Veer away from your default dining destinations and try a novelty nibble
Atrip to Old Dubai is never uneventful, and our mission to unearth a few new finds proved that exploring the city’s more pedestrian-friendly streets is never short of adventure. From being defecated on by birds in Deira to being accosted by someone shouting, ‘Rebecca! Rebecca, is that you?!’ in Satwa, via abandoning our trainers for a pair of blister-saving (and bargainous) Dhs8 flip-flops in Bur Dubai, we’ve battled the lows to bring you the highs. Here are 12 of our foodiest finds worth checking out this weekend.
Al Abra Cafeteria
Nestled along the bank of Dubai Creek on the Deira side, this unassuming café is a great place to get refreshed and put your feet up after a march around the souks. Right next to Al Sabkha Water Taxi Station, where you can hop on an abra to cross the Creek for Dhs1 or cruise around for an hour for Dhs100, the Cafeteria does great value snacks – grab a couple of deep-fried chillies for pocket change and rehydrate with an electrolyte-packed fresh coconut for Dhs7. Creekfront, opposite Al Sabkha Water Taxi Station, Deira (no number).
Al Bait Al Qadeem Restaurant and Café
Sandwiched between Deira’s souks and the Creek, Bait Al Qadeem (‘Old House’) sits next to Dubai’s first public primary school, Al Ahmadiya, founded in 1912 and now restored and preserved as a museum. Despite a culinary focus on cuisine from the Levant and across the Gulf, the restaurant (owned by Abdulla Bin Jamaan, who became Dubai Municipality’s first director in 1954) is all about showing visitors good old-fashioned Emirati hospitality, and there are even traditional dining setups on the floor. Near Heritage House, Al Ahmadiya Street, Deira (04 225 6111).
Estrellas A brand-new rooftop restaurant and bar at five-star Spanish hotel Meliá Dubai, Estrellas offers impressive views of Dubai’s most iconic structures. From 7pm every evening, take in the Sheikh Zayed Road skyline from a different vantage point, sip mixed drinks out of baby coconuts and nibble artfully presented bar bites. Meliá Dubai, Kuwait Street, Port Rashid, Bur Dubai, www.melia.com (04 386 8111).
Named after the highest grade of pearl, this Arabic gelato kiosk, sitting near the Deira Old Souq Abra Station, has a unique proposition. Head here to try camel milk gelato between bouts of shopping – though don’t expect it cheap, because a small pot will set you back Dhs20 (you’d better hope you found a bargain in the Gold Souk to make up for this lavish expense). For those with less adventurous palettes, other flavours include saffron, dates and pistachio, to name but a few. Creekside, near Deira Old Souq Abra Station, Deira (no number).
Mc David’s Restaurant
Big fans of Dubai Metro’s efficiency though we are, we’d hardly head to one for a bite to eat. Or so we thought, until we stumbled upon Mc David’s in the lower portions of BurJuman station. Move over Krispy Kreme – there’s a new sugary baked good in town, and it’s the only one we want to eat from now on. Emerging from a 30-minute Metro ride into the middle of Bur Dubai, there’s really only one way to restore those energy levels, and that’s with a sugar-sprinkled, fluffy, buttery ensemada, for a bargainous Dhs2.50. We’ll take ten, please. Downstairs, BurJuman Metro Station, Bur Dubai (04 348 6877).
This store is a real find. Close to Karama Metro station, it specialises in frozen and fresh produce and a host of other supermarket goods including all the spices you could imagine and more you may never have heard of. The fish counter is like none other we’ve seen. Jets intermittently release a spray of ice-cold vapour to keep the product incredibly chilled and fresh. Value for money is unbeatable. We paid just under Dhs100 for two fresh sea breams, 2kg of frozen chicken, a bottle of mustard oil and a mixture of spices. Karama, www.mefroz.ae (04 342 6663).
Red Mountain Supermarket Thinking ahead to your iftar meals this coming Ramadan? You’ll need to stock up on dried fruits and nuts to help your guests break their fast with. This store, between Shindagha Fish Market and Deira Gold Souk, houses barrels and barrels of imported, flavour-tossed cashews, pistachios, giant crispy corn kernels, dates, figs and much more. There’s also malban, nougat and variety of other sweets, and if you buy in bulk, you can negotiate yourself a good discount. Al Khor Street, Deira (04 226 9206).
Saleh Mohd. Bakery
Some real treats can be found poking out of Satwa’s hole-in-the-wall kitchens. One such is this Iranian side street gem, just opposite the stunning Satwa Mosque. Watch as a speedy duo of bakers roll out dough and sweep it into the oven, before whipping it back out moments later and throwing it onto the fresh pile in the window. The result is a stretchier, doughier roti, roughly the size of a hub cab, and for a couple of dirhams, you can make off with a plastic bag crammed full of them. 11th Street, opposite Satwa Mosque, off Al Satwa Road (no number).
Despite being home to some great Pakistani and Indian restaurants (Ravi and Delhi Darbar, to name just two), finding a good pre-noon savoury snack to munch on while you trawl through Satwa’s textile stores is not that easy. Take our advice and head to Satwa Palace. While the delightfully surly cashier won’t waste any niceties on you, he’ll oblige to scoop you a few vegetable samosas out of the window. Crunchy on the outside, full of flavour within and just Dhs1 each, it can’t hurt to grab a bag full once you’ve freed up your greasy fingers. Opposite Satwa Mosque, Al Satwa Road, Satwa (04 342 2070).
Peruse chocolates with quirky filling claims – from kiwi creams to mango – plus rows and rows of roasted nuts. Stacked to the ceiling, prices start from a reasonable Dhs20 per kilo for colourfully wrapped sweets and chocolates, and while they may not be the most fantastic quality, you’ll find they’re perfect party bag/favour fillers for kids’ birthdays. Friendly staff are also helpful, patient (the choice can be pretty overwhelming) and keen to strike up a conversation. Al Satwa Road, Satwa (no number).
Yousif Abdul Aziz Thyme & Herebs
Wafts of cardamom and incense float out onto the street to tempt curious nostrils (and their owners) inside this small store. Peruse Omani frankincense and pottery holders for burning the small incense in, saffron, dried thyme and rose water, while the shopkeeper (possibly Yousif, though our poor command of Arabic failed to help us ascertain this) cheerfully points out and explains different products. We left with a Dhs10 bag of disc-shaped Pakistani dried figs and a large bag of roasted, salted cashews for Dhs5. Opposite Al Satwa Bus Station, Satwa (04 331 3964).
Five old faves
Al Reef Bakery Head to Zabeel Road for the best manakish in Dubai. There are dozens of fillings to choose from (we love the tangy spinach option and labneh with vegetables combo), but you can also bring your own – on our last visit, one customer had brought in some prepared akawi cheese to have baked onto a few dozen breads and, noting our interest, benevolently gave us one to try. Zabeel Road, Karama (04 396 8999).
Aryaas There are still some places where you can gorge on thali and still have change from Dhs20. This vegetarian favourite is one of them. Check out the Karama branch. Kuwait Road, Karama (04 335 5776).
China Sea This Deira stalwart is one of the most authentic Chinese restaurants in town, and you’ll be jostling for a table with scores of the city’s Chinese expats. Prices are reasonable, too. Al Maktoum Street, Deira (04 295 9816).
Shindagha Fish Market Get up early on your day off to peruse the morning’s catch. Pick up some seafood to throw on the barbecue at home later, or just take a few snaps before wandering over to the Creek for a cup of chai. Near Al Shindagha Tunnel and the Gold Souk, Deira (no number).
Special Ostadi Restaurant Perhaps the quirkiest Iranian joint in the city, divert your attention from the eye-catching décor featuring bodybuilders, world currency and UAE memorabilia to the cheap and cheerful cuisine. Tasty kebabs atop buttery rice arrive served by staff with a twinkling sense of humour. Near Musalla Tower, Bur Dubai (04 397 1469).
…and one not so foodie
Edo Department Store
Whether you’re looking for gifts, kitchen utensils or an emergency pair of flip-flops (!), Edo often comes up with the goods. With everything priced from Dhs1 to Dhs10, it’s also a great bargain alternative to Dubai’s (perhaps) better known Japanese import Daiso (everything Dhs7 unless marked otherwise, branches can be found in Ibn Battuta and Al Barsha Mall, among others). The store is by no means sprawling, but there’s a good range of useful household goods, souvenirs and even kids’ toys to be had. Al Mussalla Road, Bur Dubai (04 397 3633).