Jumeirah & Satwa
Why go there?
Cheap food isn’t Satwa’s only draw. No, Satwa’s got soul. When news of its (now seemingly paused) redevelopment broke, record numbers hit our website to voice why it should be saved. And what were your reasons? Evidently, the tailors, handymen, car fixer-uppers and Ravi’s. But, more than that, you love its history. Store owners who set up shop 25 years ago will tell all about Dubai gone by, if you accept their chai. Just head to Rydges Plaza and stroll from there. Jumeirah, meanwhile, boasts a scattering of street eats so good you won’t mind driving to them.
1 365 Restaurant: At just Dhs18, 365 Restaurant’s Chinese and Filipino daily buffet may be worryingly cheap for some, but a financial crisis feast for others. Even if you’re not convinced enough to pick up a guest loyalty card, the outdoor seating area offers sublime views of the area’s more colourful tat boutiques.
2 Al Khayal Cafeteria: You’re hungry. You need to fill a hole. Where do you go? To the hole in the wall that serves the neighbourhood’s finest shawarma – Al Khayal. The meat-to-salad ratio is fair, the package fits snugly in your hand, without spilling all over your face and the service is generally smiley. In fact, it’s so good they opened a second outlet down the street.
3 Al Mallah: For some, Dubai’s street food starts and ends with Al Mallah (‘salties’ or ‘mariner’ in Arabic), or, to be exact, their cheese breads. Two plump slices of fluffy white bread come sealed together by dribbly cheese, creating the perfect end to a night out. Positioned on a bustling corner it’s busy right from early evening to the early hours.
Cheese bread Dhs6.
4 Al Reef Bakery: Al Reef is a favourite stop on many a Dubai reveller’s route home. Though not located on a busy pedestrian street, the zataar manakish is worth a car journey, as are the baked cakes and croissants, for that slightly classier carb connoisseur.
Zataar manakish Dhs3.50.
5 Arabian Sea Shell Cafeteria: The shawarma at this Jumeirah local is so popular that, even though it’s open until 3am, if you arrive after 1.30am and are looking for a kebab, you might be out of luck. The freshly squeezed fruit juices are a popular way to wash down the juicy parcels of meat in pita with chips.
6 Beirut: Though Beirut, the city, may be a party capital, Beirut, the restaurant, is somewhere calm that you might bring visiting in-laws for a cheap bite. Besides the staple mixed grill, our favourite is the manakish. Meat and cheese arrives enveloped in hot papery-light bread. Carb cloud nine.
7 Daily Fresh Sweetcorn: Outside the New West Zone supermarket, sits a woman with a large metal pot of sweetcorn. Give her a nod and she’ll add an artery-busting dollop of butter and three seconds later you’ve got a snack-sized polystyrene cup of goodness. Bingo.
8 Kanan Darwish bakery: Some folk might queue for cupcakes, but round here they go all out for bread. Spot the crowds outside Kanan Darwish and find out what all the excitement’s about: their huge, fluffy, freshly baked naan. It may be bread, but not as you know it.
9 Jumeirah Falcon Café: Join Dubai’s hungry cabbies and make a pit stop at Al Wasl’s longstanding Falcon. Opt for a KFC-style mayo-laden chicken burger, or hang on till 6pm for the classic shawarma. Healthy eating isn’t a concern, but the Iranian Hospital is merely crawling distance away. As the menu says, ‘Dish in your choice’. Indeed.
Chicken sandwich Dhs7.
10 Marzooq Café: Right in the middle of Satwa’s relentless bustle lies a crop of trees and a bunch of benches, perfect for loitering and watching the world go by. Located in the midst of the green, Marzooq carves a passable chicken or lamb shawarma.
11 Picnic Restaurant: A landmark at night, Picnic’s colourful façade offers a first glimpse of inner Satwa’s neon mayhem. Go for either Indian, Chinese or Arabic, but don’t expect much interaction with taste buds – bland is king. However, the popular outdoor area offers the chance to see some monumental traffic jams up close.
Chicken biryani Dhs15.
12 Rauf sweets: If you’ve lost your bike lights and are after an alternative, head to Rauf. The sweets are so bright you can see them from Dubai Marina. Almost. If you have a full set of sweet teeth, tuck into the pink, yellow and orange sugar-pumped delicacies for dessert.
13 Ravi Restaurant: The most well-known ‘secret’ tip in Dubai – Ravi’s is a certified hit with most western visitors and residents, with the plastic tables and chairs full every night. Like it or loathe it, one simply cannot depart Dubai without trying the butter chicken.
Butter chicken Dhs18.
14 Sidra: Slightly sheltered from the roadside, surrounded by potted foliage, Sidra puts the chic in street. Salads are fresh, juices are just sugary enough and their shish tawook grills are greasy, though not overly so. What’s more, the speed of service seems to have improved 10-fold in recent months.
Shish tawook Dhs24.
Bur Dubai & Karama
Why go there?
Few neighbourhoods offer as welcome a break from Dubai’s fine dining scene than Bur Dubai and Karama. Both areas have a vibrant atmosphere, complete with Indian and Pakistani families ambling at night. Consumers are also drawn in by cheap tailors and fabric shops, each flanked by frugal eats. Residents from the Subcontinent have their favourite eateries and, if you follow their lead, you’re sure to make some exciting discoveries. Getting here by cab is your best bet, as parking is horrifying. BurJuman and Dubai Museum make good starting points.
15 Mystery Restaurant: The shawarmas at this nameless venture may be low on frills, but you can’t beat them for convenience. Tucked neatly beside nightclub Chi, they make a great post-party snack.
16 Bombay Chowpatty: These guys specialise in pooris, so bust the bank with a selection at around Dhs5 a pop. They arrive mounded up on small dishes, piled with strands of crunchy vermicelli, coriander and lots of juicy salad.
Prices start at Dhs5.
17 Chhappan Bhog: When heading to a party, picking up a box of colourful assorted sweets from Chhappan Bhog is a sure way to impress (rose, melon and pistachio are among our favourite flavours). Naans and tandoori rotis are also popular here.
Sweets Dhs62 per kilogram.
18 Govinda’s: This 100 per cent Indian vegetarian restaurant is a fave among residents and, while they don’t do savoury street food, they do have an ice cream shop that doles out some of the creamiest, freshest scoops around.
Single scoop Dhs7, double scoop Dhs12.
19 Madhura Sweets & Snacks: Make a pit stop at Madhura Sweets for some of the fluffiest dosas in town. Madhura also specialises in sweets, in particular Mysore pak, a creamy square of unadulterated sugar.
Mysore Pak Dhs35 per kg. Dosas from Dhs4.50.
20 Paratha King: This hole-in-the-wall serves 100 varieties of paratha, or Indian stuffed bread. As every order is made from scratch, it’s likely you’ll have to wait a few minutes for them to cook yours up. But these flaky beasts are worth it.
Parathas from Dhs5.
21 Phersian Cafeteria: It may call itself a cafeteria, but this spot is really just a street stand, and it only carries three items: falafel, aloo pakoda (fried potato balls) and vegetable samosas. While the falafels are good, they’re no match for the aloo pakoda, which are light, fluffy and crisp. They’re each best served stuffed into a pita with tahini dressing.
Pita Dhs3.50, samosa Dhs1.
22 Sheeba’s Fast Point: You can stuff yourself silly on parathas at this street counter, though regulars usually pop over for the pani poori, small puffed shells filled with tamarind water and chickpeas. These tiny pastries are meant to be eaten in one bite, and they explode neatly on the tongue in a sweet starburst.
Plate of six pani poori Dhs5.
23 Urban Tadka Restaurant: This lively vegetarian snack stand belts out Indian tunes and a steady stream of diners line up for their special pooris. The man behind the counter serves bite-sized pani poori on a single silver tray and refills it until you beg him to stop. The sev poori – fried flatbread loaded with dahl, tamarind, fried noodles, potato and coriander – is another firm favourite.
Dhs7 pani poori, Dhs8 sev poori.
Why go there?
Deira may be the most multicultural area in a city renowned for its diversity. Throughout its bustling streets live Iraqis, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Chinese, Indians and Pakistanis, to name just a few. There is no better place in Dubai to experiment with Egyptian koshari, Iraqi kebabs or Lebanese shawarmas. If you can’t decide where to eat, you can ask a local, tell your cab driver to take you to his favourite Deira restaurant, or, if you fancy a wander, ask to be dropped at the Etisalat building. Also, be sure not to miss the souks and the corniche next to Dubai Creek.
24 Afghan Kebab House: This is where real men come to fill their bellies with nourishment after a hard day’s work. Grab a naan the size of a continental quilt and use it like an oven glove to relieve a red-hot skewer of its meaty burden.
25 Al Safadi Café: The moist chicken, the garlic sauce, the crispy salad and a few chips, all wrapped up in a warm, slightly toasted pita – these are the elements that make up the perfect shawarma, and Al Safadi, gets it spot on. It might drip a little, but this can only be the greasy goodness oozing out. Lip-smackingly good. One will almost certainly not be enough.
26 Al Shera’s Fisheries Centre: There aren’t too many places in town where you can grab a fish shawarma. In fact, this is the only one we know. Juicy hammour chunks are stuffed into a pita and filled with all the usual suspects: garlic sauce, onions and even chips.
Fish shawarma Dhs8.
27 Arabi Chicken: As the name suggests, Arabi Chicken specialises in, well, chicken. They don’t offer a lamb version of the shawarma, but the chicken variety is good enough to make us repeat customers. The bread is thinner, and smeared with garlic sauce. After the concoction is wrapped (with chips), it is dipped slightly into the meat drippings before the wrap is toasted, making the shawarma extra crisp.
28 Grand Abu Shakra: Arabic street food may be common in Dubai (and especially Deira), but if you’re hankering for something a little different, pop over to this Egyptian counter for some koshari. A popular street food from Egypt made with rice, pasta, black lentils, chickpeas and deep-fried onions, it’s topped with lashings of tomato sauce and a garlic sauce. Also you can try the Cairo-style falafel, ‘ta’amiyya’, which you can have stuffed into a sandwich with aubergine or chips.
Kashari Dhs15, falafels Dhs5-Dhs6.
29 Sultan Dubai Falafel Restaurant: If the name doesn’t give it away, this spot specialises (and it means specialises) in falafel. The balls (made of mashed fava beans) are so light they could float. Falafel sandwiches come stuffed with a gooey combination of garlic and chilli sauce and tomatoes and lettuce, but it’s the ethereal, emerald-coloured balls that make this place a real winner.
Falafel sandwich Dhs4.
Why go there?
Dubai’s less pedestrian neighbourhoods, understandably, aren’t known for their street eats. However, what these areas lack in magnitude they more than make up for in variety. The hefty expat populations means that you’re more likely to find a killer chippie than an authentic shawarma, but, hey, that’s no bad thing. Furthermore, because these areas are somewhat starved for good street food, the venues they do have are sure to be lively. Go with a car, and a mate from the area in tow, to discover the area’s other insider highlights (and avoid being left stranded).
30 Forsan Dubai Cafeteria: While Mirdif boasts a respectable takeaway scene, street food isn’t as well represented. One exception is Forsan, which boasts large queues of diners hungering for the inexpensive, yet juicy whole roast chickens and shawarmas.
Chicken Dhs17, shawarma Dhs4.
31 Mirdif Fish & Chips: If you’ve a hankering for traditionally British fish ’n’ chips – greasy batter and fries that stick to the paper – you could do worse than this traditional chippie. Dunk your chips in sides of curry sauce or gravy and finish with a deep-fried Mars Bar. Give it a regional spin and order the hammour – they tend to overcook the cod.
Fish and chips Dhs32. Mars Bar Dhs5.
Why go there?
When considering Dubai’s best street food, we couldn’t forget JBR’s The Walk. A fine example of street life by numbers, the new development has proved that if you lay the cobblestones and al fresco tables, the hungry hordes will come. It’s not as cheap as Deira or Satwa, but when every other shop is Armani, Gucci or a fur coat specialist how could it to be? Yet, along with the occasional craft bargain at the weekly Friday Marina market and new, geographically-confusing Covent Garden Market, there are still wallet-friendly snacks on offer.
32 The Fish and Chip Room: A ripple went through Dubai’s British contingent when word of JBR’s new chippie got out. Fortunately, the food lives up to the nostalgic memories of ‘grub’ at home. The battered cod melts in the mouth and the chips are fried to crisy perfection. It’s just the steep price (Dhs54!) that’s not so authentic.
Cod and chips Dhs54.
33 Le Pain Quotidien: Despite it’s location in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai’s original PQ venue managed to whisk us away to some quaint corner of Belgium. Now the fantasy is a whole lot easier on cobbled brick at The Walk. Go for organic breads, salads and naughty muffins and pastries.
34 On the Border: In the space of a week, three separate residents have confessed their addiction to On the Border’s guacamole live! dish. They prepare fresh guacamole at the table, ask you which ingredients you’d like, then accompany it with nachos. Get there before it’s gone.
Guacamole Live! Dhs29.
The best tea in the world comes served in a polystyrene cup. Head down to Satwa or the Dubai Creek and stop for chai at any one of the dozens of cafeterias or snack stands. Scolding hot, sweet and slightly sticky from a liberal pouring of cardamom flavoured Rainbow milk, the tea is so thick it is more like a delicate soup. The brew is served up rusty brown with the cheap teabag label still hanging over the side. Fish it out if you wish, but we prefer to leave it in. Every mouthful will taste different and you can lazily watch abras (or people, in Satwa) go by at dusk. Consider it a dirham well spent.
The dos and don’ts of street eats
Worried about food poisoning? Here are some tips to help avoid it when buying shawarmas.
• Buy shawarmas from stands boasting huge meat towers. Large towers mean large turnover, which means the meat is replenished regularly.
• Go to stands that have lots of people. Same deal – lots of customers means the place has a good reputation and it also means it replenishes its stock quickly.
• Take note of the hygiene of the person serving you. If they aren’t wearing gloves and are wiping their sweat on your sandwich… well, let’s just say, you don’t want any of that.
• Buy shawarma from an upright grill. If the grill isn’t upright, the meat won’t marinate properly, and your shawarma will likely be bland and boring.