Our Take On The Dubai Food Festival ’17
Dubai is the most modern and fast-paced city in the Gulf. If you haven’t visited Dubai yet, we’re sure you’ve seen pretentious pictures – done-to-death shots of the #view from the top of Burj Khalifa, #chilling at the Palm Jumeirah Island, #candid near Burj Al Arab, #shopping at the Dubai Mall, and other hashtags that make Dubai look a bit like a rich person’s paradise.
The city is brimming with luxurious, posh places, and that’s the only thing we get to see – on social media, and they influence us even as someone who is planning to travel. With fancy food plating and impeccable dining spaces, our idea of Dubai’s food scene is just a fragment of its interesting reality.
Our personal experience at The Dubai Food Festival this year has put the local food scene there into some perspective. We tried food unlike anything we’ve eaten before, and came back with a fresh take on the city and the range of food it has to offer.
We visited Dubai for the fourth Dubai Food Festival, a 17-day event that covers every kind of dining experience. It isn’t limited to local Emirati Cuisine, nor is it confined to a particular area or budget.
Comprising of multiple events around town, we consider this the best time to travel to Dubai if you let your stomach dictate your passport.
After two weeks of polling by over 3000 voters, Dubai declared two lists of Hidden Gems – the Top 10 citywide, and Top 10 Emirati restaurants. The citywide list includes a range of restaurants like Desi Adda – serving a take on Indian and Pakistani street food, and Yakitake – a Japanese bakery. The Emirati list includes Local House in charming Bastakiya, known for its preparation of camel meat and Aden Restaurant – popular for Mandi, a traditional spiced meat cooked in a tandoor. All these restaurants are inexpensive, tucked away from all the glam, and give one a real sense of discovery.
Al Ustad Special Kabab is a 40-year old Iranian Restaurant that was voted as a Citywide Hidden Gem. One of Dubai’s oldest establishments, they serve authentic, delicately flavoured Iranian kababs. The décor is unique, with walls adorned with pictures of the restaurant’s past and the famous people who’ve dropped by for their share of kababs. The best dish here is the Kabab Khas– chicken marinated in yogurt for almost a day, and the sour taste it rendered was quite a hit.We also met one of the co-owners of the family that runs this place, and his enthusiasm and stories kept us entertained throughout our meal.
Al Barza Restaurant & Café is a restaurant at Jumeirah Road that serves traditional Emirati food.The Luqaimat we tried was exceptional – crunchy, fried dough balls, topped with sesame seeds and date syrup. We also had the traditional Emirati breakfast – Halloumi Cheese (goat + sheep milk), Yogurt Cheese, Hummus, Falafel, Pickled Olives, Jam, and Foul Mudammas (mashed beans w/ lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic). This place gave us an overview of the vast Emirati cuisine, and the homegrown cafes in the city.
The Etisalat Beach Canteen is another highlight of DFF, and was hosted at a new location this year. Four times bigger than the previous edition, this time it was at Sunset Beach, and included masterclasses by celebrated chefs like Hienz Beck and Jason Atherton. They showcased home-grown concepts, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, street food, and an array of high-end beach-dining experiences. We had Shrimp Tacos from Swag Food Truck, which was one of the 8 food trucks at the beach, and the Pepperoni Pizza from Pitfire Pizza. The meat balls from Meatballerz stole the show, and they had everything from Sticky Asian, to Chipotle Orange, to a Spaghetti & Meatballs combo.
The Miele Dubai Restaurant Week had a selection of more than 10 high-end restaurants offering limited edition three-course menus, at a more affordable price of 199 AED per person. These include Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen, and the Scape Restaurant & Bar at the Burj Al Arab. We were lucky enough to be at the Chef’s Table at Ossiano, the seafood restaurant at Atlantis, The Palm. A one-of-a-kind experience, it is housed within an aquarium. With a floor-to-sea view of the aquarium, we had a 3-hour meal by Chef Gregoire Berger, and the view of beautiful creatures extended to our plate. The Duck Confit is one of the finest versions of the dish we’ve tasted, and Tomato Fell on the Grass was an interesting palate cleanser, with slippery tomatoes splattering on the bed of grass they were placed on.
Our stay at Manzil Downtown deserves a special mention. A short walk away from Dubai Mall, it has a majestic view of the Burj Khalifa. It’s a brilliant view to wake up to, with a near non-stop supply of gorgeous cars to stare at, and a warm, sincerely hospitable staff. That the hotel and its vicinity can often be crowded till 4 in the morning and yet ensure the guests a peaceful night’s sleep is a nod to their dynamic architecture and commitment to every kind of traveler.
A common perception of Dubai is that it’s a giant shopping mall with exceptionally expensive restaurants, cafes, and bars. While it’s not nearly as cheap as a range of cities all over Asia, what it does offer is an accessible, affordable, and cosmopolitan city that thrives on every kind of food. We ate at global chains like Five Guys, less than 20 minutes away from a place that serves Irani kebabs, and even ate at a restaurant whose main customers are taxi drivers from Pakistan.
The sheer range of food Dubai offers is mind-boggling, and not talked about enough to do its existence justice. We believe that a culinary trip to Dubai is absolutely worth it, and you need to start making plans for the 5th Dubai Food Festival. If you don’t trust us, check out www.visitdubai.com/dff