April 14, 2008

A Thought for Food – The Hiker’s Dubai Food Guide

UAE is a great place for food fanatics, especially if you are the types who kill innocent animals for your own palette’s pleasures. If you have read a bit of Tim Harford and his paperback economics, you’ll perhaps know about the tourist traps – the costly and overpriced restaurants at the major tourist attractions around the World. Now Dubai has its fair share of them, like the ones on Burj Al Arab, Dubai Marina and Souk Madinat Jumeriah but overall you’ll be able to survive. That’s the other good thing about Dubai, Sharjah and even Abu Dhabi - you tend to get an extremely wide choice of price range. So you can have a really nice lunch for as less as 5 AEDs or spend perhaps your monthly salary at one shot. I figured out pretty early that going and searching for Caesar Salad in the up market restaurants is not worth spending my time and money on. So if you are hoping this post will help you find the best place for a camel roast, forget about it. My post is dedicated to all those herbivores who land up in a foreign land and forgo most of their meals in search of decent edible vegetarian food.

To be very frank, it isn’t so tough in Dubai if you know where to look. We start at the very bottom – the cafeterias. This segment has mallus everywhere. Almost 90% of the shops are run by them. Bangladeshis form the second largest group of hoteliers. Now these places might not serve you lunch, but will always have porothas and curries at your disposal and of course Lipton tea. If you are a bong, try finding a Bangladeshi one (mostly in Abu Dhabi) and you might actually get an excellent fish curry. Some restaurants are allowed to serve lunch and dinner and here you get your real value for money food. For example, if you are shopping in Bur Dubai, definitely go in to Highland Multi cuisine restaurant, near the Astoria Hotel. Really good food for souls tired from incessant shopping. In fact, while eating the Egg Bhurji there, I almost stood up and sang Jana Gana Mana after being subjected to scrambled eggs, Spanish omelette, cheese omelette and such bland ‘delicacies’ every morning at breakfast. Jai Hind. Seriously, I single handedly must have increased the pepper consumption of my hotel in these few weeks that I have been here.

Now if you are a little more status conscious, remember three names – Satwa, Karama and Bur Dubai. These are the Asian dominated areas in Dubai and thus of course are home to some great food. You have your Saravana Bhavans, Kamats, Mithais lined up in these places and the quality is really great. But what you must definitely try are Pakistani restaurants. (Most of them are concentrated in Sharjah. Yeah, no wonder we lost every time we played there) In fact, while I was having Vegetable Biriyani in Karachi Darbar at Karama, tears started flowing down my eyes, violins began to play in the background and I almost forgave our friendly neighbourhood country. It is undoubtedly the best Biriyani I have had in my life. Even, the Biriyani had during my school days at Zee-Shan in Calcutta by saving pennies from my already puny pocket money did not taste better. And of course order carefully if you are ordering parathas or roties. The Pakistani counterparts are perhaps double the diameter of our small but beautiful chapattis.

If you are however more patriotic and still want to have good North Indian Biriyani, do not worry – a mallu would have opened a Sindh Punjab or a Delhi Durbar Restaurant for you. But then you must go down to Satwa roundabout and sit on the roadside benches of Ravi Restaurant. Remember the violins in your ears? Here I am guaranteeing that they’ll become almost an orchestra, especially if you have survived on McDonalds or Burger Kings.

Speaking of fast food, things are pretty much the same like in Mumbai or Bangalore. You have your usual Subways, McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Burger King along with a few others. These are spread across the city, in petrol pumps and in Food Courts in the malls. As usual, they will typically have only one vegetarian variety, so ensure you do not visit the same chain without having a good interval between visits. In Dubai however, Burger King definitely tastes better than McDonalds. Your search for Indian chats will again take you back to Karama, where you will find yourself in Bombay Chowpatty.

For the more experimenting types, if you are from India, I’ll definitely recommend the Lebanese and Turkish restaurants. They are pretty much spread across the city. But try to take someone who’ll know what to order. A good idea would be to go ahead and walk down from Satwa Roundabout and look around for a restaurant you might want to explore. The other good cluster of food joints is near the Shangri-la Hotel at the Dubai Manhattan. From Nandos to Tony Romas, this place has a good variety for the Friday Nights. For those who want to cook, you’ll fall in love with the supermarkets which has fresh and canned food of every sort. The animals that have been killed for your eating pleasure, I hear, are also extremely succulent. In fact, even smaller outlets might have a great collection of fish for the bongs and the mallus. But you can make do without cooking if you are here for a short duration. In fact, my kitchenette will wish I had never tried making pasta. :)

Also, remember the Breakfast Buffet. Yes, it will get boring and repetitive and you’ll try searching for vegetarian food and end up with different versions of potatoes. You’d have made a perfect permutation combination of all types of bread available. But still if you get lost in the way, the heavy breakfast is what keeps you alive, trust me.

Here’s a song for food and lovers of good food. The mouse always knew it. Seeing this movie made me believe more in mice than H2G2 could :)

Dreams are to lovers as wine is to friends

Carried through lifetimes, (and) spilled now and then

I am driven by hunger, so saddened to be

Thieving in darkness; I know you're not pleased

But nothing worth eating is free

My hope is a banquet impatiently downed

Impossibly full, now I'll probably drown

Many thieves' lives are lonely with one mouth to feed

If giving means taking, I'll never succeed

For nothing worth stealing is...

Free at last; won't be undersold

Surviving isn't living; won't eat what I'm told

Let me free, I'll astonish you; I'm planning to fly

I won't let this party just pass me by

The banquet is now underway, so...

Bring out the bottles; a new tale has spun

In clearing this table, my new life's begun

I am nervous, excited; (oh) just read the marquee!

A lifetime of hiding; I'm suddenly free!

My dinner is waiting for me

A lifetime of hiding; I'm suddenly free!

My dinner is waiting for me

4 comments:

Dorothy Smith said...

Thanks for bringing such a nice post "A Thought for Food – The Hiker’s Dubai Food Guide" to the fore.

Very informative and yummy post!!

keep 'em coming....

dhruv said...

hi..having lived in dubai for 5 yrs!!! this was a treat of a post..!!! i kinda skimmed through it...but did u forget to mention the absolutely delicious road side falafels and shawarmas????

Madhurjya (Banjo) said...

@ Dorothy - Thanks a lot. Dubai definitely was Yummy :)

@ Dhruv - Being a vegetarian, it's difficult to appreciate Shwarmas :) However, They are the cheapest and the best way to survive in Dubai. As a result I have searched across Mumbai to find out a place that dishes out delicious Paneer Shwarmas.

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