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Dubai Cuisine- Stuffed Camel To Fish’n’ Chips.get It All Here.
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A little known fact: there are more cookbooks printed in Arabic than any other language in the world. Apparently, the Middle East is simply OBSESSED with food. When it comes to the city-state of Dubai, you can not only find cookbooks in every language and for every kind of cuisine, but hotels, cafes and restaurants which form a mini United Nations of Food.
Dubai is only 10% native Emirati. The rest of the population is made up of every colour, creed culture and country that has walked our planet: expats from Bangladesh, India, Somalia, Africa, neighbouring Middle Eastern states and the West make up the melting pot.
The desert nomad’s plate
Dubai, as indeed the whole of the UAE, is desert land and these harsh conditions dictated the food that native Emiratis ate traditionally – mostly meat, grain and dairy. Meats traditionally used were chicken and small fowl like bustards and goats. Vegetables only featured in the diet in areas where they could be grown. Camels were prized for their milk and camel meat was only eaten on special occasions. The dishes were usually stews.
Visiting traders introduced rice and, gradually, the three musketeers of the traditional cuisine of this region became fish, rice and meat in various permutations and combinations enhanced with spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, dried lemon, saffron and rose water.
Traditional Emirati bread is broadly of 3 types:
Raqaq- a flat bread with various toppings of butter, cheese and gravy
Yeast bread- typically served as a Ramadan treat topped with honey, cheese or butter
Al jabab- made from dough and topped with honey, cheese or butter.
Traditional beverages include gahwa, Arabic coffee served at the start of a meal and a red mint infused tea to aid digestion after the meal.
No conversation about food from this area can be complete without dates. These were and are eaten ripe, gooey, dried, used as molasses, made into honey and transformed into the most lip smacking of desserts.
Kingsized wedding menu
The Guinness book of World Records lists Whole Stuffed Camel as the largest item on any menu. This “certification” should put sceptical minds to rest. Yes, the dish actually exists and was the crowning glory of a Bedouin wedding feast. It’s a whole camel, stuffed with lamb, stuffed with chicken, stuffed with fish, stuffed with eggs..sort of a Russian doll dish of multiple layers and depths, roasted on a spit!
“Traditional” in today’s Dubai
Shawarma, hummus and tabbouleh are actually food from the neighbouring Levant but are a marked feature of Dubai cuisine today. “Authentic” Dubai cuisine is best experienced by hopping into a cab and going to Deira- this is closest to what Dubai has to an old town. It’s near the airport and its bustling streets are alive with the smell of spices and foods. Taste the Palestinian version of falafel (minced chick peas, herbs and spice cutlets) at the Sultan Dubai, or ogle the Lebanese style pastries at Al Samadi or lap up the delicious Syrian ice cream at Damascus Sweets. Soarikh serves a kind of Egyptian “pizza” called “feteer meshaltet” and, at Al Tawasol, you can have another “traditional” experience sitting cross legged on the floor and tucking into “mandi”, a chicken and rice dish from Yemen. Al Mallah, Dhiyafah, serves Lebanese specials shawarma and falafel at simple outdoor tables till very late at night and is just right for that midnight munching.
Noticed something? Yes, “traditional” food in Dubai is borrowed from different countries and many ex-pats flourish a ladle to earn a living.
There is no one kind of cuisine that is “native” to modern day Dubai. This truly cosmopolitan city, features dishes and flavours from all around the world.
The US of A has not been shy to climb onto the Dubai food wagon. Besides the popular Pizza and Burger chains, many mom ‘n’ pop places specialising in the mainstays of popular American fast food dot the gastronomic landscape. There are more than 120 pizza specialists in Dubai: Russo’s New York pizzeria is just what the hungry hombre needs with its large pizza weighing in at 28” diameter. La Piazza’s thin crusts and the wood fired masterpieces at so many other pizza places are all the comfort that your hungry stomach needs.
Can burgers be far behind? Burger Joint offers New York burgers in its exposed brick, graffiti- ridden ultra-quirky restaurant. The freshest ingredients and the best beef make this a memorable mouth watering experience. Jumping to the west coast of the USA, welcome to CaliBurger: these California inspired offerings are all about lean beef and simple salad and cheese embellishments. The patties are slim too and maybe two burgers would be a better idea than one.
Comfort food and comfort go hand in hand. Slip into an old pair of pyjamas and order in for a fast and delicious bite.
Dubai’s culinary carriage travels from dry land to seacoast.
Seafood has been the mainstay of Emirati diet for centuries. The infusion of various cultures and cuisines has raised the sea food scene to gastronomic heights.
Bu Qtair is a prize catch for fresh and fabulous sea food. The place may be a little difficult to find on your own. Hire a cab and make sure you give the cabbie the secret code words “Kerala Fish Fry” and he will zip you through the Jumeirah Beach Road. If you want a classier setting and your pockets are as deep as this place’s location, look up the Ossiano, an underwater restaurant, at The Atlantis hotel.
North, South, East, West - EVERYTHING’s the best!
Authentic Chinese and Malaysian cooking at the Noodle Bowl comes highly recommended. Karachi Darbar and Ravi’s dish out spicy Pakistani food, thick with flavourful sauces and colourful curries. Naans and peshawari chicken vie with fried dals and biryanis. Thankfully the rich cooling lassi will take some of the heat off your tongue.
Al Ustadz dishes up special kebabs and other Persian favourites.
The super classy hotels have restaurants which serve cosmopolitan fare and you can have anything from around the world- but for a price, of course.
Irish coffee, Cuban cigars, Ethiopian injera, British Fish and chips...you can get them all in Dubai!
Your sweet tooth can get a really sweet deal. Here are just 3 desserts that take the cake.
The age old delight, luquaimat, are dumplings drizzled with date molasses and are the official sweet of the emirates. Try some at al Jaboot.
Chebab is an Emirati pancake flavoured with cardamom, saffron and dates.
Khabees is a toasted flour concoction. Rosewater and saffron add meaning and depth to this traditional sweet.
There are innumerable bakeries where you can fulfil your sweet cravings with éclairs, pastries, baklava and more and more and more.....
The proof of the pudding is in the eating
The Dubai food festival, 2017 will be held from 23rd February to 11th March. You can sample every one of the traditional dishes that have rolled off Emirati tongues for centuries and then eat your way through a new county and a new cuisine every one of these 17 days. Get tips and demos from world renown chefs too if cooking is your thing. This is the epitome of the global cuisine culture of Dubai.
Bil-hanā' wa ash-shifā'. May you have your meal in gladness and health!
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