Dibs is a traditional dish of the emirates – in many a local home, it is the quintessential snack food. Basically, it is a thick, molasses-like syrup made from dates that can be used as a topping for any number of pastries. Dips are a more modern concept, an idea free of cultural boundaries. This dichotomy is the backbone of Zeinab Al Hashemi’s catering company, Dibs and Dips. ‘I offer classic Emirati breads and pastries using traditional recipes. Then I change them and play with them,’ says Al Hashemi, the 23-year-old entrepreneur behind the concept.
Of course, Dibs and Dips is about more than just showcasing Emirati food. The idea occurred to Al Hashemi during university, when she was asked to formulate a business model that would address a cultural problem. ‘The saying “food is culture” kept running through my head,’ she explains. ‘When you travel, the first thing you always ask about is the food: ‘what kind of food do they eat?” But the local food is hidden here. You can get it at homes and special events, but otherwise you can’t really find it.’
Increasing the exposure to local food also meant increasing the exposure in Dubai to local traditions and culture. ‘I can’t perfect my recipes as my grandmother used to. But I want to honour those recipes, and all of the old generation as well, because this was the type of food they used to live on,’ she says.
The pastries themselves stay true to form: she offers local items such as chabab (pancake), khameer (flatbread filled with sugar and date paste) and luqaimat (a local version of a doughnut). These she serves with dibs, as well as a range of other dips, such as custard, honey and maple syrup. She is working towards opening a bakery, but until then she is sticking to catering small events.
At Zayed University, Al Hashemi studied graphic multimedia design, among other things, and Dibs and Dips reflects her artistic background, as well. She’s designed the logo, as well as the packaging and marketing materials, all of which point to a definite theme: Emirati pop art.
‘Being creative is not just about creating something new, but about rearranging something that already exists,’ she notes. This applies not only to her brand, but also to her art, which sometimes accompanies her food at catering events. The pieces have an Andy Warhol-esque feel, but highlight local brands. ‘I take my inspiration from the little grocery shops in the neighbourhood, the places I used to go to for treats and candies. In the local community, many of the brands I depict are well-known items.’
Al Hashemi has a lot of ambition, and as a result it is easy to forget how young she is. Her goal? ‘To have the first Emirati bakery in Dubai,’ she reveals. ‘I’ve always had this idea in my head, but when you’re so busy with life and studying, you postpone your dreams.’ Two years ago, she survived a serious car accident. While for most this would have been an insurmountable obstacle, not so for Al Hashemi. ‘It changed the way I think about things,’ she admits. ‘It pushed me to do things I always wanted to do. I thought that maybe it happened to me so I’d be able to do this.’ But surely someone else might have given up at that point? ‘Sometimes life gets hard and you find yourself at a dead end, but you should never give up because you will find the light again,’ she says.
Of course, being so young, she has met with a few naysayers, but in her typical show of strength she doesn’t pay them much heed. ‘I feel when you’re young, people like to doubt you. When I started, people would ask me, “what if you fail?” I say that if I succeed by even five per cent, it’s a success.’
For more information, contact Zeinab Al Hashemi on 050 565 7766.