Thursday, February 27, 2020

Dubai - The Food

Food and drink in Dubai are interesting in many ways. Alcohol is really eye wateringly expensive. A pint of beer, ordinary bog-standard draft, will cost you AED 50 which is INR 1000 or GBP 10 or USD 14. That is stiff by any standard. A bottle of Tanqueray 10 cost an astonishing AED 1400 that is INR 28,000 or GBP 280 or USD 390. Mind you booze is only available in 5-star hotels in Dubai, so one must be fair when comparing prices. Looking at it another way was, if it is only available in 5-star hotels, and at these prices, you have no choice. Bottom line, booze prices in Dubai are sobering, unless it is happy hour when prices can half.

Food is also pretty expensive in Dubai. Being located in a dessert, obviously, nothing grows and everything is imported. Buying specific top-quality produce like fish and serving it in high end restaurants is often at prices that exceed those in Europe. The matter is that pork is served in very very few places. The other meats that are served, be it beef or veal or chicken, are all Halal. One of the important factors when butchering animals in the Halal method is to cut the Jugular or Carotid Artery and allow the animal to bleed. Does this result in “dry” steaks or can a Halal steak be cooked rare? I do not know. I recall reading interviews with top British chefs who had opened restaurants in Dubai, complaining that Halal meat was dry. Personally, I have no opinion. We did not eat at Nusret or Gunyadin the now world-famous Turkish steakhouses with outposts in Dubai.

We did have 3 rather exciting meals. They were at

1.   Al Fanar an Emirati Restaurant in the newly developed Al Seef are at the Dubai Creek
2.    Anar a Persian Restaurant 
3.    Perry and Blackwelders a Texas Style Smokehouse and barbecue restaurant.
What is Emirati food? I asked my friend Jumbo, a long-standing UAE resident. He laughed and said there is no such thing. I then rsearched and Google gave vague general answers. One point to be kept in mind is that Levantine cuisine [Lebanese – Shawarma, Humus, Tabbouleh, Baba Ganoush, Vine Leaves and so on] form part of the modern Emirati cuisine, but they are recent imports. I could find no answer on what exactly constituted Emirati food, thus, proving Jumbo to be correct. 

There are however several dishes that are typically Emirati, some of whose names we in India are familiar with. If you do visit Lucky Restaurant or Jaffer Bhai Delhi Durbar, or Persian Durbar etc. you will see a section on “Arab Dishes”. These are Emirati dishes. Kepsa or Kebsa, Machboos both rice-based dishes with fish, or fowl or meat, Khuzi which is a whole lamb stuffed with Chicken and egg and rice, Harees or what we would call Harissa a thinner version of Haleem, Balaleat a breakfast dish, and of course Luqaimat a fried dumpling doused in honey or date syrup. Biryani is also widely consumed.

Fish is consumed very popular and is available everywhere. The Emiratis are absolutely mad about Hamour which is, in reality, several fish varieties all closely related forming part of the Cod family. You also get Shark which is prevalent in local waters. The cuisine does feature a lot of rice as well as vermicelli dishes which is cooked in flavoured liquid or stock and served topped with protein. Vegetables are cooked lightly in a light Tomato based gravy. On the whole the rice dishes are similar to our Biryani’s except that they are drier, certainly not as rich and oily and with a much milder spicing. In fact, what we do in Mumbai is we order Arab Mutton Biryani and Arab Butter Chicken from Jaffer Bhai Delhi Durbar whenever we have our craving. It is delicious. Once you taste it, I promise you, you will make Arab Mutton Biryani your preferred choice.

So off we went to Al Fanar, much researched by us and, endorsed by the Concierge. Al Seef is brand new development along the Dubai Creek, with the low-rise buildings being constructed in the traditional old Emirati style. Al Fanar was along the creek and we took an open-air table. Across the water we could see what were Dubai’s first skyscrapers – Rolex Towers – and some brightly lit Dhows. Quite pretty. Since Al Fanar was not in a 5 star, no alcohol. We ordered Vimto the local favourite. This was served icy cold, and it was sweet, very sweet. Vimto is drunk especially during Ramadhan as with the volume of sugar, you get an instant rush. No need for Gatorade.

Above: Ice cold Vimto

We were served a small bowl of Channa, simply boiled, served warm. The Emirati, like the Punjabis, really know how to cook Channa. It was very good.

We ordered Shark Cutlets or Koftat Samak as a starter. These were much like what we get back home. Lot of fish rather than filler, which is of course what is desired.

The main course was Machboos Laham or rice with lamb. The rice was cooked in meat stock with the Persian Dried Lime. This was excellent. Since we are Indians and need ‘daal’ to go with our rice, Deyay Nashef was ordered. This is Chicken cooked in a Tomato gravy which instead of rice to accompany we requested Bread. The Bread was a flatbread and delicious. The Deyay Nashef nice and mild and worked well with the Machboos. The only problem was the portion size. This was enough food for 3 people and a bit. Dishes are not individual portions and eating family style is the norm.

Above: Machboos Laham

Above: Deyay Nashef 

The setting, the cool weather and the food made a most pleasant evening.

We do like Persian food. We have eaten it in the past on several occasions. London has some decent Persian restaurants; Patogh, Kateh and Kandoo are three which come to mind. The Persians are good with rice and aubergine, they know how to get the best out of it. Anar is a place we had been to earlier; you can  read about it here.

The meal started with simple cottage cheese, much like our Paneer [in fact they call it Panir] served with Spring Onion Greens, Mint, Basil, Walnut, Radish and warm Flatbread. You make a little packet for yourself using these ingredients and pop it into your mouth. Very similar to Peking Duck or Crispy Aromatic Duck. Really delightful. I remembered eating this last some 30 odd years ago at our friend Bolly’s wedding [he is Iranian].

Above: Panir with the herbs and the flatbread

Salads with Yogurt are also very big in Persian food so a Borany Badamjan which is Aubergine, Yogurt and Garlic was ordered. Cool creamy and refreshing. We also got Mirza Ghasemi which is a sort of Baingan Bharta smoky roast Aubergine topped with Egg. This was a Quail Egg, sunny side up. I believe the dish is traditionally made with the egg scrambled with the Aubergine, much like our Kheema Ghotala.

AboveBorany Badamjan

Above: Mirza Ghasemi

The Chelo Kebab came highly recommended. It was well worth it. Tremendously juicy, minced lamb grilled on a flat skewer with some brilliant plain “Saffron” rice.

Above: Chelo Kebab

Above: The Saffron Rice with Tadigh or the crisp bottom.

The last dish was our ‘daal’Ghormeh Subz as classic a Persian dish as you can get. Spinach, Methi leaves, Rajma, Dried Limes and Lamb all cooked together, much like a Saagwalla Ghosh, turbocharged. Absolutely wonderful. This is one of our favourite dishes anywhere, and it is healthy to boot.

AboveGhormeh Subz 

This was a super meal and if you are in Dubai this place in highly recommended. By the way, it is in a 5 star, so you get booze.

The other memorable meal was at Perry and Blackwelders, which is a Texas smokehouse or barbeque place. This is US style barbeque where the meat given a dry rub, cooked over smoke for several hours and then served. You must have seen countless shown on TV with US style barbecue. Perry and Blackwelders is a large multi-level restaurant also in a 5-star hotel. This place served Pork.

We have never eaten US style barbeque, and have salivated watching shows on TV. We are not regular visitors to the US, and thought this will not be terrible so why not give it a shot. Boy oh boy, we are glad we did.

What is the classic appetiser when eating barbeque? Buffalo Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce. Reasonably spicy Chicken Wings came with an offer of gloves! Yes, why dirty your fingers when eating wings? No malarkey with finger bowls. Gloves were donned, Wings picked up and the bones licked clean. A wonderful starter.

Knowing this was Texas Barbeque, we had to order the two classic dishes. Smoked Beef Brisket and smoked Baby Back Ribs. Side order was a mix of Potato and Sweet Potato fries. The Brisket was really really good. Deeply smoked and tender beyond belief. The Ribs, like the cliché, literally fell of the bone. There was no chew. This was more, much more, than what we thought Texas Barbeque could be. This was excellent food. I know we were in Dubai, a million miles from barbeque country of Texas, North Carolina and Tennessee. It made us realise why US style barbeque is so loved and such a big deal is made of it. This is not kebabs cooking over charcoal, this is not Yakitori. This is something more, much more. We are hooked.

Above: Buffalo Chicken Wings with Blue Cheese Sauce

Above: The Barbeque Smoked Beef Brisket. Truly delicious.

Above: Baby Back Pork Ribs

In conclusion, like every great city be it London or New Your or Tokyo, Dubai offers you a myriad of food at all price points. You can eat very well in Dubai and the gastronomy on offer is second to none.


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