My know-how of Middle Eastern food was built on grilled chicken, mezze and shawarma back home in Delhi; my trip to Abu Dhabi and Spain — a country I frequent often; and sampling Baklava in Toronto at my Grandma’s place. I ponder this worked in my favour because it meant that I arrived in Dubai with precisely no anticipations when it came to the food the first time around. I soon discover diverse cuisine restaurants in Dubai are a reminder of just how multicultural the city is. By Akanksha Dean, Chef Manager, Imperfecto Shor Cafe
With a visa on arrival for Indians, thanks to the valid US Visa, planning a trip to Dubai is a breeze. I am in Dubai in less than three and a half hours, and I check-in at the Shangri-La, on Sheikh Zayed Road — a perfect starting point to soak in the city’s vibrant energy. While I will travel to inordinate distances for anything allied to food, it’s not every day I step on an abra boat to do so. To get to the Al Souq Al Kabeer, one needs to get by boat across to the Dubai Creek. Spices and dates are the core attraction. I absolutely enjoy this.
It’s time for my reservation up above the sprawling city at Atmosphere at the Burj Khalifa. A glass of champagne in hand, I cannot get over the implausible 360-degrees night-time view of this radiantly lit sight in front of me, which ominously sets the ambience for my evening ahead. For dinner, Ayamna at Atlantis, The Palm, comes highly recommended. The menu is robust on Lebanese staples and the indication is to build as you choose with a tiny help from the server. They do excellent kebabs, but I prefer ordering nibbling dishes for diversity and punch, from crispy falafels and fattoush to hummus and garlicky grilled chicken wings… My Arabian Night fantasy completes with watching the talented belly dancer perform at regular intervals.
I am in Dubai, so a visit to the Dubai Mall is a must not only for the shopping but also for the food and beverage. I trust there are over a monstrous 160 outlets in the mall including my namesake Dean and Deluca. I spot Din Tai Fung housed in a chic ambience with stellar views. I am lucky to get a table within 10 minutes and soon I am lapping up the signature Xiao long bao. When the hot and tasty broth reaches your taste buds you will understand what all the fuss is about. My dinner is booked at ‘Noire’ at the Fairmont. I am here to experience, ‘dining in the dark’, and contradictory to the adage, ‘eyes eat first’. Blinded from what I am eating, I rely more intensely than ever on my other senses. With the logic of touch, I cautiously pass my fingers over my plate. I fork up a serving and snuffle like a well-versed connoisseur. My taste was working overtime on trying to decipher the complex mix of flavours on my plate. I am appreciating the texture of my food even more. Every crumb seemed like a work of well-thought-out art. But what did I eat? Did I get any of it right? Maybe only bits of it. At the exit hall, the chef and his team reveal the dishes consumed in the dark. The menu changes every week to keep diners guessing!
The next day is Friday and also my last day, but not without the Friday brunch; so I head to Hoi An, a Vietnamese restaurant at Shangri-La. A sublime, crystal-clear beef pho, fragrant and flavourful, is what I begin with. Vegetarian rice-paper summer rolls, with a suggestion of lemongrass, are subtle and refreshing. Soft-shell crab with salt and chilli is exactly as it should be, with apparent amounts of flavoursome, well-textured crab in a crunchy, tasty batter. The best part about the buffet — the food is brought in a la carte style and tastes fresh and hot!
I hear a lot about quality and quantity perfection at ‘Ribs & Brews’, an American style pub at the V Hotel, Al Habtoor city, so off I go for my last supper in Dubai, and order Carolina style ribs, smothered in a spicy barbecue sauce… decadent to the core! Interestingly, this dish made the cusp from cliché to clever global, drawing natives and expats alike. Thanks to its nifty presentation and mild fusion with the spice, which you drink even with a Beer Shandy. Beer Shandy with spicy Ribs? Now that’s an idea to take home.