As Dubai’s Filipino community unites to mark their country’s Independence Day on Wednesday June 12, Rob Garratt takes a closer look at one of the emirate’s largest expat groups.
Among the most colourful, vibrant and visible of Dubai’s 200-plus different nationalities are those who hail from the Philippines. More than one-in-five of the emirate’s population is Filipino, an estimated 450,000, with reports suggesting that a recent surge has seen the Pinoy community overtake Pakistan’s to become the second largest ethnic group in the city, only overshadowed by the larger Indian demographic. Statistics aside, as one Filipino expat Cromwell Ojeda, a 30-year-old graphic specialist, puts it, ‘we have everything here – everywhere you look, there’s a Filipino.’
As Cromwell’s countrymen and women in Dubai prepare to celebrate their country’s Independence Day on Wednesday June 12, the public holiday that marks the 115 years since the Philippines was declared free from Spanish rule, we take a closer look at this thriving expat group. We’ve spoken to Filipino friends, Time Out staff members and gone out into the city to find the best insider restaurants, bars and activities. We’ve also asked four other Filipino expats what they love most about Dubai. Mabuhay! (That’s a Tagalog greeting which literally means ‘live’, in case you’re wondering…)
Meet the expats
Four Filipino residents on life in Dubai.
Princess ‘Pinky’ Richelle Hermano Diana, 27, executive assistant/behavioural therapist living in Al Barsha, three months in Dubai
‘Because there are so many Filipinos in Dubai we don’t feel far from home. A lot of people [here] from different parts of the world believe in our capabilities; other nationalities like our cheerful personality as well – we Filipinos are known as very friendly and accommodating.’
Cromwell Ojeda, 30, graphic specialist living in Al Nahda, 20 years in Dubai
‘I’m a musician so I like to play gigs with my bands Fist in Your Face, Tsinelaz and Muhaisnah Four. ‘My favourite place to eat is Max’s Restaurant in Bur Dubai, which does good Filipino food. I also love Ravi Restaurant [in Satwa] and Dar Al Salam, a small restaurant near Al Ghurair Mall I’ve been eating at since I was a kid.’
Ellen A Samano, 41, owner of a training consultancy company and magazine publisher, living in Dubai Marina, four years in Dubai
‘My favourite things to do in Dubai are meet new people, check out new places and unexplored areas. Smiling BKK is one of my favourite places to eat, for its ruggedly artistic interiors and authentic Thai cuisine. I also like Blue Orange in the Westin Dubai Mina Seyahi for the location and international brunch, and Zaroob for the modern Levantine ambiance.’
Michelle Cantillana, 28, senior risk analyst living in Bur Dubai, four years in Dubai
‘There are lots of Filipinos in Dubai and I am lucky to have one big circle of friends that treat each other as family. My friends are the vital factor that keeps me sane and my calendar full. ‘I like The Gramercy in DIFC for the good deals on ladies’ night, Casa Playa Café in Jumeirah for food and shisha, and The Huddle in CityMax Bur Dubai to watch Barca games.’
The hottest nightspots on the Pinoy scene.
Boracay: Named after the salt-white beaches of Boracay island, this is among the classiest Filipino joints in town with a large stage, a revolving door of performers and a cabaret-style set up.
Open daily 7.30pm-2.30am. Asiana Hotel, Deira (04 238 7777).
ClubSe7en: Considered among Filipinos as one of the hottest tickets in town, ClubSe7en is also among the most fun places for a curious crowd to pop into. Fed by an incredibly dexterous ten-piece band, who outclass all competition with their mix of cheesy ballads, modern dance tunes and hip-hop, it’s a guaranteed good night out.
Open daily 7pm-3am. Park Regis Kris Kin Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 377 1210).
Kitakits Kafe & Klubb: Heavily alliterated Kitakits is a more intimate live music spot. Popular with couples earlier in the evening, long-standing house band Resound belt out entirely un-ironic powerballads, before upping the tempo for a party atmosphere later into the evening.
Open daily 6.30pm-3am. Marco Polo Hotel, Deira (04 272 0000).
Marharlika Café: This old-school nightclub has been a Filipino favourite for years. While some of its cool has been captured by younger competition, it’s still reliably rammed at weekends with party goers lined up to hear the bouncy house bands – we’re particularly fond of the Lady Gaga medley.
Open daily 6pm-3am. President Hotel, Karama (04 334 6565).
Rocky’s Café: Another old-school favourite which dates back several years, with a quirky house band dropping pop hits, a twee dancing troupe and a good-time feel.
Open daily noon-3am. Regent Palace Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 396 3888).
From choirs to rock, explore the community’s music scene here.
Dubai Vocal Ensemble
Filipinos are renowned for their love of music – especially singing – which is why it should come as no surprise that the city hosts a number of prominent choirs. The best known is the Dubai Vocal Ensemble, which regularly performs to international audiences and has crossed over to work with UAE pop acts such as Shero and Melissa LeRue.
Karaoke at Makati
Tucked away a floor above the better known (and far larger) Boracay, the Asiana Hotel also hosts the more refined and relaxed Makati Comedy Bar. But despite the name it is best known for its private karaoke suites, loaded with songs from the Philippines and beyond.
Open daily 7pm-3am. Asiana Hotel, Deira (04 238 7777).
Pinoy rock by Petra
As well as hosting legions of staggeringly good covers bands, there’s a healthy current of underground original Filipino rock bands swelling under the scene’s surface. The new PETRA Beyond Rock Music Pinoy Underground community recently hosted its first showcase of bands including Bulletcells, Pehps Squad, Drasbor and Merdam.
Launched this March, Dubai’s first Filipino-language radio station represents a major recognition of the swelling expat community, broadcasting dedicated local content 24 hours a day.
Fm 91.1, tag911.ae
Time Out’s Filipino staff recommend you try some pancit, adobo and halo halo.
Barrio Fiesta: This tranquil, low-lit restaurant is a safe bet for starters, and with its easy-to-find location in a mall, it offers many non-Filipinos their first taste of the cuisine. It’s certainly one of the classiest Filipino eateries in town.
Open daily 11am-11pm. BurJuman, Bur Dubai (04 359 4158).
Delmon: One of the cheapest and most basic Filipino eateries you’ll find, Delmon serves up authentic street food favourites, such as noodle dishes mami and lomi, at very reasonable prices.
Open Sat-Thu 9.30am-2pm, 5.30pm-11.30pm; Fri 5pm-11.30pm. Karama, near Karachi Darbar (04 336 9561).
Lola’s Best Restaurant: This clean and basic restaurant serves up a wide menu of exotic specialities, with patient and friendly staff to help you navigate the various culinary options on offer. We recommend the curry-like ginataang hipon and okoy, a fritter of mixed veg.
Open Sat-Wed 8am-2am; Thu-Fri 8am-3am. Opposite Al Hana Centre on Mankhool Road, Satwa (04 398 9193).
Max’s Restaurant: Known affectionately as ‘the restaurant that fried chicken built’, Max’s crosses traditional dishes with a fast food aesthetic to create one of the city’s most renowned Filipino restaurants. Expect this Karama joint to be bustling at all hours. Our tip: try the chicken sisig (sizzling meat dish).
Open daily 10am-midnight. Spinney’s Building, Trade Centre Road, Karama (04 325 7797).
Pita: This authentic eatery is heaving at weekends, so be prepared to wait for a table. It’s worth it though – favourite dishes such as fresh lumpia (fresh or fried spring roll), tapsilog (rice and egg dish) and goto (beef congee) are very reasonably priced. The venue also caters for small parties.
Open daily 10am-midnight. Next to Khalid Bin Al Waleed Metro Station, Bur Dubai (04 397 4384).
Salt & Pepper: This small and homely restaurant serves cheap and hearty traditional dishes – try the pancit malabon (stir fried noodle dish).
Open daily 10:30am-midnight. Centro Building, Near West Zone Fresh, Satwa (04 345 3459).
The places the Filipino community gathers, networks, and let’s its hair down – in person and online.
Al Attar Mall
Known affectionately in Filipino circles as ‘Filipino mall’, you don’t get a much more authentic taste of the culture in Dubai than by spending a few hours in Karama’s Al Attar Mall, with its own karaoke shop (Cyber Tech, shop number 96, 04 334 5552) as well as more restaurants and cafés.
Open daily 10am-11pm. Karama, (04 335 1020).
Wherever there’s a community of Filipinos living within walking distance of a basketball court, you can expect it to be buzzing with feigns and trick shots at all hours of the day. Among the most popular spots are the courts near Satwa Park – stop by and watch the action. For something more formal, find The Filipino Basketball League of Dubai on Facebook.
Filipino Digerati Association
Founded in 2007, the FDA is an established platform for Filipino computer enthusiasts to gather, share ideas and ‘further cultivate the hidden talents of Filipinos and advance our horizons for the greater betterment of every Filipino’. It offers a range of computer classes.
The size of Dubai’s Filipino expat community is laid bare with this classified-style online resource, which offers homes and rooms to rent, job vacancies and a friend-finding service. There’s even a ‘Pinoy of the Week’ competition – with the winning applicant walking away with a prize mug.
Show appreciation for your order with this easy vocab.
Kamusta = Hello/How are you?
Kainan na = Bon appetit
Masarap = Delicious!
Salamat = Thank you
Paalam = Farewell