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:
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!
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! 🙂
(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.)