Celebrations for Diwali are typically characterised by fireworks, lanterns, colourful rangoli patterns made from rice flour as well as a plethora of traditional Diwali sweets or ‘mithai’. In honour of Diwali, and as a salute to its primarily vegetarian devotees, we’ve explored the vegetarian eating out options for you to explore in Dubai. Inevitably, the region’s vegetarian dining scene is dominated by Indian restaurants. This year, however, we’ve seen the opening of the veggie-friendly café at Comptoir 102 in Jumeirah, entirely meat-free 77 Veggie Boutique in JLT, as well as the recent launch of a vegetarian menu at American diner Ketchup in Downtown Dubai. It seems the times are certainly changing when it comes to the veggie scene in Dubai. But even if you’re not vegetarian, there is now a growing school of thought that argues a partial vegetarian diet will reduce your carbon footprint, as well as benefit your health.
77 Veggie Boutique
This newcomer to the scene is now one of very few cafés in the city that offers an entirely vegetarian menu. The selection on offer here is not only meat free, but also healthy, low calorie and organic, where possible. Arabian and Indian culinary references crop up in many of the dishes too. Highly recommended are the batata varda – this dish is made up of balls of potato puree flavoured with curry leaves and fennel, and for a filling dish for only 100 calories, try the Arabian fit, made with chickpeas and spinach.
Tiffany Tower, Cluster W, JLT (04 4 422 4116).
This long-standing favourite in Dubai offers Southern Indian vegetarian cooking at a budget price. There’s a huge amount of enjoyment involved in eating here. Ask the friendly waiters for guidance if you need help navigating the menu. We’re fans of the ghee paper masala dosa, which arrives in a majestic high-topped cone, accompanied by fragrant and flavoursome chutneys.
Bank Street, opposite BurJuman, Bur Dubai (04 357 7800).
While this venue is not strictly a vegetarian eatery, the health-conscious menu at this stylish café within Comptoir 102 design boutique is rarely graced by any meat or fish options, which means veggies have plenty of choice. The lunch menus change daily, and offers a range of deliciously prepared dishes, with a focus on providing gluten, dairy-free, and even raw food choices.
Jumeirah Beach Road, located opposite Beach Centre Jumeirah (04 385 4555).
Run by the Hari Krishna community, Govinda’s has branches of its vegetarian restaurant concept across the globe. Try the aloo methi paneer: potato cakes with Indian-style fresh cheese, or the shyam savera kofta, which are kebabs of fresh cheese wrapped in spinach and accompanied by a pineapple raita.
Located behind the Regent Palace Hotel, Karama (04 396 0088). Other location: Rolla Road, Bur Dubai (04 396 0088).
This vegetarian restaurant offers an extensive menu with a Southern Indian focus. The selection includes thali deals in both Keralan- and Gujurati-style, a range of inventive vegetarian mixed grills and kebabs, made with mushroom, paneer and cauliflower, and plenty more besides.
Building 16, Zen Cluster, Discovery Gardens (04 447 7866).
Not perhaps the first option you’d think of when looking for vegetarian eating out, but home-grown fast-food concept Just Falafel is true to its name, since the menu is meat-free. Sample the Arabic staple re-imagined in line with cuisines from across the world, such as American-style as a falafel hamburger, Italian-style in a panini with mozzarella and Japanese-style with avocado and ginger.
Locations citywide www.justfalafel.com.
Quite unexpectedly, we’re sure, Ashton Kutcher’s homage to American eating, with its meat-heavy menu of burgers and smoke meat and steak specials is an excellent choice for vegetarian diners. Ketchup restaurant has recently introduced a dedicated ‘green’ menu of vegetarian specials ranging from stuffed potato skins to start or a burger made with a bean-based patty.
Boulevard Plaza, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Boulevard, Downtown Dubai (04 363 8595).
Head to Sai Dham and you’ll not only be in for a vegetarian Indian treat, but one devised in accordance with ayurvedic principles (known as ‘Saatvik’ food) thought to promote physical and mental wellbeing. Recipes on this menu are also strictly onion and garlic-free, which is believed to make the mind unclear.
Oud Metha Road, Oud Metha (04 335 8788).
Saravaana Bhojan Shala
This Indian vegetarian option teams a simple canteen set-up, complete with religious shrine, reminiscent of backstreet Southern Indian eateries, with a friendly and helpful service team. The menu is extensive, including favourites such as dosas and chaat. Try the dal palak, a creamy mix of green lentils and spinach.
Zen 02 Building, Discovery Gardens, Jebel Ali (04 425 5700). Other location: Marina Pearl building, Dubai Marina (04 451 2525).
Sukh Sagar at the Beach
This vegetarian restaurants has sister venues across town, although the JBR branch is perhaps the best known. Despite being primarily an Indian eatery, Sukh Sagar at the Beach exhibits an international flavour on its menu, with a selection of European- style salads and fusion dishes such as tandoori paneer ciabatta and even dosa teppanyaki, where you can witness this Indian classic prepared ‘live’ at the counter.
The Walk at JBR, opposite the Hilton Hotel, Dubai Marina (04 437 0188).
A veritable gem in Karama’s bursting Indian dining scene, Venus sits slap back next to Calicut Paragon, the sort of Southern Indian heavyweight that even celebrity chefs dub a favourite haunt in the city. And yet Venus still does a roaring trade in its vegetarian fare. Try the tomato and onion uthappam pancakes and the paper masala dosa, which comes stuffed with a delicious surprise of potato.
Opposite Karama park and Lulu Centre, Karama (04 335 2113).
Located within the stylish and boutique destination of XVA Art Hotel, in Dubai’s historic district, XVA Café certainly boasts an enviable setting. Guests can sit in the central courtyard of this former ‘wind-tunnel’ house and enjoy a simple café menu that is 100 percent vegetarian. Interesting dishes to sample here include the bun-less aubergine burger, coated with polenta.
XVA Art Hotel, Al Fahidi Historical District, Bur Dubai (04 353 5383).
A guide to Diwali sweet treats
Indian sweets and snacks, known as ‘mithai’ are a quintessential part of Diwali celebrations across the country. While traditions vary from region to region in India, Diwali sweets are typically given as gifts to welcome visitors, or to thank hosts and also as religious offerings. In many areas, certain sweets will appear in shops, only sold during the Diwali festivities.
Diwali favourites to look out for include anarasa (made with rice and jaggery over several days), poli (sweet flatbreads filled with saffron, cardamom and chickpea paste), basundi (an aromatic cold custard, flavoured with cardamom), halwa (similar to the Arabic equivalent, typically made carrot, semolina, pumpkin or even lentils) and kheer (rice pudding).