A Foodie’s Guide to Dubai
Dubai. This man-made city never stops to amaze me. From a bone-dry desert to becoming a bustling metropolis, the development in Dubai over the last 25 years is astounding. It seems like nothing is impossible in Dubai.
The city’s strategic geographic location, practically halfway between Europe and Australia, makes it the perfect destination to break up a long haul flight.
The cultural melting pot makes it the food mecca of the Middle East. Whether stopping over for just a few hours or a couple of days, there’s plenty of good food to tantalise your tastebuds.
Eat like a local
With a population of more than 2 million, only 10% are Arab UAE nationals living in Dubai city, with the rest consisting of foreign workers, chiefly Indian and Pakistani. Al Fanar is the first and only restaurant in Dubai serving authentic local Emirati cuisine in a modern dining setting. One-pot stews and large sharing plates are a key feature of Emirati food, with many dishes combining Middle Eastern cuisines with the influence of Asians.
Finding a good Indian meal in Dubai is almost too easy – there are Indian restaurants sprawled around the whole city, especially in the Indian quarter near Dubai Museum and also in Al Karama area. For the vegetarians, you simply can’t go past Manvaar Restaurant, which specialises in North-Indian Rajasthani cuisine and is famous for vegetarian dishes such as Dal-Bati-Churma and Desi Gatta Curry. Make sure to order an extra roti to mop up the rich curry sauce.
Another Indian vegetarian restaurant worth checking out is Puranmal Vegetarian Restaurant, located just around the corner from the Arabian Courtyard Hotel & Spa in Old Dubai. Locals flock here for their popular street food snack panipuri, a hollowed-out crispy ball of pastry filled with tamarind chutney, coriander, green chilli and crispy noodle. More Indian street food can be found in this area. Make sure to grab yourself a bag of fritters, samosas and pakoras to munch away on as you browse through the textile market.
Spice up your life
If you love cooking, then catch a rickety wooden Abra water taxi for only 1 Dirham to the Spice Souk on the other side of Dubai Creek. Here you’ll find all kinds of herbs and spices on display outside the shops in narrow alleyways, but prepare to put your haggling skill to the test. Work hard and score yourself some highly sorted Iranian saffron at a reasonable price. However, please check with your country’s customs before making any purchases to ensure you’re allowed to bring it back home. Since you’re in the area, you might also want to check out the Gold Souk next door to the Spice Souk. You can never have too much bling.
Something smelling fishy
Just a stone’s throw from the Souk area is the Dubai Fish Market, a must-visit (it won’t cost you a cent) for food lovers. This fish market is still strikingly free from tourists, so you get the first hand experience of a fully-functioning market where locals and chefs come to source their daily catch in the morning. You’ll find more than seafood at the fish market; there‘s also a butchery where whole animals are broken down to order, and a fresh fruit and vegetable market where you can sample an extensive variety of dates, all harvested in the Middle East.
Brunching has become extremely popular in Dubai, especially amongst the cashed-up foreign ex-pats. On every Friday (the first day of the Arabic weekend), major hotels throw open their doors to welcome visitors for “champagne brunch. Brunching in Dubai is an extreme sport, an exercise in excess with bottomless buffets and free-flowing alcohol. One of the most impressive brunch buffets in town is at Prime 68 Steakhouse at the JW Marriott Marquis Hotel. The a-la-carte brunch will have you rolling out the door begging for mercy by the time you finish it.
Flying Pan Food Safari
If you want to delve into the heart of Middle Eastern cuisines in Dubai, follow Arva Ahmed on her Frying Pan Adventures food tour as she shares her favourite food haunts of Old Dubai, where she grew up. This young entrepreneur is bright, energetic and her knowledge of the history of Middle Eastern food is commendable. The 5-hour walking food tour is seriously a feast for the eyes, mouth and the mind; Arva will constantly feed you with food, history and random facts. Depending on how much stomach space you have left, you’ll get to sample a wide range of Middle Eastern cuisines including Jordanian, Egyptian, Yemen, Syrian, Lebanese, Turkish, Iraqi, Bedouin and Iranian. No one will leave this food tour with an empty stomach. Make sure you book in advance as the tours tend to fill up months ahead.
Dining in style at Burj Al Arab
Can a hotel have a 7-star rating? Apparently it can and there is only one in the world – yes, it’s the world-famous sail-shaped Burj Al Arab. The hotel is built on a man-made island with access restricted to hotel residents and guests with restaurant bookings only. It’s totally worth a visit to get to marvel the over-the-top interior design inside. Unless you’re Kim Kardashian, and can book yourself into the blinged up Royal Suite for a whopping AED84,000 per night, make a reservation for the high tea, sip a cocktail at the Skyview Bar or perhaps spoil yourself with an exquisite meal at the elegant underwater restaurant, Al Mahara. Make sure to suit up – pretend you’re James Bond walking into a villain’s lair.
Feasting in the desert
It only takes an hour to drive out of the concrete jungle and in the middle of the wild desolate desert. Join Arabian Adventures’ Sundowner Safari Tour for some thrilling 4WD dune-bashing action, with a stop to admire the mesmerising sunset and dip your toes in soft desert sand. Once the sun has set, you’ll arrive at the Bedouin-style campsite for a scrumptious Arabic buffet feast under the starry sky.
Camel milk and burger
Looking for something a little bit different? Then you might want to sink your teeth into a camel burger, and wash it down with a camel milkshake. Camel milk has been a part of Bedouin, nomad and pastoral diets since the domestication of camels millennia ago. It’s still largely a subsistence product – lower in lactose and cholesterol than cow or goat milk, it also has enough nutrients to sustain a person through the day. Only a few places in Dubai serve camel products –at the Local House Restaurant in Bastakiya District you can try anything camel, from camel burger and camel biryani to camel wellington. Who said hump day is boring?