It’s 9am and we’re surrounded by biryani. It’s a little early for lunch, granted, but the 18 chefs – armed with ladles, industrial-sized bags of rice and colourful spices, busying themselves around huge bubbling vats – aren’t preparing my next meal. Instead, they’re cooking up the first of three batches of biryani that will feed up to 400 people over the next 24 hours.
We’re in the kitchens of Biryani Express, the ubiquitous Dubai-based delivery service that is bringing biryani into the 21st century – or so claims co-founder Amer Qavi. ‘I’m taking something traditional that everyone knows and loves, and putting a modern twist on it,’ he explains.
Amer isn’t afraid to go as far as saying he’s McDonaldising biryani – from the way the food is mass produced in his shining Ras Al Khor kitchen to the way it’s packaged. However, this is where the comparisons to the Golden Arches end, because Amer doesn’t actually own a restaurant.
‘We started this business in 2007, when rents were ridiculously high and traffic was terrible, meaning that if we’d set up a restaurant, we wouldn’t have been able to serve all the people we wanted to,’ explains Amer. ‘When you’re in a fixed location, you only get a limited demographic coming to that location. Even if you have 10 locations, you’re geographically limited. I wanted to have a more proactive approach.’
Amer and his business partner have thus developed what they call a ‘hub and spoke’ business model – with the kitchen as the hub and several delivery vans as the spokes. ‘It cost more to kit out the vans than to buy them,’ says Amer, who envisaged each vehicle as a mobile kitchen and office. All the vans feature coolers (which, says Amer, are unique in that they open on the inside of the van) and a bank of microwaves. They’re loaded at 11am each day, drive to different rendezvous points across the city and wait for the biryani orders to flood in.
What happens next? We envisage lights and sirens, as the van skids round corners to ensure delivery within 30 minutes, yet the reality is far more sensible. The call comes in (via the Ras Al Khor kitchen), the biryani is reheated in the microwave and delivered via motorbike (each van is accompanied by a bike, you see). Even without running red lights, the briyani gets to you in 30 minutes – and it tastes pretty good, too. It seems there’s more to this biryani than just meat and rice.
But why biryani? ‘Everybody eats that stuff,’ explains Amer. ‘Anyone who has eaten in an Indian restaurant, which is more or less everyone on the planet, knows what biryani is. It was that universal appeal and recognition – I didn’t have to go out and teach everyone what a biryani was. I guess I was lazy!’
Open 24 hours. www.biryaniexpress.ae (800 247 9264)
Old favourite, new approach
Biryani Express’s delivery model may be unique, but its modern take on an old favourite is by no means new. There are several other restaurants around town that are also bringing traditional foods into the 21st century…
Tiffinbites: Rather than ‘McDonaldising’ Indian food, Tiffinbites has given a cute spin to tiffin meals – Indian pack lunches, if you will. Indian favourites are served in metal tiffin bowls amid sparkly Bollywood-tastic surroundings. Tiffinbites has already won the hearts and minds of trendy Londoners and, with locations at JBR and Mirdif, it has its sights set firmly on the rest of Dubai.
Open daily noon-11.30pm. The Walk, JBR and Mirdif City Centre, www.tiffinbites.ae (04 440 4952)
Wild Peeta: Like Biryani Express, Wild Peeta was born here in Dubai. The restaurant, which was founded by two Emirati brothers, has become a fast favourite thanks to its fresh, innovative take on shawarmas – pittas can be served with Thai sesame sauce, Italian marinara, tandoori sauce and an array of other global condiments. There’s even a vegan option – very 21st century.
Open Sun-Thu 8am-midnight, Fri-Sat 10am-midnight. Dubai Healthcare City, near Wafi, Oud Metha, www.wildpeeta.com (800 9453)
Zaroob: Perhaps it’s a stretch to argue that Zaroob is responsible for bringing Levantine food into the 21st century, but it has certainly given the cuisine an urban, edgy and modern makeover. The restaurant’s decor (concrete and corrugated iron) speaks volumes of the food that is served, featuring every flatbread imaginable, and all are delicious. We’re also big fans of the Nutella saj.
Open daily 9am-midnight. Jumeirah Tower, Sheikh Zayed Road, www.zaroob.net (04 327 6060)
Ping Pong: Ping Pong did for dim sum in the mid-noughties what Yo! Sushi did for sushi in the late ’90s. It’s no bad thing that classic Cantonese cuisine has been made accessible to the masses – it’s better to eat this than McDonald’s, surely?
Open daily 10am-midnight. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Burj Khalifa (04 339 9088)