This is tourist season in the UAE. As holiday makers flee from temperate climates to thaw their icy bones, the mild winter of Arabia is a huge draw. While a significant number of visitors are here to explore on their own with their own pre-booked tours, those of us who live here often find ourselves the default tour guides for many visiting family members and friends. They come with lots of expectations to experience the grandeur that they have seen marketed and often want to do and see it all in too little time. This is Dubai the food travel edition.
There is something absolutely magical about the weather in the UAE and the entire Arabian Gulf at this time of year. What’s there not to love? The temperature is cooler, days shorter and local farming fields are bursting at the seams with vegetables.
Dubai The Food Travel Edition
- Go organic market shopping
Instead of doing all your grocery shopping at the supermarket, load up your jute bags and head to the Farmer’s Market or the Ripe Market on Fridays (Dubai) and Saturdays (Abu Dhabi). Enjoy a wide range of local, regional and sometimes organic produce and interact with and purchase artisanal food and craft products made in the UAE. For raw, veganists, you can also find raw and vegan products from Coco Yogo as well as freshly pressed detox juices from Essentially at the Ripe Friday Market. Visitors may even be able to purchase a few foodie souvenirs to take back home. Go with an empty stomach as you will have lots to munch on while shopping. It’s also a great way to catch up with more food conscious persons as well.
- Dine alfresco
You know I am the queen of eating outdoors. I just feel like a humble meal turns into a magical affair the moment you take the food through the door. Fresh air and great weather make eating out absolutely everything this season. Try to double up on experiences. For example, you can book a session At The Top at Dubai Mall to view Dubai from the highest altitude, walk around one of the world’s largest malls and dine outside and watch the dancing fountains in the evening all from the same location. Restaurants at the Mall and some in adjacent Souk Al Bahar have views of the Burj Khalifa and the fountain so just keep walking until you find one that suits you if the ones closest are packed.
- Cook outdoors
If you are a lover of nature like I am, this is the time to really live it up. While it will always be most practical to do meal prep indoors, get really adventurous and take the cooking outside. You can do the typical backyard barbecue or use an electric burner or cook in a pot on coals. For more advanced outdoor cooking, woodfire is the ultimate way to make meals, so this is the perfect time to go camping and cook by campfire. Camping in the desert is a traditional activity in the region and you could be a total hardcore adventure junkie and pitch a tent and go all night or you can simply do what most local families do- pull up by the side of the road in a remote enough area and camp by the roadside for a few hours. There are snakes and spiders and tiny foxes in the desert so if you wish to camp out all night, make sure you do your research and go with experienced campers.
- Go fishing
There are some places in the UAE where you can catch fish with a rod. Just keep an eye out for those people with fishing rods sitting on rocks by the sea. However for a more organised experience, you can book a fishing trip on a boat. Check out those on TripAdvisor. You can book trips from regular fishing to big deep sea game fishing. It’s a great family activity and you can accommodate 6-8 people usually depending on the company and the type of session booked.
- Take a food tour
Sisters Arva & Farida Ahmed of Frying Pan Food Adventures has quite a few food tours in Dubai to explore small ethnic restaurants off the beaten path. Pick from any one of the tours that best suit the taste of the persons attending and walk with an empty stomach and an open mind.
- Emirati Breakfast
If possible, book a cultural tour and breakfast through the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding in Bastakiya. Visitors will be treated to traditional breakfast fare as well as the explanation of the culture as well.
If camping is the national pastime for Emiratis, I would say brunch is the pastime for expats. Everyone’s done it and is doing it and you’ve never had a brunch quite like those in the UAE. Choose from the wide array of brunches on offer. I like the Delphine’s at The H, breakfast at Jensui at the Burj Al Arab and Latittude at Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Take cheese lovers to Cantine du Faubourg. If you can’t do brunch, you can do Afternoon Tea. My top picks are Fortnum & Mason, One & Only Mirage, Peacock Alley, Waldorf Astoria Palm, and Skyview at the Burj Al Arab.
- Budget dining
Once you’ve been to brunch, breakfast and dinner, you may want to have more cost effective dining options that don’t require you standing over a stove (or campfire) yourself three times a day. Great budget stops are the old faithful, Arabic: Al Mallah; Indian Seafood: Bu Qtair; Pakistani: Karachi Darbar; Filipino: Aegemono; Chinese/Malaysian: Noodle Bowl. Places like Satwa, Karama and Deira are teeming with small, affordable spots, but it’s best you try them out ahead. You can check out – Aegonomo (Filipino), Wide Range (Indian), Chimes (Indonesian), and Ravi’s (Pakistani)
- Meat lover’s haven
If you have a guest who is a lover of fine meat, then a visit to The Lexington Grill at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah is imperative. The head chef (our our very own Chef Lij) just reclaimed his award for the best meat chef in the UAE and the proof is definitely in the eating! They house the first and only licensed in-house dry ageing facility and dry age their steaks and pay attention to even the most minute details, which makes them a cut above the rest. the trip. If you cannot make it to RAK, a trip to Dubai’s only smokehouse is essential. American top chef Lawrence Wells makes deliciously mouthwatering meats at Perry & Blackwelder at the Madinat. Or book a table at Seafire at the Atlantis, The Rib Room at Emirates Towers or Prime 68 at JW Marriot Marquis.