Food Culture in Dubai
The City of Gold. My home in the dessert for two glorious, sweltering years. The place where I met the love of my life, turned some strangers into friends, and also where I realized how much I loved food. Habibi – Dubai is heaven on earth for a foodie! Yalla, let’s get started!
Variety is The Name of the Game:
With over 200 nationalities living in Dubai, millions of people visiting every year, and expats making up 80% of the population, it should come as no surprise that the city is an intermingling of different cultures. Just like the cosmopolitan nature of the city herself, the food culture in Dubai is sophisticated and encompasses the multinational society of Dubai.
When I say you can find any cuisine in Dubai – I’m not kidding. On one corner you can find South American, Asian, Arabic, Italian – anything you could possibly imagine. Besides there being many restaurants that have fused together different styles of cuisine, Dubai is also home to some of the most authentic restaurants of those cultures. I’ve been to Moroccan restaurants with Moroccan’s, French with the French, and Indian with my Indian. So it’s safe to say – authenticity was clear. And yes, I found a South African restaurant that made me feel like I was back home.
In fact, most of the chefs heading up the kitchen in those restaurants were born and bred in those countries, and the second best received training by locals.
The South African restaurant for when I was craving a little bit of home: The Butcher Shop & Grill
My favorite Indian seafood restaurant: Mahesh Lunch Home!
There is not just one style of food in Dubai. The main restaurants in the region take inspiration from Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. That means that you can try everything from Indian to North Korean food – all on one street. Make sure to research each restaurant before you book to find the best place. I’m a Zomato Foodie myself! But nothing beats the recommendation of the locals. Talk to people in your hotel, and take restaurant tips to the grave. With so many restaurants in one city – it’s not easy to find the perfect place!
Dubai is a demanding city, and many working people are working 12 hour days or more, so cooking is not always an option. Do not despair – Dubai delivers everything you could possibly imagine. If your business doesn’t deliver, you’re basically non-existent. Many a night have I delighted in home delivered sushi, pizza, and cheesecake.
Traditional Emirati Food:
Dating back thousands of years, the traditional food of the UAE is known as Emirati cuisine and is a blend of various Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines. The Emirati family style of eating is with your hands – and is placed in a feast-like setting, with many plates, piled up with rich dishes such as date-stuffed camel, and there is often very little space left on the table.
If you didn’t already know this, the UAE is essentially a dessert, so the scope of Emirati cuisine is limited. While, the locals made do in those days with lots of preserved, dried produce – the modern Dubai has taken much advantage of importation. When you visit the grocery store, very few things, are native to Dubai. Suffice it to say, I didn’t have to miss my South African favourites – but I just had to pay an arm and a leg for them!
Camel Is a Popular Dish!
If you are an adventurous eater, camel is a common local dish, since there are so many camels in the country. Many Emirati dishes include camel as one of their main ingredients. Stuffed camel is the most traditional dish, with some restaurants putting a contemporary twist on the classic dish. Lo and behold, camel burgers! Camel is a healthy alternative to beef. Additionally, camel’s milk, which is low-fat and wholesome, is used to make cheese, ice-cream and even chocolate! Disclaimer: Hi, my name is Lauren, and I am a camel milk addict! I could often be found with a little milk box, slurping away on my lunch break.
Since Dubai is a Muslim country, you won’t find pork on the menu in major restaurants. Although, there is no shortage of any other type of meat! And many cultures like Filipino, regularly have pork as a staple – so as a happy medium, many supermarkets have a section for pork, that is kept separate from the other meat. Similarly, for religious reasons, alcohol is generally only served in hotel restaurants and bars – but don’t worry, expats have their wills and their ways. Do you really think I would’ve gone for two years without wine?
Shawarma is the most common street food in Dubai, made up of spicy, grilled shreds of chicken or lamb. An easy to eat on-the-go meal, shawarma is considered the Arabic version of fast food. And also my go-to lunch on many days when I hardly had time to eat! Restaurants serve this dish in varying styles, although a common variation is to mix garlic sauce, pickles, fries and tomatoes and then to wrap it all up in an Arabic style roti.
My favourite place for shawarma is: Shazoma Shawarma
A vegetarian’s street food delight! Falafel or felafel is a deep-fried ball – you know how I love fried things! – doughnut or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or both. Traditionally served with herby yoghurt dip or even spicy mayo! I lived across the street from Operation Falafel – so you can be sure I binged on falafel often!
Doner, Kofta, or Shish? The Middle East love their kababs! And so do I! But, what’s the difference? Only a true Dubai expat can tell you. A doner kebab is layers of meat vertically spit roasted – like the filling of a shawarma and then sliced off with a long knife, whereas a traditional kofta kebab is spiced ground meat pressed onto a stick and then grilled, while a shish kebab is cubes of marinated meat that skewered and then grilled on a stick. All of them are equally yum!
Dubai has delicious street food. I mentioned the traditional dishes before, and they double as street food, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They’ve even got a DXB Street Food Market! With a venue selected, food trucks just find a parking spot and the people start lining up at the little fusion mobile restaurants! Don’t know what to eat – how about Lebanese & Indian all in one?
With Dubai being a business hub, people don’t have time to eat– yes, I’m saying it again because it’s that busy! So often, street food is the only option for that 15-minute lunch break you were lucky to get in the first place!
Dubai is where my love affair with Indian street food began – before I met Bharat, my pani puri wala in Mumbai. There was Urban Tadka, where I often piled up 4 – 5 plates of pani puri! And if not pani puri, then all the usual suspects – vada pav, and samosa, etc. Hubby assured me it was authentic, and when I got the chance to visit India, I was able to confirm the authenticity personally.
Brunch is a Dubai institution. Fridays are all about one thing in Dubai – brunch. Brunch will never go out of style. Whether you are a foodie, party animal, or you prefer sleeping in past 12 – Dubai has a brunch for you. With anything from brunch & swim packages, evening brunches, party brunches, and even brunches where the champagne flows freely! It’s all about mingling with the beautiful people and devouring mouth-watering food.
Dubai created an insatiable foodie out of the young, inquisitive South African gal. Anyone who visits Dubai finds themselves craving a delicious concoction or fusion dish that can only be found in Dubai. Talk about a craving that can never be satisfied! With culinary influence from all over the world, produce from global food hubs, and chefs inspired by the constant movement of Dubai, the outcome is indisputably delectable.