As a relative Dubai newbie, I’m forever seeking ways to explore the city I now call home. So when I was offered the chance to jump on a pushbike and take a culinary cycling tour of the old town, my eyes lit up like the Blackpool Illuminations.
I love a little tootle around on two wheels, even more so when I get to stop off for some lovely grub on the way. And that’s exactly what Tastecapade offers – a leisurely ride around Jumeirah, stopping off at haunts you probably find in dusty travel books. Having chatted to our guide, Mary Freij, on the phone before she invited me on the tour I could tell she was keen about her food. That first impression proves massively understated as she talks myself and my fellow tourists, the laugh-a-minute Brazilian mum and son duo Susanna and Leo, through what adventures lay ahead.
The passion she has for all things culinary comes over instantly. We know we’re in safe hands, even if, as Susanna later spectacularly finds out while taking a tumble, our own legs might not be as reliable.
Despite listening to the debrief, I’d forgotten one basic fact about the Byky that would be my steed for the evening – pushing backwards on your pedals serves as a brake. Not used to such technical quirks, I fumble about, failing rather pathetically to get going. My brain and my feet are not in cahoots, unable to compute this simple system.
Thankfully, my furious flapping isn’t picked up by my bike buddies as we make our way to the first stop, Blends, a little café and juice bar on Jumeirah Beach Road, a stone’s throw from the Dubai Municipality building. Mary calls it our “energiser break”, but having only cycled for 30 seconds, I hardly feel I need it. Not being a huge lover of the UAE’s national fruit, I was a tad wary of the date milkshake placed before me. I shouldn’t have been. It is delightful and certainly gives us all a lift.
The second pit stop is one that surprises me. As we pull up to Salt on Kite Beach, I think it’s just another burger joint, only with a great setting. But as Mary explains its background while we tuck into hook burgers, my misgivings slip away. If it’s good enough for royalty then who am I to argue?
But I was in the mood for something a little more traditional and as we head down to the Jumeirah Fishing Harbour, I have a feeling this need will be satiated. I was right. After some photo opportunities and an insight into fishing methods, we cycle to the Seaview Restaurant to sample some sumptuous sheri fish. Freshly caught that morning, it flakes off easily and the special Arabian tomato sauce gives it a fantastic kick.
Susanna’s sister had warned her of rain at 5pm, but we’d laughed it off. However, we were wrong to be so dismissive, as the black clouds descend en route to the Seashell Cafeteria. Mary seems mortified at the heavy shower, buying waterproof ponchos for us, even though we explain that Englishmen and Brazilians are used to a drenching.
Nevertheless, some comfort food is needed and that’s precisely what Seashell rustle up. This haunt, popular with Emiratis, treats us to a plate loaded with Hassan Mather shawarma – named after the regular who concocted the taste sensation – and cups of wonderfully sweet chai karak. At Dhs6 a pop, the wraps are an absolute bargain. Cockles well and truly warmed, we proceed to the main event, Turath Al-Mandi. Resembling a drowned rat, I plonk myself in the corner and listen intently to Mary talking us through the traditional Emirati style of eating. I was excited to dispense with the formality of cutlery as we plough through a huge platter of goat madhgout. The flavours are delightful and make Colonel Sanders’ assertions about his chicken seem shallow in the extreme.
My belly was trying its best to flop over my belt. But there should always be room for dessert, especially one as moreish as Local Bites Café’s lugaymat – fried dough balls to dip in sticky date syrup. I even try the gahwa, despite normally being coffee intolerant.
I was a little sad when we had to return the Bykys and say our goodbyes. I’d been after a true taste of Dubai and Mary, who has lived here all her life, delivered that with aplomb.
I’ll be back, just next time I might leave the belt at home.
Dhs386. Thu, Sat, Sun 4pm-8pm. Jumeirah, www.tastecapade.com (050 786 2447050 786 2447).
Tastecapade is in partnership with Dar al Eman travel company.
Four to try Tour highlights
Dubai’s first food truck is packed to the rafters at weekends and in the evening so don’t expect your fast food to be in your hands too swiftly. However, don’t be put off by the long queues, they are there for a reason at this hangout popular with foodies and royalty alike.
Open daily noon-2am. Kite Beach, www.instagram.com/findsalt.
With fish so fresh you can almost taste the sea, this delightful venue has a fine selection of options at very agreeable prices. The staff are instantly likeable and know all the ins and outs of every dish, making your decision on which one to tackle all the easier.
Open daily noon-midnight. Jumeirah Fishing Harbour (04 333 555204 333 5552).
Wonderfully cheap and cheerful with a vast menu of food and drink that is lapped up by the locals. Wraps, burgers, fish combos, biryanis, soups, desserts and mocktails – this place has it all. You can even grab a takeaway from the comfort of your car. Just beep twice.
Open daily 9am-3am. Jumeirah Beach Road (04 394 288604 394 2886).
Presenting authentic food in both a modern and traditional fashion, this casual dining venue gives guests the chance to really get their hands dirty. Or if you’re not so bold, take a table and await the expertly cooked dishes to emerge from the mandi oven.
Open daily noon-midnight. Jumeirah Beach Road (04 395 355504 395 3555).