Happy Face Pancakes in the Middle East

When I saw that Ihop was opening here, I thought, “Whew, thank goodness.  What would my experience be like in Dubai without my happy face pancakes?”  Just kidding.  I do love pancakes, but seeing an Ihop here of all things really got me thinking about all the American franchises that have restaurants located throughout the region.  Maybe America has finally found a kindred spirit in the Middle East.  There is clearly something in common here because the gigantic portions and not-so-healthy way of eating that is popular with some Americans is spreading like little germinating seeds throughout the Middle East.  If only US-Middle East relations were as easy and cheery as sharing a meal over some smiley face, chocolate chip, whipped cream pancakes! 

To give you an idea, here are some of the chains that are available here in Dubai (and usually across the entire region):

  • Applebees
  • Bennigans (I thought it went bankrupt?)
  • California Pizza Kitchen
  • Cheesecake Factory
  • Chili’s
  • Cinnabon
  • Chuck E. Cheese
  • El Chico
  • Fast food (Pretty much every variation you can think of: Subway, Pizza Hut, Dominos, KFC, Burger King, etc, all of which can be delivered to your door, not just pizza)
  • Fuddruckers
  • Ice cream (Baskin Robins, Cold Stone Creamery, Marble Slab, Pinkberry)
  • Johnny Carinos
  • Johnny Rockets
  • Krispy Kreme
  • Macaroni Grill
  • On the Border
  • Outback Steakhouse
  • Pei Wei
  • Potbelly Sandwich Shop
  • PF Changs
  • Rainforest Cafe
  • Red Lobster
  • Ruby Tuesday
  • Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
  • Shake Shack
  • Seattle’s Best
  • Texas Roadhouse (Don’t judge me because I like this place.  I had never heard of this one before moving here so had to look it up, and apparently they do actually have one in the suburb of Houston I grew up in.  (must be a relatively new addition)  Given its name, you think it would be born and bred in Texas, but evidently it began in Indiana. Funny enough, when it was about to open here, I randomly got a text on my phone about the grand opening; I wonder if they had all Texan expats on speed dial? Ha!  Anyhow, I went there for the first time yesterday.  I couldn’t help but smile at the wall dedicated to Willie Nelson, the country tunes (including Telephone Road by Steve Earle – Daddy, can you believe that?!), the mural of The Texans, and the (all Filipino) wait staff line dancing every 30 minutes.  Despite it feeling pretty weird being in a mall in Dubai and originating in Indiana, if you’re from Texas and homesick, a visit here might cheer you up a bit.)
  • TGI Fridays
  • Tim Horton’s (This is a shout-out to Canadian friends.  I’m not pretending to know the first thing about timbits or double doubles, but I hear it’s something I should try.)
  • Tony Roma’s

Trying to find an Emirati restaurant?  Now there’s a challenge for you.  There is one on a “canal walk” of where else? A mall.  The website even brags that it is the “first and only local Emirati cuisine restaurant in Dubai.”  Those little mom and pop places featuring inexpensive, home-made local specialties just don’t exist here.  You can find that for many other cuisines, like Indian, Pakistani or Filipino food, but not Emirati.  

Sometimes I daydream about what it would have been like to travel a long time ago when countries were more true to themselves and less homogenized through globalization…


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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19 Responses to Happy Face Pancakes in the Middle East

  1. Debroah says:

    As a new transplant to Dubai and a former Texan, I just wanted to let you know I enjoy reading your blog. I came across it one day while researching Dubai when I found out that we would be moving here. We are almost settled in and I’m looking forward to trying out some of the experiences that you have shared.

    • Welcome to Dubai! Thanks so much for the comment – greatly appreciate it! You are getting settled at the perfect time – the weather should start getting more manageable in the next month or so, so you will enjoy exploring. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about living here.

      • Deborah says:

        One quick question. I need a haircut. Nothing fancy just a trim. Not looking to spend a small fortune. My hair grows fast and I tend to get it trimmed every month or so. I have had it cut twice here already. Once at The Palm Atlantis and the other time at The Address Downtown. Neither were worth the price. I’m in Jumeirah Islands. It would be great to find a place somewhere between there and Al Barsh. However, at this point I would be willing to drive wherever.


      • That is a fabulous question I wish I had the answer to. Actually, I too was fed up with spending a lot for a simple trim so a couple of days ago I bought a Groupon for SAKS in Souk al Bahar by Dubai Mall.

        Some of the places on Groupon seem a little sketchy, but I figured it must be decent bc of its location. (I think it’s a British chain?). It’s still going on for a few more hours – 129dhs for haircut and blow dry. Or maybe you could get some ideas of places on there that are more convenient location-wise? Sorry I don’t have a better suggestion!

  2. Jenny Horne says:

    iHop too?! OMG. I think that is was my disappointment about visiting- how overly Western it is. I really felt I was in Vegas meets Texas meets a little Toronto and Arizona. I would love to travel back in time with you! lol. Though I’ll admit my 20th bday at Chucky Cheese was pretty cool!

    • Oh good – happy I’ll have a partner during my time travel experience! 🙂 I’m trying to learn to appreciate Dubai for what it is, instead of judging it for what I think it should be. It’s tough though, even after three years!

  3. Laura says:

    wow, this is really interesting — I had no idea there was such an [unfortunate, in my opinion] infiltration of American food & restaurants! I don’t eat at any of those places here, so I would be searching out the ethnic restaurants in Dubai. Is there a Starbucks there? That would be my only downfall… too bad there are no Emirati places 😦

    • Before moving here, I knew there were some, but didn’t know the extent until I got here, and more keep popping up! It’s crazy! And it’s not just places from the US – plenty of chains from all over are here. Dubai is the kind of place where you have to seek out the “local” and interesting areas as opposed to it just being a part of your day-to-day experience, but if you don’t make the time for it, you’d miss it all

    • and by the way – yes – there are starbucks everywhere – I do pop in from time to time 🙂

  4. Sally says:

    I now live in the middle of a (Bermuda?) triangle of McDonalds. Utterly depressing – as was the slight hysteria in London to the opening of Shake Shack. I would recommend a Frying Pan Food Adventure as an antidote….or just a stroll through Mina Bazaar at night.

  5. safia says:

    Just joined expatblogs.com and found you there too. I’ve left a review and hope it bumps you up the list a bit so that others can enjoy your writing as much as I do.

  6. Mitzie Mee says:

    Last time I visited NYC I was like “oh, there’s no Fatburger?..and only one ShakeShack?!?”, -apparently some American chain restaurants are more common in Dubai than in New York:)
    Btw.: I went to IHOP and I was a bit disappointed. The US original is better (if you can use “original” about a chain restaurant).

    • Oh that’s funny. It’s true – it seems like once one location pops up in Dubai, five more are soon to follow. Good to know about Ihop. Seems to be hard to find good pancakes here. (aside from making them yourself of course)

  7. littlecity says:

    “Sometimes I daydream about what it would have been like to travel a long time ago when countries were more true to themselves and less homogenized through globalization…”

    This rings so true! Quick story: my wife and I (we’re Brits) honeymooned in Thailand (this was back in 2000). It was basically the furthest place I could afford to go that neither of us had been to before. I was so excited about my first visit to Asia and couldn’t wait to explore all the country had to offer.

    We arrive in Bangkok, and my wife is tired, so I left her sleeping in the hotel and headed out to explore our neighbourhood. First corner I go round, and I’m staring at a branch of Boots (you would say drugstore) – as British an institution as you can get, and a staple of every high street in the UK, but one that to my mind just had no business being in Thailand. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t that. I can remember the shock and disappointment like it was yesterday.

    And now I live in the desert, and Boots is here in Doha, too. There’s no escape…

    • Oh no – that’s terrible! I guess some countries have more of a penchant for chain retail/restaurants than others, but undoubtedly it’s becoming very difficult to get away from it regardless of where you are, isnt it? I agree it makes traveling so much less exciting. By the way my husband is from London 🙂

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