Dubai’s Emirati food is an epicurean adventure waiting to be discovered.
Dec 1, 2016
If the measure of a city can be found in the diversity of its food, then Dubai must surely be one of the food capitals of the world.
As the epicentre of Pakistani, Indian and Lebanese influences, Dubai is a melting pot of culture, flavours and traditions. Tuck into a meal here and you just might find Middle Eastern ingredients like almonds, dried fruits and pistachio; the Iranian flavours of rosewater, thyme and lime; or refreshing Lebanese garnishes like yoghurt, coriander and mint.
It is somewhat impossible to single out a particular dish as being distinctly Dubai (although that is both the enigma and charm of this multifarious city). Instead, here are some of Dubai’s diverse gastronomic icons – from Michelin-starred establishments to affordable street food.
Start your day right with a breakfast fit for a king at Klayya Bakery and Sweets, where you’ll find local morning staple ryoog yerena – a date-infused omelette that is served alongside freshly baked bread – and karak chai, Dubai’s answer to masala tea.
For lunch, take a trip to Al Fanar, a culinary institution in its own right serving hearty batches of Emirati favourites like the khoboz khamee, a round flatbread served with saffron-flavoured cream, pistachios and dates. Their bestseller is the samak mashwi, a whole fish grilled with Arabic spices and served with fluffy white rice.
All this, while you take in the rustic feel of the place modelled after the Dubai of yesteryear in the form of a village-styled huts and nostalgic Arabian paraphernalia.
From Chinese dim sum to Ethiopian meat stews, Dubai’s street food scene is ultimate proof of the city’s cosmopolitanism. There’s nothing quite like taking in the sights, sounds and smells of master hawkers doing what they do best.
As one of the few historic street stalls still surviving, All Mallah serves up delectable portions of mix grilled lamb and chicken, while Karachi Darbar cooks up devilishly spicy portions of Pakistani- and Indian-inspired food like briyani, paneer and curries.
If seafood is your thing, be sure to visit Bu Qtair, which has garnered a devoted following of locals and tourists alike for its deep fried pomfret, chilli prawns and marinated groupers.
It is official – the global food truck craze has come to Dubai with the arrival of 1,500 sqft food truck park Last Exit, which combines the grit of street food with a modern twist.
Don’t go there expecting a motley collection of food trucks. Instead, the park is beautifully put together with industrial-styled stools, refurbished oil barrels taking the form of dining tables and an all round pared-down feel. Last Exit feels like a scene outside a 1960’s American diner.
Expect offerings like gourmet coffee, burgers, falafels and hotdogs all in one place. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, there is also a sprawling kids’ play park – great for keeping the children entertained while you have some quiet time on your own or with your other half.
Just because Dubai hasn’t got its own edition of the Michelin Guide yet doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy high-end cuisine. The emirate is home to over 20 Michelin-starred chefs, and boasts ritzy restaurants like Italian fine dining institution BiCE. It is famous for plump, juicy pink diamond oysters that are such a hit; guests usually take home the cleaned-out shells as mementos.
For unparalleled French fare, try Refets par Pierre Gagnaire, which serves up dishes like pan-fried langoustine rolled with cinnamon breadcrumb and duck breast marinated with lime, cumin and green pepper. If you’re into Middle Eastern cuisine, there’s the posh Clé Dubai, which serves up dishes like salmon kibbe and baba ganoush with a modern flair.
Craft beer aficionados will love Warehouse, an open-air beer garden famous for bringing in tipples from breweries around the world. For a more romantic type of evening with wine and cheese, try Alta Badia Bar on the 51st floor of Jumeirah Emirates Tower, where you can sip on premium wines amidst breathtaking views of the city.
As they say, there’s always room for dessert.
Satisfy your sweet tooth at Al Shami Restaurant by ordering the kunafa, a Middle Eastern cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup and sprinkled with pistachios.
For the health conscious, head to organic dessert parlour Arabesq Sweets for bakdash booza, a traditional Syrian ice cream glazed over generously with dried fruits and almonds.
Dubai’s food scene continues to garner worldwide acclaim, attracting those with a curious palate and a sharp eye for sussing out good taste — truly a food lover’s paradise.
■ In Dubai, it is customary to eat most traditional dishes with your hands, so do as the locals do and immerse yourself in the dining experience. Clean toilets and hand-wash areas are aplenty all around the city so rest assured that you’ll have a place to wash-up after each meal.
■ The best eateries usually don’t employ touts. Keep a lookout for the places that do have them because they are more than likely to be targeted at travellers.
■ Tipping is common but not mandatory in Dubai so feel free to tip as you wish. A tip of anything between AED5-10 (SGD$2-3) is usually acceptable.