish
Chances are, if you're on this highway, you are probably camping. The ideal camp food on Oman's south coast is fresh grilled fish. You might think that finding places to buy fish in small fishing communities of the south coast would be easy. It is not. Show up in Ras Al Madrakah, and you'll get squid. Finding fish in Sur can be surprisingly difficult in the late afternoon. Al Ashkharah is where you need to head. In nameless downtown shops with signs that read "Fish Sale", you can buy the catch of the day and have it filleted, spice and grilled on the spot, or packed for the campfire. The spice mix is a traditional Omani blend – turmeric, cloves, cumin and coriander. A medium tuna feeds four people and costs Dh10.
Highway 35, downtown Al Ashkhara
14. Restaurant with no name, Lakabi Plateau: For pakoras and tea
After Lakabi, the road rises. A sensible driver will have questions as they peer at this sharp incline: is there a paved road ahead? If there is a road, is there a gas station? Is there food? Blogs talk about the stunning seaside highway carved into the cliffs beyond Ash Shuwaymiyyah. But before Shuwaymiyah, drivers must cross a 135km moonscape plateau of dark craters and little else. This road is excellent and about 106km from Lakabi, there is a restaurant that serves tea beside a Maha petrol station. In the tradition of rural Oman, the restaurant is nameless but easy to find. There's nothing else for miles around.
Highway 41, GPS 18.1119, 55.81808
15. Liyali Hadhramout, Salalah: For Yemeni foul
Liyali Hadhramout is not a truck stop. In fact, it's right downtown beside the Haffa frankincense market. But after all that driving, you deserve a feast. Loved by French tourists and Dhofari herdsmen, this open-air restaurant serves grilled fish, foul, skewers, curries, and stretchy flaky, buttery, fateer bread. Meals are less than Dh100. Take a seat at one of the communal table and you could be treated to stories about how to tell each goat by its hoof print.
Haffa souq, 17.00094, 54.10127