Think Dubai, and the first image that probably comes to your mind is that of tall buildings in steel and chrome, rising up to touch the skies. And then there is the shopping – sprawling malls where you can get lost for hours, browsing and buying possibly everything under the sun.
In the last few years though, Dubai is also increasingly becoming known as a gastronomy destination among discerning travellers. And this means not just the upmarket restaurants patronised by the very affluent, but also a host of smaller cafés and eateries catering to all kinds of palates and wallets.
Here is a quick guide to some of the most interesting culinary detours in Dubai:
For foodies who believe that Dubai is ideal only for meat lovers, there is good news in the form of specialty vegetarian restaurants. A new but already popular entry into the scene is Tum Tum Asia in the Oud Mehta suburb, offering a trendy version of south and southeast Asian food from over seven countries. Each dish in this buzzing restaurant is presented at the table with a dramatic twist.
And for those with a passion for healthy eating, the best bet is Comptoir 102, a concept store with an organic café attached. This café is the perfect place to chill with a fresh juice or scrumptious salad, away from the heat and dust of the desert. While every single item on the menu is made fresh every day, there are plenty of vegan and gluten-free choices too.
DUBAI FOOD FESTIVAL
While everyone heads to Dubai in the winter months for the famous Shopping Festival, another recent event has been putting this city on the tourism map. That is the Dubai Food Festival, taking place over two weeks early in the year.
The festival showcases the best of the city’s culinary delights, from street eats and pop up canteens to fine dining experiences. The event also includes within its fold attractions such as the Dubai Restaurant Week (fine dining at affordable rates), Street Food Awards (voted by eminent food bloggers and entrepreneurs) and Hidden Gems (the city’s best-kept culinary secrets, voted through a poll among residents).
And since the weather is just perfect to enjoy al fresco meals, venues such as the Etisalat Beach Canteen at Sunset Beach in Jumeira and Miami Vibes at the City Walk neighbourhood are particular hotspots.
For about six months of the year, Zabeel Park, a popular outdoor space for locals, comes alive to the smells and tastes of the best fresh food from all over the world. Think organic honey, stuffed olives and flavoured olive oils, chewy rye breads and flaky croissants, organic juices, plump mushrooms and firm tomatoes from over 100 stalls. All of this is available for both tasting and shopping.
Apart from the fresh produce – including fruit and vegetables – several artisans and craftspeople also sell their creations at the Ripe Market. So, there are fragrant handmade soaps, quirky jewellery and leather purses competing for your attention, making it a complete day out. While the one at Zabeel Park is one of the most popular, these Ripe Markets are pop up events that take place in the city at various times of the year.
Food meets shopping and entertainment at this annual event with a compelling carnival vibe. The Global Village boasts of pavilions from all over the world, each of them proudly showcasing the best culture and heritage of their home country. There are over 20 formal restaurants and over 120 casual dining kiosks within the venue, each serving up their nation’s best specialty dishes. Depending on your mood, you can choose anything from Indian chaat to Egyptian koshari and American burgers.
To delve deeper into the city’s history and culture, drop by at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Bur Dubai. Along with an informative walking tour of the historic Al Fahidi neighbourhood where this located, book yourself in for a superb Bedouin meal back at the centre.
Beginning with a classic welcome with Arabic coffee (gahwa) and dates, the meal continues with typical regional dishes such as fareeth (a stew of vegetables and meat poured over soft bread) and machboos (a meal of rice cooked with meat or fish). This is a great chance to sample local food that is not easily available at restaurants, while seated on low mattresses in traditional fashion.
A SWEET ENDING
While in Dubai, end your meal on a sweet note – sweet mixed with a slightly salty tang – with icecream made of camel milk. The most popular brand in that region is Nouq, which offers a wide range of flavours from the familiar Vanilla and Chocolate Chip to the more exotic Baklava and Date Peanut.
Camel milk is both extra creamy and contains high nutritional value, which makes the icecream really unique. Also don’t forget to carry back camel milk chocolates as unusual gifts and souvenirs. Nouq icecreams and chocolates are available at cafés and shops all over the city, as well as fresh food markets .
Published in Lonely Planet India in June 2018