Vegan Dubai: How the city is becoming increasingly friendly to meat-free diets
We put the steaks aside and investigate how the city is becoming increasingly vegan-friendly
Type #burger into Instagram and you’ll be rewarded with ten million images of the most iconic fast food item on the planet. Then type #vegan and prepare to be astounded. You’ll find a staggering 54 million pictures of vegan dishes (plenty of which are, in fact, burgers), products and home recipes. Veganism means cutting out meat, dairy and all other animal by-products to eat a wholly plant-based diet, and Dubai is rapidly becoming a more and more vegan-friendly city in its own right.
From new dishes in your favourite restaurants to a wider variety of meat-free options in supermarkets, plus animal-friendly beauty products, going vegan (or trying it on for size) has never been easier.
Where to shop
BiOrganic Strolling into BiOrganic is like wandering into a farm in full blooming harvest. Nature’s finest produce is piled high in all its glory, urging you to delve deep among apples, pears, pomegranates and all the other good stuff. As the name suggests, the store specialises in organic, healthy produce that is affordable and fresh. As well as your fruit and veggies, you’ll also find cereals, snacks, beverages, condiments and a range of speciality oils so you can whip up a vegan storm. You can also order online. Open daily 8am-9pm. Barsha Heights, opposite Saudi German Hospital, biorganicstore.com (04 443 3535).
Carrefour The huge Carrefour in Mall of the Emirates has a substantial section that’s as dedicated to vegan products as we are. While you’re there, have a dally over to the freezer section where you’ll be able to pick up some Linda McCartney vegetarian sausages and sausage rolls, which are suitable for vegans and absolutely superb. We love you, Linda. Open daily 9am-midnight. Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha (800 73232).
Coco Yogo The brand stocks a raw, vegan, gluten-free range of desserts that you can buy online or snap up at various pop-up events, including Ripe markets. Founder Turner Francis began whipping up the range of ice creams, cheesecakes, cream cheeses and tarts back in 2014 and has dedicated her life to making sure the vegans of Dubai don’t have to skip dessert. We salute you, Turner, and your matcha mint chip ice cream, too. Ice cream from Dhs20. Order online at www.coco-yogo.com.
Organic Foods & Café This family-run company has been going strong since 2004, with supermarkets and cafés selling fresh organic and biodynamic foods, groceries, supplements and even cleaning products. The flagship store on Sheikh Zayed Road has a deli counter selling freshly prepared dishes including vegan salads – if you get a bit peckish while you’re picking up your coconut milk, vegan pesto, ramen, cereal, cookies… The list goes on. Uptown Mirdif: Open Sun-Wed 9am-10pm; Thu-Sat 9am-midnight. Sheikh Zayed Road: Open daily 7.45am-10.30pm. Emaar Business Park, The Greens: Open daily 9am-8pm. The Village, Jumeirah Beach Road: Open Sun-Thu, 8.30am-10pm; Fri-Sat 9am-10pm. www.organicfoodsandcafe.com.
Make-up and beauty We love getting dolled up every now and again, but chances are, a lot of us haven’t really considered where our make-up is actually coming from. But vegan beauty products contain no animal ingredients at all, omitting honey, beeswax, milk and eggs, so you can look radiant while safe in the knowledge that your look is totally ethical. These brands all have vegan ranges, so you can slap on to your hearts content, with a clear conscience.
e.l.f Cosmetics Every last item in e.l.f’s range is 100 percent vegan, including the make-up brushes, which are completely synthetic. It’s even been endorsed by leading animal rights organisation, PETA. If that’s not a stamp of approval then we don’t know what is. Order online for delivery to Dubai from Souq.com. www.elfcosmetics.com.
Kat Von D The brand has an entire #Veganalert range that doesn’t use any animal products or by-products and has not been tested on animals. In true Kat Von D ferocity, you’ll find bright bold colours in every dramatic hue, from tattoo eyeliners and everlasting lip liners to studded crème lipsticks and holographic eyeshadow palettes. We can’t get enough. Available at Sephora, various locations including Mall of the Emirates, Al Barsha www.katvondbeauty.com.
Tarte Expect a massive collection of vegan beauty products including everything from cleansing gel and tinted moisturiser to fake lashes and lip gloss. Not only are the products natural and kind to your skin, they also come in gorgeous packaging. You’ll want it all. Available at Sephora, various locations including The Beach, opposite JBR, www.tartecosmetics.com.
The Body Shop
It feels good to know that no animals are being harmed in the pursuit of our vanity. The Body Shop is famously against animal testing and has worked with Cruelty Free International over the past three decades. All of the make-up brushes on sale here are vegan-friendly and cruelty-free, and the extensive vegan range extends to moisturising vegan make-up made with aloe vera to vegan skincare crafted with essential oils. Various locations including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.thebodyshop.com.
Too Faced For 100 percent cruelty-free beauty products and an impressive selection of vegan cosmetics, hit up Too Faced. Even its make-up brushes are made from soft “teddy-bear hair”, and its list of merchandise is as long as your arm. Snap up primers, mascaras, liners, lipsticks, bronzers, foundations and more. Available at Sephora, various locations including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.toofaced.com.
Tasty vegan eats around town
77 Veggie Boutique The vegan chickpea flour mufellatas are the house speciality here, and they’re super tasty. The vegan herb-based chickpea flour omelette is cut and stuffed with baked aubergine, asparagus, tomatoes and lime, and at just 189 calories you can leave room for the selection of vegan desserts. Dhs29. Open Sun-Thu 7.30am-9pm; Fri-Sat 11am-9pm. Tiffany Tower, Cluster W, JLT (04 422 4116).
Time Out Dubai’s Best Budget Restaurant 2018 has loads of vegan options, and the potato mustard curry is a go-to dish for every Sri Lankan-spice loving vegan. The diced potatoes are seasoned with authentic spices and cooked with coconut milk and a flourish of mustard seeds. There’s also aubergine in hot garlic sauce and mixed vegetable curry that we could eat every day. Dhs20. Open daily 8am-11pm. Lake Point Tower, Cluster N, JLT (04 452 1007).
This burger joint is a great all-rounder if you’re in a mixed group of eaters. Its menu is packed with vegan, gluten-free and meaty options so everyone can have their fill (with juicy loaded burgers, no less). The Farmstead burger compromises of a sweet potato and quinoa patty, hummus, romaine lettuce, alfalfa and tomatoes in a green wrap and is a low-fat option at just 400 calories. There’s also the Guadalupe burger, which is a black bean and rice patty with guacamole, pickled jalapeños, tomatoes and alfalfa in a multi-grain bun. Dhs42 (Farmstead), Dhs45 (Guadalupe). Various locations including Dubai Festival City Mall, www.bareburger.com.
Another place to get a cracking burger is Black Tap – as you’ll see from this issue’s cover. The vegan offering consists of a black bean patty, pickled onions, salsa verde, cilantro and vegan mayo. You can also make the falafel burger vegan by taking out the feta cheese, making it a falafel patty, tahini, pickled onions and hummus. Splendid. Dhs95 (The Vegan Burger), Dhs84 (The Falafel Burger). Sat-Wed, 11am-midnight; Thu-Fri, 11am-12.30am. Jumeirah Al Naseem, Madinat Jumeirah, Umm Suqeim (04 422 9904); Rixos Premium Dubai, JBR The Walk (04 339 9076).
The ancient grain bowl at Bombay Bungalow is packed full of lentils, greens, quinoa and orange chutney dressing. It looks so bright and colourful that you’re bound to add it to one of those 50-odd million vegan food pics already on Instagram. Dhs40. Open daily noon-midnight. The Beach, opposite JBR (800 692 8779).
This Thai eatery in JLT is a favourite among vegans in the city with any number of stir-fries, Thai curries and soups available. The kitchen is more than happy to make modifications to dishes on the menu to make them vegan, and best of all, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Main courses from Dhs28. Open Mon-Sat noon-10pm. Waterfront, Cluster M, JLT (04 513 5289).
This café is a favourite with Dubai Media City office workers. It has a dedicated vegan section on its menu featuring a cauliflower and barbecue chickpea flatbread, brown rice noodles with edamame, and apple and cinnamon tacos with coconut cream to satisfy any sweet tooth. Healthy and tasty. From Dhs36 (roasted pumpkin). Open Sat-Wed, 8am-11pm; Thu-Fri, 8am-midnight. Dubai Media City (04 3915170).
For sugar-free and dairy-free dishes with a good range of vegan options, head to Comptoir 102. It serves some cracking smoothies and juices, all vitamin-packed, using locally sourced fruits and veg, organic super-foods and home-made nut milks. The vegan nut and cheese plate comes with home-made vegan cheeses, home-made fig paste, almonds and home-made organic bread. Enjoy the Jumeirah 1 café’s fancy décor (think spindly chairs and cute crockery), but it’s also on Deliveroo if you fancy chilling out at home. Don’t miss the vegan ice cream, either. Dhs52.50 (nut and cheese plate). Open daily 7.30am-9pm. Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 1 (04 385 4555).
The coffee shop chain has recently introduced coconut milk to its repertoire, so you can add a delicious splash to your latte, mocha, cappuccino or any of your favourite hot drinks for an extra Dhs3.25. There’s also a brand-new vanilla and coconut latte from Dhs22. Prices vary. Various locations including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.costacoffee.ae.
The Free-Gan pizza is topped with orange peppers, jalapeños, cherry tomatoes, onions, caramelised onions, coriander and a scattering of vegan cheese. We’re massive fans of bread and cheese in any capacity, but this is off the charts. FromDhs35 (small Free-Gan). Locations include Dubai Marina and Downtown Dubai, www.freedompizza.ae.
The offering here is entirely plant-based, wholesome and nutritious, without the hassle of dissecting the entire menu for traces of dairy. It caters for every meal of the day, but we’re particular fans of the jivamukti burger, made up of a sweet potato, wild rice and black-eyed pea patty with tomato chutney, sautéed kale and caramelised onions in a wholewheat bun served with a side hippy salad. The spag and neat balls are also worth a mention/shout from the rooftops. Dhs58 (jivamukti burger). Available on Deliveroo, www.deliveroo.ae.
This is a special little place in JLT where you can nibble (gorge) on vegan doughnuts to your heart’s content. Flavours such as vegan apple-glazed, tangerine and peanut butter will see all decorum go out the window, and with prices starting from Dhs7 for the vegan range, it’ll be no holds barred. From Dhs7. Open Sat-Wed 8am-10.30pm; Thu-Fri 8am-11pm. Damac Lake Terrace Tower, Cluster D, JLT (04 276 7110).
The guys at Joga have been serving the health-conscious folk of Dubai since 2004, and we adore them for it. The vegan brown rice comes with sun-dried tomatoes, dried cranberries, mint leaves, rocca, spring onion, parsley and apple vinegar. It’s so good you’ll want to stick your head straight in the bowl. Dhs27 (vegan brown rice). Open Sun-Thu 8am-7pm; Fri-Sat closed (available on Deliveroo). Various locations including Gate Precinct 3, DIFC (04 370 0304).
A healthy gourmet food delivery service, MySixPak offers a wide range of meal plans. The menus are created weekly by expert chefs and include a vegan option that’s ideal for newbies who want to give plant-eating a shot without endlessly scouring the back of food labels for information. Dhs1,880 (two-week trial period). www.mysixpak.com.
This is a little vegan gold mine, most of all for its fiery falafel, a wondrous combination of falafel, hummus, pickles, tahini salad and a choice of pita or saj bread. If you’re not a spice-lover there are plenty of cooler options including the classic falafel and a tasty range of salads. It will be a struggle not to fall to your knees with your falafel raised in triumph upon experiencing your first bite. It’s that good. From Dhs12 (fiery falafel). Various locations including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.operationfalafel.com.
Pinza has a great range of vegan-friendly pizzas with the best vegan cheese we’ve discovered. Offerings include the El Padrino with salsa, garlic, chilli and tomatoes and Oh My Vegan with vegan mozzarella, vegan chipotle sausage and a ton of tasty veggies that taste oh so fresh. From Dhs30 (El Padrino). Various locations including Business Bay, www.pinza.com.
Pret To Go
We love the quinoa salad with white quinoa, tomatoes, cranberries, spring onions, hazelnuts, green chillies, chives, pickled carrots and a zesty clementine dressing. The corn and avocado salad is also pretty special, as is the organic chia and raspberry pot. From Dhs30 (sandwiches). Various locations including Dubai Media City, www.prettogo.com.
Super Natural Kitchen
The restaurant say it is Dubai’s first and only 100 percent raw, vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free and preservative-free kitchen and restaurant. Dishes include everything from North Indian curry with lemon cauliflower rice, to Portobello burger, lasagne and a range of raw cakes. The restaurant also provide a catering service, for when you’re throwing your next vegan party. We’ll raise a reishi chocolate antioxidant shake to that. From Dhs48 (main courses). Open daily, 11am-8.45pm. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.snkitchen.com. Taqado If you’re after Mexican it doesn’t get much better than this. Try the burrito with tomato rice, beans, onions and peppers, mushrooms and spicy salsa. Throw on a dollop of guacamole if you’re going all out. Various locations including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.taqado.com.
The Cheesecake Factory
This factory of all things delicious does an excellent vegan cobb salad consisting of crisp lettuce, asparagus, green beans, roasted beets, avocado, cucumber, tomato, garbanzo beans, quinoa, farro, almonds, sunflower seeds and the house vinaigrette. Not only does it taste phenomenal, it will leave you with the complexion of a young Elle Macpherson (maybe, no promises made). Dhs58. Various locations including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.thecheesecakefactory.com.
We love the Black Magic smoothie with activated charcoal ice cream, banas, blueberries and almond milk. Our mouths are watering as we write. Dhs37 (Black Magic). Open Sun-Thu 8am-4pm; Fri-Sat 8am-6pm. Al Quoz, www.tomandserg.com (056 474 6812).
There’s a whole plant-based section of the menu at Ultra Brasserie including the green poke bowl, with brown rice, baby spinach, broccoli, avocado, green beans and pesto. We also love the smashed avo on sourdough and the pumpkin and breaded tofu. We’re revitalised at the sheer thought of these fresh, healthy dishes. From Dhs56 (green poke bowl). Open daily 9am-7pm. Marina Plaza Building, Next to Dubai Marina Mall, (04 277 5644); Open daily 7am-10pm. Emaar Square, Downtown Dubai (04 420 4572).
Vegan options here include the loaded sweet potato with five bean chilli con carne, the spicy lentil ragu with puy lentils, garlic, mushrooms, leek and tomato on a bed of wild rice and wild mushroom risotto. It’s all very warm and extremely comforting. From Dhs42. Various locations including Business Bay, www.under500.com.
The vegan brownie at Urth is unbelievable. Mainly in the fact that it’s made from sweet potato, dates and oats, yet tastes just like the real thing. The vegan cheese tartine here is also pretty special – and is made with tofu. We don’t know how they do it. From Dhs30 (large salads). Open Sun-Wed, noon-10pm; Thu-Fri, noon-11pm. Cluster J, JLT (04 4535412).
Wild and the Moon
This eatery believes that food should be good for you, and the planet. The range of vegan dishes is extensive and everything we’d sampled has been top-notch at this. With juices, super bowls and healthy snacks, there’s plenty to satisfy any vegan’s mood. From Dhs29 (healthy snacks). Al Quoz and Dubai Festival City, www.wildandthemoon.ae.
Meet the vegans
We speak to four expats living in Dubai to find out what it’s really like to be a vegan in the city
How easy it to be vegan in Dubai?
Hannah, British, 44: Incredibly easy, nearly all shops and restaurants have vegan options, but if not, most chefs are happy to make you something.
George, Australian, 32:
It’s easier than I thought it would be. Restaurants and shops are becoming more aware of veganism and seem to be providing plenty of great options.
Jen, Irish, 27:
It depends on the area of Dubai you live in. JLT, the Marina and Business Bay are easy enough, but the more remote parts, like Al Nahda, are more difficult. In the three years I’ve been here it’s become easier. Non-dairy milks were rare when I first arrived and now they’re the norm in most cafés around Dubai. A lot don’t even charge extra anymore for substituting.
Katy, British, 31:
It’s easier than you’d think. Most supermarkets are also stocked up with vegan-friendly groceries, and speciality stores such as BiOrganic and Organic Foods & Café sell the harder-to-find stuff. There are also plenty of options when it comes to lifestyle products, too, such as cruelty-free toiletries and make-up.
Where are the best places to eat in the city as a vegan? Hannah:
I love Indian cuisine, and while normally there can be a lot of ghee in the food, if you ask for it without restaurants often oblige. Café Isan is great for Thai food, the staff there are so helpful with what you can and can’t eat, and as they make all the food fresh they can cater incredibly easily by just removing the non-vegan aspect of the dish.
My favourite place at the moment is probably Ultra Brasserie in Emaar Square. There are a tonnes of vegan options (the burger is the best by far).
Urth by Nabz&G. A lot of stores now sell vegan-friendly snacks, too. Park N Shop in JLT’s Cluster E sells a wide range of Nakd products.
Lebanese and Middle Eastern restaurants have countless mezze dishes that are plant-based. So do Asian cuisine restaurants – Thai and Japanese eateries always have options (just watch out for fish sauce). And Mexican. Try vegetable fajitas with guacamole and salsa – it’s always there.
What’s your favourite or go-to takeaway? Hannah:
There are so many to choose from. If I had to pick just one it’d be Hippy Deli. One day I ordered every meal from there. Breakfast was avo on toast, lunch was the jivamutki burger and for dinner I had the neat balls. That was a good day.
It has to be Operational Falafel. I can always rely on the fiery-falafel sandwich if I’m struggling to think of something.
Hala Organic – the Lebanese restaurant does a great spicy potato – and Hanoi Naturally (you’re spoilt for choice). Pinza’s vegan pizza options are tasty, and Taqado’s burritos always hit the spot.
How expensive is it, compared with not being vegan? Hannah:
It depends. I find fruit and veg and staple foods like beans, pasta, rice etc. very affordable. It’s when you start getting into the vegan cheese and meat that it adds up. If you can live without faux products then it’s definitely cheaper than buying meat. George: It could be cheaper depending on how you eat. If you’re creative enough you can eat great food with super-simple ingredients.
It’s expensive as there aren’t local options for some fresh fruit and vegetables. Before I was vegan I would only buy organic animal produce anyway so I’ve always spent a lot on food. If you’re smart about it, it doesn’t need to cost a fortune. Chickpeas and hummus are a great source of vegan protein and a Middle Eastern speciality, so that can be quite cheap. Dates are abundant in Dubai and are a staple of so many vegan desserts.
It can be much cheaper. Veg-based dishes on restaurant’s menus tend to be more affordable in comparison to meat- or fish-based options. As for grocery shopping, the same applies – vegetables, beans, lentils, rice, pasta, etc. can be cheap and locally sourced. It’s the speciality products that tend to be pricier (nutritional yeast and nut butters, for example), but they last longer.
What’s the most difficult thing to find a replacement for? Hannah:
I used to struggle with cheese but now there are so many brands available in BiOrganic and Carrefour. I use rice milk instead of cow’s milk as it’s so nice, so breakfast is easy. For creamy pasta I have two excellent recipes, one using almond milk and flour and the other soaked cashews. You can get pretty much anything nowadays. Or make your own.
I’m constantly finding fun new ways to substitute meat and dairy ingredients. Even the dreaded vegan cheese has become a lot better recently. A good cheese to melt though? I haven’t found one yet so it’s still a cheeseless pizza for me. Jen: I find it difficult to replace chicken. A lot of vegan curries use sweet potato and I find supermarkets often pass yams off as sweet potato. It’s not the same and it’s difficult to cook.
Not all supermarkets sell vegan “meat” and “cheese”, so you might have to hunt these down. Carrefour is a good option for this. But these aren’t particularly healthy anyway and you shouldn’t eat them too often. Swap mince for lentils, for example, or use nutritional yeast to create that cheesy flavour in sauces and pesto. You can even use mashed banana as a replacement for eggs when baking and mashed chickpeas taste surprisingly like tuna. These are just a few examples – there are natural options for everything. You just have to do a bit of research and choose the alternative that works best for you.
What do you miss, if anything? George:
I miss fish and seafood mostly. There are so many amazing dishes I just can’t replicate on a vegan diet, but I’ll live!
Eggs would probably be the item that I miss the most and when I first became a vegan I did struggle at breakfast time. Before, I never skipped my avocado and eggs of a morning, but now, I’ll eat oats with almond milk and fruit or another cereal. There’s not much you can substitute a poached egg with.
I did miss butter, but I just found Nuttelex plant-based buttery butter in Waitrose and it’s my new favourite thing.
Dehydrator You know the crunchy bits of banana you get in your muesli? That’s what a dehydrator is for. The appliance circulates warm air around stacked trays to allow water to evaporate easily and simultaneously – ideal for when your well-intentioned fruit shop is on its way out. Dhs148. Available at www.souq.com.
Know exactly what is going in your soup by knocking it up yourself. You can cram a load of veggies in one steaming hot bowl and a soup maker takes all of the hassle out of the preparation. Dhs99. Available at www.wadi.com.
Slice your vegetables into nice curly ribbons with this hand-held spiralizer. Courgetty spaghetti, anyone? Dhs50. Available at www.animicausa.com.
Salad cutter bowl
To stop those pesky slithers of iceberg lettuce getting everywhere. Simply insert, slice down the ridges, rotate and repeat. Dhs25. Available at www.noon.com.