Celebrate World Food Day with a culinary journey around Dubai
We are what we eat, which explains why Dubai’s restaurant scene is so representative of its ethnically diverse population. From Arabic, Chinese and Indian to Mexican, Australian, European and even North Korean, the city caters for a huge range of international tastes, meaning local foodies don’t have to travel far to sample cuisine from all corners of the world. With this in mind, and to commemmorate World Food Day on October 16, Time Out decided to take a metaphorical trip around the globe, hopping from country to country (and restaurant to restaurant) to discover the subtle similarities and distinct differences of regional cuisine. We’ve circumnavigated the culinary globe from east to west as quickly and efficiently as time would allow, visiting some of Dubai’s top regional restaurants, as well as hidden gems along the way – a world tour you too can enjoy without having to leave the emirate.
UAE The UAE is the logical place in which to start our tour; the only problem is that Emirati food can be tricky to find here. Back in the days when Bedouin tribesmen roamed the desert, options were limited to salt-cured meats, fish and rice, later spiced up with saffron, cardamom, turmeric and thyme. Brothers Khalid and Faisal Al Romaithi hope to reignite our taste for ‘traditional’ cuisine at Emirati N More, which serves everything from majboos (basmati rice with lamb; Dhs59) to maleh (salt-cured fish; Dhs16). Near Sharaf DG metro station, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 408 4777).
Iran The roasted lamb and goat dishes prevalent in Emirati cuisine are also evident in the food of neighbouring Iran. Slow-cooked meats and mixed-grill platters are the order of the day at Pars Iranian Kitchen in Satwa, and the food is all the more enjoyable now it’s cool enough to sit outside. Pars offers straightforward, simple dining and is an indisputable Dubai institution – try the lamb kebabs with rice (Dhs40). Al Dhiyafa Street, Satwa (04 398 4000).
Pakistan Iran’s chelo kebab (meat and rice) is arguably the distant relative of biryani, a wonderful, hearty dish prevalent in Pakistan. Biryani was the dish of choice for South Asia’s ruling elite, but it has become food for the masses and signature dish of Pakistani fast-food chain Student Biryani (Dhs15). Kuwait Street, Karama (04 336 9992).
Northern India Pakistan and India (particularly the north-west) have a great deal in common when it comes to cuisine. Once you’ve tasted Pakistan’s version of biryani (fast food, but delicious nonetheless), try the north Indian variation: pilaf. It’s thought the dish originated in northern Persia, and was subsequently spread by trade and the warmongering of Alexander the Great. Try a portion at Mumtaz Mahal (from Dhs54). Arabian Courtyard & Spa, Al Fahidi Street, Bur Dubai (04 351 9111).
Northern Thailand This is where our culinary trip takes a slight detour down south, but Thai food is worth the journey. The immigration influx of the Teochew people from southern China gave Northern Thai cuisine some distinct Chinese characteristics (plenty of chilli and seafood), exemplified by dishes such as nua yam namtok (a spicy salad of grilled beef with dried red chilli, ground rice and kaffir lime; Dhs115) and som tum Thai (spicy green papaya salad with cherry tomatoes, snake beans, dry shrimp and peanuts with som tum sauce; Dhs43). These are both served at Mango Tree. Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Burj Khalifa (04 426 7313).
Vietnam Though we hungrily await our first visit to newly opened Vietnamese restaurant Voi at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray, it’s Hoi An at the Shangri-La that has long flown the flag for this hugely underrated cuisine in Dubai. Vietnamese food marries the best of Chinese and South-East Asian cooking, all with a generous sprinkling of French flair (thanks to France’s colonial dabble in the region in the late 19th and early 20th century). The ga cuon la nho voi mo hanh (grilled chicken and foie gras sausages wrapped in vine leaves and served with fish sauce; Dhs52) is a wonderful example of Vietnamese food’s daring diversity. Shangri-La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 405 2703).
Western China Other than enabling fancy fabrics to get from A to B, the Silk Road was also a gateway for culinary exchange between India and China. Indian ingredients such as garam masala, coriander and tamarind have since been mixed with Chinese soy sauce, ginger and garlic to great effect, as exemplified by Indian Chinese food. To taste Chinese cuisine tailored for Indian palates, a key dish is Manchurian chicken, available at Assia in Wok (Dhs54). For more authentic central Chinese food, try Sichuan hot pot at Xiao Wei Fang in Deira (from Dhs50-200) or the mapo dofu at Chi’Zen (Dhs22). Assia in Wok, Dubai Mall (04 434 0375); Xiao Wei Fang (04 221 7177); Chi’Zen, Mall of the Emirates (04 354 9288).
Philippines It’s a shame that Dubai’s sizeable Filipino community isn’t better represented in the restaurant scene, but at least we have Grill Corner. Each dish is an exercise in wholesome, hearty, homely cooking – the chicken bicol (Dhs15) is telling of South-East Asia’s predilection to chillies, coconut milk and seafood paste (evident in Thai and Malaysian cooking), while Chinese influences include the use of soy sauce, tofu and bean sprouts (thanks to centuries of trade with China). Mankhool Road, Satwa (04 358 1445).
UK Hop across the pond to a country that has had its culinary reputation saved by a quick-talking mockney chancer (aka Jamie Oliver), a handful of fiery Michelin-starred chefs (including Dubai stalwart Gordon Ramsay) and the emergence of the gastropub. With the latter in mind, head to Rivington Grill, a restaurant so good that the original branch in London’s Hoxton was spared by hooded hooligans during the recent riots. The Souk Al Bahar branch captures the essence of the gastropub by doing wonderful things with British favourites such as steak and ale pie – or two of you can tuck into the beef Wellington (Dhs230). Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai (04 423 0903).
Japan It’s a long slog across the Philippine Sea to reach Japan, but it makes it worthwhile experiencing the Japanese commitment to artfully constructed cuisine. It’s therefore surprising that Japan’s most famous chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, had to travel to Peru to establish himself, but we’re glad he did: he has created some of the most iconic (and fashionable) culinary offerings of the 20th century. Nobu Dubai’s raw tuna with angel-hair pasta is fantastic (Dhs155), as is the chicken anticucho with spicy Peruvian sauce (Dhs78) and the yellow-tail sashimi with jalapeños (Dhs110). Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah (04 426 2626).
US West Coast The influence of Asian immigrants on western US cuisine is undeniable, from San Francisco’s Chinatown to a sushi-obsessed Los Angeles. Karma Kafé, serves its own brand of ‘Asian-Californian’ fusion food, from Philadelphia rolls (three pieces Dhs40) to tuna sashimi (three pieces Dhs40). Though the latter sounds distinctly Japanese, tuna was long regarded as an inferior fish for sushi and sashimi dishes until the ’60s, when it was promoted by Japanese airlines as a way of filling return cargo flights exporting electronics to the US. Souk al Bahar (04 423 0909).
US East Coast Heading back north and up the east coast to New York gives us a taste for steak, a dish that has been synonymous with the Big Apple since the end of prohibition in 1933. Laid-back steakhouses became all the rage, and soon matured into sleek and sophisticated dining establishments. This is exemplified by Manhattan Grill at the Grand Hyatt Dubai, which serves a tasty 225g Mulwarra Black Angus tenderloin (Dhs170). Grand Hyatt Dubai, Oud Metha (04 317 2222).
Mexico If you think we’re breaking for the border to fill our faces with burritos, think again. Famed Mexican chef Richard Sandoval, the man behind new restaurant Toro Toro at Grosvenor House, recently explained to Time Out that a burrito is Tex Mex, not authentic Mexican. The country’s traditional cuisine is characterised by the use of corn, beans, and spices such as cumin, oregano, and coriander, which can be found in dishes such as Toro Toro’s picadillo empandas (pastry stuffed with ground beef, potato and raisins; Dhs75). Grosvenor House Hotel, Dubai Marina (04 399 8888).
Belgium The Belgians, like many northern Europeans, developed a taste for potatoes during the 1600s, when constant war lead to shortages of crops and meat. The Belgians claim to have refashioned the humble potato into a chip around 1680 as a substitute for fish during the winter months. They soon realised that fries are the perfect accompaniment to the much-favoured mussel (courtesy of the North Sea) – try this popular pairing at Belgian Beer Café (Dhs130). Crowne Plaza Dubai Festival City (04 701 1127).
Germany The Germans and Belgians are similar in their love of chocolate and hops, and the latter is particularly timely: perennially popular German hop festival Oktoberfest takes place this month. Happily the Bavarian banter has been recreated in Dubai at Hofbrauhaus, which is serving a special Oktoberfest buffet on Thursday and Friday evenings until the end of the month (from Dhs220 per person). We’d recommend the white sausage dumpling in mustard sauce, which takes its origins from wild boar hunting of the dense Bavarian forests of yore. JW Marriott Hotel, Deira (04 607 7977).
Spain A detour down south brings us to Spain, a country still mourning the loss of El Bulli and staring down the barrel of economic oblivion. However, there are few woes that a plate of paella can’t fix. The dish was brought to Spain by the Moors, and is now served at Al Hambra (Dhs90). We’d also recommend trying the huevos estrellados, served Monday and Saturday from 7pm – hand-cut fries (potatoes were first imported to Spain from the Americas) with fried eggs, chorizo and caramelised onions (Dhs35). Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730).
France Not only did the revolution rid France of its bourgeois, but it also levelled the country’s culinary culture – chefs of grand estates (now out of work on account of their employers being beheaded) set up restaurants of their own, and accessible fine-dining was born. Happily, a little bit of France can be found in Dubai – Traiteur boasts some of the finest escargots in garlic sauce (Dhs65) that you’re likely to find this side of the Seine (incidentally, eating snails was brought to France by the Romans). Alternatively, try the eternally buzzing and still-brilliant La Petite Maison for some sunny Niçoise fare. Our recommendation is the tuna carpaccio (carpaccio de coquille St Jacques; Dhs90). Traiteur, Park Hyatt Dubai, Deira (04 317 2222). La Petite Maison, DIFC (04 439 0505).
Italy Spain’s culinary inclinations have much in common with the food from Italy’s coastal regions, but we’re inclined to focus instead on pasta. It’s Italy’s most famous staple, and under Italian law can only be made from durum wheat flour or durum wheat semolina. Ravioli, our favourite pasta, is thought to have originated in the 14th century – the vegetarian variation of the dish was particularly popular on Fridays when meat was prohibited. Carluccio’s serves home-made ravioli filled with spinach and ricotta, served the traditional way with butter and sage (Dhs60). The Dubai Mall (04 434 1320).
Greece As with any country perched in the shores of the Mediterranean, Greece’s cuisine comprises mainly seafood, grilled meats, olives and feta cheese, courtesy of the nation’s pastoral heritage. Elia has long flown the flag for Greco-dining in Dubai, and continues to draw customers thanks to chef Ilias Kokoroskos, who’s responsible for the refreshingly delicious dakos salad (Dhs35). Majestic Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 501 2690).
Turkey Turkey bridges both European and Arabic cuisine thanks to the Ottomans, whose marauding abroad led to a fusing of the Mediterranean, Europe, central Asia and the Middle East – a fitting conclusion for our whistle-stop tour. No-nonsense favourite Istanbul Flowers serves delectable kebabs and iskender (shredded lamb or chicken in tomato sauce with yoghurt and a side of rice; Dhs42). Below Safestway, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 343 4585).
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Salifu Oct 09, 2011 06:55 am
What about African? None worth mentioning?
mona abdulaziz Oct 09, 2011 06:27 am
Dubai a pleasure and taste special. You can not feel bored. Retained in the heritage community and open the windows wide to the culture and the arts the other two. First visit to the UAE 15 years ago I saw all nationalities closely. Shortly after I discovered that each nationality has different quality of the dishes you can find the dish and all the components needed to make this dish.