DUBAI: Less celebrated and often derided, not necessarily for the right reasons, International City is finally living up to its name thanks to the gastronomic range its restaurants and eateries are putting up for its thousands of residents these days.
Criss-crossing the nine ‘original’ clusters of the 800 hectare neighbourhood – China to Morocco over to England before heading to Persia through to Greece and then stepping back to the surfeit of Europe (France, Italy, Russia and Spain) – not quite an alternate Silk Route by any means, but Dubai’s newest and most diverse food hub, XPRESS found at least 200 eating joints catering to various tastebuds and pockets.
From upmarket authentic Chinese to popular low-range sub-continental fare, from speciality Italian to traditional North Indian curries, Tangy Thai to flavourful Filipino, succulent Arabic grills to custom-made cakes and bakes, you can’t miss much if you are living in and around International City these days.
“There’s been a sea change. As opposed to a few small eateries and cafeterias here and there serving mostly set meals and fast food previously, there are proper restaurants now serving speciality cuisines just a step away from us,” says Indian expatriate Beethin Chakraborty who’s been living in International City since 2009.
“Not just speciality, we can order a sub from Subway for a light meal, pizza from Papa John’s for a quick family do or even parathas from Only Parathas on days we crave a change,” adds Chakraborty’s spouse, Moushumi.
The couple and their four-year-old daughter moved out of their one-bedroom apartment in the Greece cluster two years ago to the more ‘elite’ Central Business District (CBD) for a two-bedder but they remain loyal to their old favourite.
“We have been ordering take-aways from a restaurant called Soy to Chutney in the Greece cluster for years now. Even though we are a few blocks away, we still go there to dine in sometimes for its nice ambience, fine décor and good food – both Indian and Chinese,” says the 31-year-old housewife.
Situated on the edge of the now renamed Mohammad Bin Zayed Road and near the Al Warsan lake, International City’s biggest bane perhaps is its location and the recent spate of labourers and taxi-drivers occupying residences in the clusters, with many often calling it ‘far away’ and ‘cut off’ if not ‘down market’.
However people living there say it’s just a perception and their food is a testament that people living there do have high tastes.
“We serve authentic Chinese. Some of our dishes start from Dh100 and upwards. Our lobster dish is Dh658 and a plate of eel is Dh85. People come here all the time,” says Huang Zhe Hao, the owner of the magnificently decorated Home World restaurant in C-09 of the China cluster.
A stroll around the sprawling neighbourhood will give you a nice insight. From Fujian to Hunan, Cantonese to Szechuan, there isn’t much else that you would want in Chinese and not find there.
It’s not just the usual Chinese, but you will find even a hot pot Chinese outlet serving what is often called Chinese fondue or steamboat where a hot pot is kept simmering and ingredients are placed into it and cooked live on the table.
Filipinos too have a growing presence in International City. Take Kusina Ni Nanay or Mother’s Kitchen in the England cluster for example. Serving everything from Palayoks and Kawa-Kawalis for Dh35 to Pancit Bihon Guisado (Dh10) to Beef Menudo (Dh15), it has everything for everyone from that community.
Heidi M. Pimentel, the 39-year-old managing partner who started the restaurant just when the economic downturn set in 2008, says, “It took us time but slowly and steadily we are seeing a growth in our business. People are crowing up and there seems to be a demand for speciality cuisine. If we claim no one can do Tapsilog (marinated beef dish) like us, we better prove it.”
Cooki’s in the CBD is another example of regional speciality, serving only authentic Lebanese/Syrian grills and Arabic Mediterranean cuisine – ranging from kabab kashkash to Grilled Pigeon (Dh40), Full Hammour Grilled (Dh130) and Grilled Lobster (Dh140). The least expensive item on the menu is a falafel sandwich (Dh8), slightly more expensive than the average street price in old Dubai.
Fast food in International City has got a makeover too courtesy of Hush Burger, the chicly designed American countryroad style burger joint in the France cluster, a perennial favourite among students of the nearby Dubai International Academic City.
“The Rex Burger is our signature. What makes it special is the burgers are fresh and hand-crafted, not frozen. Made from a quarter pound of 100 per cent fresh ground Brazilian beef, crispy salami, melted cheddar cheese and the salad, it comes with egg. A combo with fries and cola is Dh25 and all kinds of people come here,” says the 38-year old Syrian owner, Faadi Mohammad.
Sham in the same cluster is another great hangout with finger foods and shisha doing the rounds for everyone until 3am daily. And did you say International City is a sleepy place?