What are you going to eat in Dubai?” The loaded question was fired at me, every time I excitedly told acquaintances about my planned visit to the desert city. Their concern was not unfounded. Although vegetarianism has gained ground in many Western countries, United Arab Emirates still has a long way to go.
So I set out on my journey armed with packets of peanuts, bakarwadi and chikki. After all, I needed to have something to fall back on when my companions on the junket had a go at octopuses, sharks and other land and marine animals!
Thankfully though, Dubai offered me many decent vegetarian options. On the night we landed, we dined at Ronda Locatelli, one of the 23 outlets at the Atlantis The Palm. While admiring the Italian countryside-meets-modern Dubai decor, we settled for the open terrace sitting and that made the experience more enjoyable.
Ronda Locatelli has a wide choice under salads, starters and main course. We were told that the most popular dish ordered there is the Burrata — fresh Italian buffalo milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream — and we now know why. The melt-in-your-mouth cheese that topped our salad and pizzas, was really something to die for.
Among the starters, what all of us loved the most was the Zucchini Fritters — which was very mildly spiced and not at all oily. While the others were struggling to decide whether to gorge on the Octopus and Potato Salad, Red Sicilian Prawn Risotto, I enjoyed the thin crust Vegetariana Pizza and the Baby Spinach and Walnut Salad.
Although we would not have liked to miss the opportunity to have Tiramisu at an authentic Italian place like this, we were too full at the end of our meal and managed to only taste the Almond Biscotti dusted with confectioner’s sugar.
One would think Italian restaurants do have veg options but even the two Emirati restaurants that we dined at — Al Mashowa in Riverland and Homestead Restaurant and Bakery in Al Khawaneej — surprised us with their vegetarian options, which were limited but tasty nevertheless.
At Al Mashowa, a simple eatery, I first had the taste of Emirati style Lentil Soup. It’s plain lentil dal cooked and served without any tempering and some very mild spices. It is served in such a big bowl that it is a good one dish meal. The manager still insisted that I have some salad, a tangy potato curry and roti, and I did indulge.
My companions ordered Tahta Diyay (the Emirati version of Chicken Biryani) and Rubyan Magli (fried tiger prawns served with rice and sweet and spicy sauce) and I saw them licking their fingers at the end of the meal.
While we were holding on to our inflated tummies, the manager came to the table and said, “You can’t leave without having Emirati sweets.” And we couldn’t. The platter containing bowls of Asidat Al Bobar (pumpkin pudding), Khabeesa (a suji halwa kind of sweet made with roasted flour, sugar, cardamom and ghee and Farni (Phirni) was very inviting. We managed to finish some.
The night before our departure, we visited another Emirati eatery — Homestead Restaurant and Bakery at The Yard. Its barn-like ambience was quite catchy. Having learnt what to order by then, I went for Lentil Soup and Tabouleh and with some effort, managed to finish as the portions were huge again. But the soup, like before, was very appetising.
The non-vegetarians in the team couldn’t have enough of Homestead Mixed Grill Platter, Butter Chicken and Spatchcock (chicken marinated in local spices and served on a bed of Freekeh). Needless to say, we didn’t dare order desserts.
There is a unique quality about us Indians. We may visit the world but we are still looking for a mini India everywhere and that applies to food too. So some of us started craving for Indian food. Zarin Khan, the driver of our vehicle, took us to Sarhad Durbar in Deira. A very modest restaurant, it had all that we could ask for — Naan, Roti, Paneer Tikka Masala, Chicken and Mutton Curries, Lassi and what not. We lapped it all up as if we had been away from India for months and years. The portions were huge and the prices modest.
At Spice Valley, a restaurant in IMG Theme Park, in more interesting surroundings, we again had the opportunity to savour Indian food and we almost repeated our orders, with an addition of Dal Tadka and Samosas.
By the way, we also discovered Samosa and Vada Pav stalls at two places and were amused to see Indians flocking to them. What to do? We may traverse the universe, phir bhi dil hai Hindustani...
PS: Anyone going to Malaysia or Indonesia? I still have the bakarwadis and chikkis!