What's it like being vegan in Dubai 2018?

We meet four expats living a plant-based life

Vegan in Dubai 2018

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.

George: 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).

Jen: 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.

Katy: 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.

George: It has to be Operational Falafel. I can always rely on the fiery-falafel sandwich if I’m struggling to think of something.

Katy: 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.

Jen: 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.

Katy: 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.

George: 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.

Katy: 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!

Jen: 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.

Katy: I did miss butter, but I just found Nuttelex plant-based buttery butter in Waitrose and it’s my new favourite thing.

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