Food Marathon – Middle Eastern Style

Imagine working at a local eatery when a group of tourists from a food tour pops in to sample some of your offerings.  One of the participants looks particularly excited, giddily snapping pictures.  When you wish her a good trip home, she says, “Oh, no, I live here.”

Your face changes from a pleasant smile to a perplexed expression that practically shouts, “Huh?!”  Such was the look of bewilderment of these guys:

restaurant workers Dubai

when they found out I actually lived in Dubai and was not a tourist.

One of the things I don’t love about living in Dubai is that it’s really easy to live your life in complete separation from the older parts of the city where you’ll find “normal” restaurants. By normal, I mean affordable, non-franchised restaurants serving food from the region.  I don’t eat out all that often, but when I do, I like to have a glass of wine with my meal. That means I’ll usually find myself in a hotel since that’s the only place alcohol is served. Going to palatial and extravagant hotels is exciting at first, but it gets old quickly.  Deep down you know that delicious and complex old-world food that’s rooted in history and tradition is here for the taking, and you’re missing out.

I knew close to nothing about Middle Eastern food before the tour.  Beyond some basics that anyone who has lived in a cosmopolitan city might know, my vocabulary was limited, my taste buds neglected.  I didn’t know where to go to expand my repertoire. Yes, I’ve lived in the Middle East for several years but had to play tourist to learn more about local food. Weird, I know.  But I’m so glad I did!

The food tour takes place in Deira.  That’s a plus.  Deira is an older part of Dubai and one of the areas that feels comfortable.  It’s not grand, fancy, or blanketed in the shiny glitzy sheen that covers much of Dubai.  (Don’t get me wrong, Deira likes its flashing lights, but in a charming way.)  It’s livable and likable, without the need for the “ooh and aww” factor that normally attracts people to Dubai.  I like to come here when I need a break from the sterility and perfectness of other parts of the city.

So now that we’ve established the down-to-earth setting, what about the food?  We made seven, count ’em, seven stops.  Some savory, some sweet. Somehow, I ended up with tons of pictures from the sweets part, and not so many from the savory, probably because I was too busy eating.  Plus, the beautiful geometric patterns and massive quantities of the baklava and other desserts were just begging to be photographed. Just look at these!

baklava Dubai


arabic desserts

Arabic desserts Dubai 2

bukaj Dubai

come to mamma

Spanning five hours and cuisines from all over the region (including Palestine, Syria, UAE and Iran), this tour is not for those watching their waistline.  Your gracious, informative and foodly fearless tour leader will tell you what percentage your tummy should be full at various points in the evening. When she says 15%, believe her!  Will power is not one of my strong suits, and neither is planning ahead.  If that describes you as well, beware of this tour.  STOP when you’ve been hypnotized by the incredibly flavorful falafel and your hand is reaching for another. DON’T opt for a second helping of the mouth-watering Musakhan (a Palestinian dish of roasted chicken, caramelized onion and spices over bread).  PUT DOWN that third piece of baklava. When you’re dying over the flaky crust of the Egyptian feteer (“pizza”) and eyeing a second, RESIST! One of the not-so-pleasant aspects of the tour was the food hangover I had the entire next day.  I didn’t even know food hangovers exist, but I’m convinced now … it’s a thing.

If you live in Dubai and you find your Middle Eastern food vocabulary begins and ends with hummus, falafel, shawarma, tabbouleh, baklava, and dolma, you have to do it.  I thought we’d be going to secretive restaurants shrouded in mystery in dimly lit alleys.  But no, the venues are mostly on main streets like Rigga Road and Muraqqabat Street – super easy to find again to impress future visitors when you take them.  Plus, you’ll learn about that bright orange desert you’ve seen around (it’s made of cheese with a noodle pastry on top that is served with a sugary syrup – a fascinating mix of sweet and salty), you’ll swoon over a lamb and rice dish (Machboos) served with Emirati spices while enjoying the cultural experience of eating with your hands in a traditional style tent, and you’ll marvel at the elasticity of refreshing Syrian pistachio ice cream.  And those are only a few of the highlights. It’s a fun-filled, educational evening and delicious every step of the way.  Here are a few pictures that don’t do the experience justice.  Enjoy! 🙂

shawarma dubai

We didn’t eat this shawarma, but I wanted to.

Musakhan Dubai

This is the Musakhan mentioned above. Not the prettiest dish ever, but I think this was my favorite of everything we ate. (tough call though!)

Kunafa Dubai

This is the cheese dessert mentioned above; it’s called Kunafa. I like how the famous neon lights of Deira are reflecting on the table. 🙂

falafel dubai

falafel heaven

nuts and snacks Dubai


Iranian bread on hot stones. This Persian restaurant was our last stop so unfortunately I didn’t enjoy the food much because I was in an overfed stupor. But the atmosphere here was fascinating and my favorite of all the places we went to.

Iranian black tea Dubai

Iranian black tea with mint. This was the last thing that went down the hatch that night. Maybe I’ve never run a real marathon, but surely I deserve some sort of recognition for completing this food challenge? 🙂

(See Frying Pan Food Tours for more information.  An Indian food tour is also offered.  This post was not sponsored; all opinions are my own.)





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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22 Responses to Food Marathon – Middle Eastern Style

  1. GThomas says:

    Oh we will have to try this! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Judy says:

    A food tour – what a fabulous idea! Who runs them? I have a friend who’s just moved back, who’d probably love go on one. You’re quite right that if you live “Dubai side” you really have to work hard to break out of the expat bubble and visit Deira.

  3. safia says:

    Fantastic! Konafa is my favourite too and we’re lucky enough to have several decent bakeries close by that do it well. I read about these tours in The National – I think the lady who runs them used to write a column: ‘I live in a frying pan’ and I miss it. Great photos, great commentary – thank you!

    • Lynda says:

      Yes that’s her! You’re in luck because she still blogs – same name as the column name. Thanks so much for the comment Safia. 🙂

  4. Dina says:

    Looks so good and inviting! I’d love to try it. Lovely photo story as well, Lynda.

  5. Laura says:

    Mmmm, now that’s my kinda tour! The food reminds me so much of what we ate in Turkey. I would have LOVED to go on this!! Was it expensive? I looked at a food tour in Paris but it was only 3 hrs and around $135 — and I chose to spend money on actual cafes instead. Great pics!

  6. Oh my Gawd! My mouth is watering. As much as I love Thai food I do miss Middle Eastern fare! What a great round-up.

    • Lynda says:

      I agree – they are both yummy! 🙂 Did you ever eat at Thiptara (Thai restaurant) when you were here? If I’m doing the fancy restaurant route I usually pick that one because it’s sooooo delicious! Love Thai food!

  7. Great post, Lynda 🙂 The Iranian bread on hot stones looks awesome!

  8. Sally says:

    I’m a serial Frying Pan food tourist – I’ve done 5 now and it’s high time I did another. I learned so much about the city I live in through this experience. The great thing is that Arva never rests on her laurels and is always seeking out new restaurants and ways to make the tours better – so I’ve done the tour of little India twice but it was very different on both occasions. Loved your account of this tour – really vivid.

    • Lynda says:

      Thanks so much Sally. Five times is impressive! 🙂 I will definitely do the Indian one when the weather improves and would have loved to do the Ramadan one. So many fun options!

  9. spicyessence says:

    Mmm!! I am salivating right now! I love Arabic food! One of my favorite go to foods is a Moushakle, which is just a vegeterian wrap made of falafels, eggplant, cucumber, and tahini with a couple of french fries thrown in.

  10. Not sure how I missed this post….but…seriously THE BEST falafel ever!!!!! We have been back several times!! Sorry I did not warn you. I think I was in a stupor for days…but it was oh so good!

  11. Mitzie Mee says:

    I really must go on that tour someday:) Looks amazing!

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