Dubai’s third annual Latin festival sashays into town this week. Taking place at the Mövenpick Ibn Battuta Gate from Thursday March 14 until Sunday 17, this music and dancing extravaganza focuses on genres such as tango, salsa, bachata and zouk.
While Dubai’s Latinos are practising their moves, we’ll be celebrating (and hungrily awaiting) the recent explosion of new or relaunched Latin eateries around the city, offering Peruvian, Mexican and Brazilian menus, with several scheduled to open this month.
At last month’s Gulfood festival, Brazil was dubbed the country of honour in 2013, with 47 Brazilian food and beverage companies exhibiting at the trade show. And it’s no coincidence that Dubai’s hottest new food obsession is churrasco: three new restaurants – Fogo Vivo, Fogueira and Frevo – have opened in the past few months devoted to this style of traditional Brazilian barbecue. Interestingly, two of these churrascarias are located within new hotels: Fogo Vivo is housed in the Ocean View Hotel in Dubai Marina, which opened in December 2012, while the new Fairmont The Palm hotel is home to Frevo, unveiled in January. This suggests that Brazilian food is now on many a hotelier’s radar as a must-have inclusion.
Before you get your lips around this trend, let’s get to grips with the lingo. ‘Churrasco’ in Portuguese means grilled or barbecued food, and a churrascaria describes a venue that serves this style of cooking. Traditionally, a selection of meat (often a variety of beef cuts – look out for picanha steak) is grilled over an open flame on skewers. ‘Rodizio’ means rotating, and describes the style of churrascaria where the waiters rotate around the room carrying meat on the skewers on which it was cooked, offering guests as many slices as they can handle. Usually, as is the case with these three new venues, guests are given a two-sided token that they flip to green to indicate they’d like more food, or red to show they’re sated.
Fogueira in the Ramada Plaza in JBR was the first of these three venues to open, unveiled in October 2012. Guests can listen to live Brazilian music or sit out on the terrace, and finish their meal with a Brazilian post-churrasco custom of grilled pineapple with sugar and cinnamon.
Frevo also offers live music, as well as an extensive selection of Brazilian sugar cane-based beverages and a ‘saladista’ who will make customised salads for guests on request. Meanwhile, Fogo Vivo aims to satisfy non-meat eaters with an à la carte selection of seafood and vegetarian dishes alongside its meatier offerings.
Fogo Vivo, Ocean View Hotel, The Walk, Dubai Marina (04 814 5599). Fogueira, Ramada Plaza Jumeirah Beach, Dubai Marina (04 439 8888). Frevo, Fairmont The Palm, Palm Jumeirah (04 457 3457).
No longer the preserve of cheesy burritos and mariachi bands, Dubai’s Mexican dining scene has had an overhaul recently thanks to a handful of more modern venues launching in the city. It all started at the tail end of 2012 with the opening of Taqado Mexican Kitchen at Mall of the Emirates’ food court, offering Mexican fast food with a healthier, fresher approach to rave reviews.
The brand is due to open a second branch in DIFC this month: the new standalone venue will add a Mexican barista, serving Taqado’s own blend of RAW coffee.
Meanwhile, Maya by Richard Sandoval at the Royal Méridien has had a facelift: it reopened as Maya Modern Mexican Kitchen & Lounge last month. After a period of renovation, the restaurant now has new decor and a revamped menu, as well as a more authentic concept, complete with Mexican beverage library, plus a ‘librarian’ (aka sommelier) to guide you through the selection.
Also adding to the Mexican resurgence is Fuego, scheduled to launch in Souk Al Bahar this month. Characterised by chilli heat and flame cooking (hence the name Fuego, which means ‘fire’ in Spanish), the menu has been devised with the help of chef José Manuel Puma from Mexico City, and will include signature dishes such as wagyu beef tacos, short ribs with guava and Mexican beverage, plus popular soft drink orchata, made with rice.
Taqado Mexican Kitchen, DIFC (no number). Maya Modern Mexican Kitchen & Lounge, Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa (04 316 5550). Fuego, Souk Al Bahar (04 449 0977).
Over the past decade or so, Peru has enjoyed its own gastronomic revolution: capital city Lima now has more cookery schools than the rest of the continent, and celebrity chefs have a status akin to rock stars.
Peru’s passion for its food has been spreading across the globe; last year London’s media was in a frenzy over this cuisine, while megastar chefs Rene Redzepi (of Noma in Denmark) and Ferran Adrià (previously of El Bulli in Spain) have both spoken of their admiration for Peruvian food.
What sets Peruvian cooking apart is the combination of indigenous Quechan food with the inevitable Spanish influences, as well as ideas from the country’s African, Chinese and Japanese communities. Peru is also the origin of the potato (of which the country has more than 3,000 native varieties), not to mention bell peppers, chillis and tomatoes.
We suspect Peruvian cuisine will be quick to make its mark in Dubai following the first Taste of Peru Festival in February, and news of Dubai’s first Peruvian menu coming soon. Scheduled to open this month, The Act Dubai is a dinner and theatre club nestled on the 42nd floor of the Shangri-La, which will dish up plenty of Peruvian treats for fans of South American cuisine.
The Act Dubai, The Shangri La Hotel, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 342 5859).
Three essential Latin desserts to try
La Parrilla’s churros: Churros, a sweet, doughy, fried treat originally from Spain, are traditionally served alongside a small cup of thick, hot chocolate. The trend has unsurprisingly made its way over to the Americas, where it is enjoyed in varying guises from country to country. The signature dessert at fine-dining Latin American spot La Parrilla is ‘a forest of churros’, with the doughnuts served hanging from an intricate tree-like display, complete with a smoky dry-ice effect for added wow factor.
Dhs120. Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Umm Suqeim (04 348 0000).
Malecon’s chocolate cigars: Cigars aren’t often served as dessert, yet we like Malecon’s clever concept of combining two iconic Central American delicacies into a luxurious after-dinner treat. Made from a mousse-filed chocolate shell, the chunky ‘cigar’ is served with an edible ashtray made from a tuile basket. Just don’t hold it between your fingers too long, or you’ll end up with a lot of melted cocoa.
Dhs45. Dubai Marine Beach Resort & Spa, Jumeirah (04 346 1111).
Sweet Brasil’s brigadeiro cake: Brigadeiro, small truffle-like chocolate sweets covered in sprinkles, are extremely popular in Brazil. Among the patisserie selection on offer at Sweet Brasil, you can try the real thing, as well as a giant cake version. The brigadeiro cake offers layer upon layer of different chocolate textures and, while it’s exceptionally sweet and rich, a single giant slice will feed at least two people in need of some cocoa-flavoured TLC.
Dhs18. Al Seef 2 Tower, Jumeirah Lakes Towers (050 873 8980).