While most countries like to boast about their specific cuisine, The UAE has little to say on the subject. This is hardly surprising when you consider that before the extraction of oil, the UAE had little wealth, a small population and a lot of sand.
It is true that some cereal crops were grown in the mountainous areas where the rains tend to fall. But, the main food influences were from nearby countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iran, East Africa and Indian. Goat meat, fish and spices where readily available. Rice was imported therefore features in the most well-loved dishes. Biryani is often considered a local dish, and harees, too, is thought to be a local dish. Harees is based on goat or mutton and cooked at length with ground wheat until a soft consistency.
Date palms grow readily in Dubai and produce an abundance of fruit. If you are lucky enough to have a mature date palm in your garden, you will have enough dates for your family, your friends and the local bird population.
Restaurants and Cafés
You will hunt a long time to find a restaurant claiming to serve Emirati food, but being a modern international city, Dubai is equally international in the restaurants on offer.
The restaurants fall into two distinct categories: restaurants in hotels are licensed, most others are not. For this reason, it is in the hotels that the more expensive restaurants are to be found.
Top end license restaurants can be found in the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) – Zuma and La Petite Maison.
Zuma is a Japanese fusion restaurant. Each dish challenges with a new twist on old favorites. The portions are not large and the prices are not small, but it is worth trying for the food and the atmosphere. As well as great food, it has a popular bar. So if you like a buzz, this is the place to be. Contact: (04)4255 658
La Petite Maison’s elegant décor and sophisticated ambiance is a winner. Take the time to perch at the bar to indulge in a Tomatini and observe the ritual that accompanies the meticulous preparation of each cocktail. Even that fastidious cocktail maker James Bond would be satisfied by the skill demonstrated daily. The food is influenced by both French and Italian traditions, so the flavor of the individual ingredients is presented at its best. The onion and anchovy tart (pissaladi’re) is sensational. Contact: (04) 44390505
Each top hotel has its famous restaurants. Traiteur, a French restaurant in the Park Hyatt, offers delicious food in a beautifully designed space on the edge of the Dubai Creek. It also boasts an extensive wine cellar, most of which is on display. Friday brunch at Traiteur can be enjoyed outside on the edge of the Dubai Creek in the cooler months. Like many Friday brunches, the price includes wines or beers and there is also a champagne option. Unlike other restaurants, at Traiteur diners enjoy the privilege of wandering into the stainless steel kitchen to select their food and watch it being cook if they wish. Contact: (04) 317 2222
On the other side of the city, top quality Japanese food can be had at Nobu – Palm Jumeirah. Contact: (04) 4262626
A much cheaper dining option on the Creek can be had at The Boardwalk surrounded by yachts and within close proximity to the golfing facilities at the Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club. The restaurant is licensed and offers relaxed outdoor dining most of the year. Contact: (04) 29560000
Lemongrass is a popular Thai restaurant that serves lunch and dinner at reasonable prices and also delivers. It is not licensed but makes refreshing drinks with lemon and mint. Contact: (04)334 2325
There are many excellent Indian, Lebanese and Iranian restaurants most of which also deliver. Smoking inside restaurants is banned, so restaurants that offer shisha make provision for smoking outside.
Almaz by Momo in the Mall of the Emirates is a Moroccan restaurant of note. The menu is extensive making it possible to try a variety of dishes. Almaz, like many Middle Eastern restaurants in Dubai, also offers shisha. Luckily, the smoking room is completely separate from the main dining area since there is no outside space. Contact: Mall of the Emirates, level 3, (04) 409 8877.
The Lime Tree Café is a popular New Zealand style café in Jumeirah. Contact: Jumeirah Beach Rd., (04) 325 6325.
In addition, many chain cafés are represented in the UAE, for example, Starbucks and Costa.
Taste of Dubai
In March each year, while the weather is still comfortable, the Taste of Dubai food and music festival is held. For a modest entry fee of approximately 80AED, you have access to some of the most delicious food on offer in restaurants around Dubai. Portions are small, entrée size, allowing diners the chance to sample many dishes. Prices are reasonable and alcohol is served. Festival goers have the choice of picnic tables or grassy slopes, a real luxury in the desert. Contact: (04) 4340577
Most of the food consumed in Dubai has travelled a lot of food miles. Fresh food comes from Pakistan, Iran, Lebanon, Africa, Morocco, North and South America, New Zealand and the UK.
Organic food is increasingly available and there is an organic supermarket chain – the Organic Foods and Café
There seems to be a mini-supermarket on every residential block in Dubai and they all deliver. There are also various large supermarkets like HyperPanda and Choitrams. However, the big three are Spinneys, Waitrose and Carrefour.
Spinneys was the original western style restaurant chain in the UAE and has been joined in recent years by Waitrose. Both chains feature food from around the world with many British favorites. Carrefour supermarkets are large and offer a French flavor. One or other of these supermarkets is usually located on the ground floor of the main shopping malls.
There is a concerted effort to provide for the diverse population. However, no alcohol is sold in supermarkets. And, although pork is available, it is in a separate pork section access to which is denied to Muslims this being an Islamic country.
The concept of delicatessens is a little different in Dubai. Jones the Grocer appears to be more of a restaurant, but it is a delicatessen, too, with a magnificently stocked cheese room. It can be found just off Sheikh Zayed Road (opposite Times Square). Contact: (04) 3466886.
Chez Charles is a great delicatessen with quality food stuffs. They will also deliver if given 24 hours notice. Contact: Concord Tower, 6th floor, Dubai Media City. Mobile 055 7633 999