Caviar, saffron and other billionaire snacks are readily available in Dubai. Learn how to eat like a (very rich) king.
Caviar Dhs340-Dhs50,000 Why it’s so expensive: The uninitiated may think caviar is ‘just fish eggs’. In fact, true caviar is derived strictly from sturgeon, a fish in increasingly short supply. The cost of wild caviar is therefore affected largely by its rarity. As a result, many caviar suppliers have started farming their sturgeon, but the process by which they do so can also be quite pricey.
‘The results can be variable,’ says Olivier Leguyader, the operations manager of Caviar House and Prunier in Dubai. ‘You are trying to recreate the exact atmosphere of wild caviar, which of course you cannot, but we can come pretty close.’
Caviar is also an incredibly delicate product, and much of the cost goes into protecting each egg (you are not likely to find a single broken piece in a tin of Prunier caviar). Prunier brand also prides itself on the freshness of its product. Prunier Caviar selection ‘Paris’, for instance, is caught, matured, processed and shipped within 48 hours. The Caviar House in Dubai incurs extra costs because it airfreights its products, to avoid having to freeze them.
‘Caviar is a very fresh and sensitive item,’ says Leguyader. ‘It has a maximum shelf life of nine months, and it has to be kept between zero and two degrees. Some people will call up a friend from Russia or Azerbaijan and say, “Bring me over a kilo of caviar,” and they’ll bring it in their luggage, but you can’t do that. Here, you are guaranteed top quality.’
How to enjoy it: According to Leguyader, the best way to enjoy caviar is to put a dollop on the back of your hand between the thumb and forefinger. ‘Then you roll it on your tongue like a French kiss,’ he says. While the description has us blushing, Leguyader assures us that this is the best way to ensure the caviar is fresh: ‘That part of your hand has no smell. After you eat the caviar, smell your hand. It should smell like nothing. If it smells fishy, it isn’t good caviar.’ Can you get it for less?
If you’ve been tempted to pick up tins of budget caviar on sale at the souks in Deira, don’t.
‘It is really scary that it calls itself caviar,’ says Leguyader. ‘You don’t know where it has been packed or who packed it. There is no serial number on it, no date, no control.’
Rather, get down to Caviar House and Prunier and order the 30g tin of Tradition for Dhs340. For that sum, you get the caviar tin along with several vital accoutrements, including blinis, fresh cream, onions, eggs and capers.
Wagyu steak Dhs240-300 per kilo Why it’s so expensive: According to Christian Gradnitzer, the executive chef at Jumeirah Emirates Towers, the price of wagyu is dictated by the care that goes into breeding these specialised cattle
‘It is expensive because it is raised in a special, gentle way, and these cows are given a lot of time and attention,’ he says. Is it true the cows are hand massaged and fed on a diet of sake? In Japan, absolutely. Outside of Japan? Not necessarily. ‘There is not a lot of control in terms of what is classified as Wagyu,’ says Gradnitzer. ‘Basically, you have to trust your butcher.’
Can you get it for less? Wagyu is noted for its intense marbling, causing the steak to be juicy and tender. While this type of steak has very distinct characteristics, there are other fine cuts of meat you can enjoy for less. Gradnitzer recommends opting for some high quality filet (‘For the ladies,’ he says) or a nice rib loin.
Fresh truffles Dhs8,000-Dhs23,000 per kilo Why they’re so expensive: While white truffles are more expensive than black truffles (the white are softer and more perishable), both can cost you more than a night at the Burj (and at least then you get a butler). Their exceptional price is due to their limited availability – the white truffle season runs from September through to December, and the black truffle season is from December through to February – and for the difficulty in procuring them whole. Pigs are used to sniff them out from where they grow underground, and, as these sensual tubers smell like pig hormones, it can be hard to get to the truffle before the amorous hogs do.
Can you get it for less? If you want to appreciate the deep, earthy flavour of truffle without dropping a load, you can do so by purchasing a substantially cheaper bottle of truffle oil or a pack of truffle butter. Gradnitzer recommends Burro al Tartufo, which he uses at home and in pasta dishes at Mosaico in the Emirates Towers (04 319 8088).
Saffron Dhs4,000-Dhs21,000 per kilo Why it’s so expensive: Because it takes so much land to produce so little product: Less than half a hectare yields 2.7 kilos, which means it’s more expensive than gold.
Can you get it for less? Quality of saffron can vary greatly. The more expensive variety will have longer threads that are darker in colour and more pungent and flowery in flavour. According to Gradnitzer, a single thread of high-quality saffron can yield the same effect as a whole kilo of the cheaper stuff. If you’re cooking in small quantities, however, you might as well go with the lower-priced version of the stuff, which is readily available at the spice souk in Deira.