Life & Style | Food

Dubai's alternative culinary gems

Just how far off the beaten track can you go in search of authentic foods? alpha. explores an alternative menu

  • By Jonathan Castle and Craig Hawes, alpha. magazine
  • Published: 00:00 July 1, 2012
  • alpha

Turath Almandi
  • Image Credit: Dennis B. Mallari/GNM
  • Sample authentic Yemeni cuisine at Turath Almandi on Jumeirah Beach Road.
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ETHIOPIAN

Ethio

Between Jafiliya and Karama Metro stations, next to the Saana fashion store, you'll find Ethio, a small but carefully decorated restaurant that offers a range of tasty Ethiopian dishes. Doro wat, a chicken or beef spicy stew on top of spongy injera bread, is the Ethiopian national dish and is worth checking out. For vegetarians, try the chechebsa, shredded pieces of flatbread lightly fried in a berbere (an Ethiopian spicy hot red pepper powder) and clarified butter.

Or you could go for the yetsom beyaynatu, injera bread topped with delicious vegetarian toppings such as puréed green peas and spicy potatoes. End the meal with a pot of traditional Ethiopian coffee - after all, Ethiopia is where coffee was born.

Near Saana store traffic lights, between Karama and Jafiliyah. 04-358-3360
www.ethiorestaurantuae.com

UGANDAN

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African Restaurant

You'll find the Pacific Hotel, with its bright blue sign on Sabkha Road, diagonally across from the Sabkha Bus Stop on Al Nasr Square, in Deira, just across from the Metro station. Go upstairs to the mezzanine floor and you enter a little offshoot of Uganda - most of the specialist ingredients are flown in thanks to daily connections to Kampala. The house speciality is matooke, a steamed green plantain dish that serves a similar purpose to rice. Use it to mop up spicy stews of goat, chicken and beef or freshwater tilapia. Also look for ugali made from maize meal (their version of the maize porridge found throughout Africa, also called posho, sudza and pap), and dishes made from millet, cassava and sweet potatoes. Fresh mango juice is popular.

Pacific Hotel, Mezzanine Floor, Sabkha Road, diagonally across from the Sabkha bus stop, Al Nasr Square, Deira, 04-223-6670

MOROCCAN

Mogador

Another outpost in an unlikely location, Mogador serves up a splendid range of north west African flavours including zaalouk (described on the menu as aubergine caviar), chicken briwates and a kefta tajine flavoured with shades of ginger and turmeric. Mogador also specialises in traditional pastries and biscuits like almond and raisin fekka and sesame andalmond ghriyba.

Mogador, Trident Building, Marina Walk, 04-450-8520
www.mogador.ae

EMIRATI

Al Mallas

One of the few Emirati restaurants in Dubai might also be one of the smallest. Al Mallas, which promises to serve "real Khaleeji food", can be found at the Burj Al Arab end of the Jumeirah Beach Road and offers a surprisingly elaborate choice in a light and contemporary environment, ranging from local staples like harees to balalait (an Emirati take on egg noodles). The saloona chicken is a good bet - it's almost like a slightly spicy, savoury umm ali (also on the menu) and comes with hunks of carrots and potatoes. Gozi mutton is a local version of the Egyptian dish, koshari, while the biryani al mallas puts another twist into a long-established classic. For dessert, check out the gulab jamoon-style legemat, and chebab, a pancake flavoured with saffron. The local teas, such as the shai karak, are also excellent.

Al Mallas, Jumeirah Beach Road, Umm Suqeim 2, 800-62-5527

PALESTINIAN

Habiba Al Nabulsi

This crowded little shop offers cheap Palestinian meals at tables crammed amongst great vats of their sweets. Specialities include mosakhan, a chicken pizza showered with sumac, roasted pine nuts and parsley.

Marraquabat Street, Deira. 04-227-7760
www.habibanabulsi.net

NORTH KOREAN

Okryu-Gwan

A most peculiar outpost of the empire, this is one of several branches outside North Korea of its state-run restaurant. The menu was apparently approved by the Great Leader himself, and includes Pyongyang cold noodle, cold noodle on shallow round plate, gray mullet soup and boiled rice, Pyongyang onban, beef rib soup, sinsollo and green bean pancake. Pyongyang cold noodle is chiefly made of buckwheat. These thin and chewy noodles are served with various kinds of mince and a noodle broth of water boiled with pheasant, beef and chicken and cooled. You'll also find kimchi, the pickled cabbage dish popular on both ends of the Korean peninsula, as well as Korean meat and fish dishes. It's not quite as spicy as they do it in Seoul, apparently.

Location: It's in a business/apartment complex near City Centre Metro station, behind Mashreq Bank. Look for the waitresses, one of whom is always standing outside. 04-298-1589

IRAQI

Al Bayt Al Baghdadi

If you've never eaten Iraqi food, you simply must go to Al Bayt La Baghdadi and order masgouf - a traditional Iraqi method of barbecuing fish. You can pick your own fish at the counter, then watch it being flattened, salted and finally grilled over a great pit of charcoal. Be warned - the fish are massive, and take 40 minutes to cook this way. Perhaps order in advance, and definitely ask for ‘fish stuffing', a rich onion and tomato stew to flavour your wonderfully juicy grilled fish. Take lots of friends!

Al Muteena Street, near the Sheraton Deira. 04-273-7044

MALAYSIAN

Betawi Café

Proper nasi goring, nasi pedang and various broths, soups and opar ayam - chicken served in coconut broth. This tiny café's satay sauce is made on the premises and comes thick, dark and intense, liberally spread on top of chicken, prawns and other skewers. Homemade crackers are a welcome touch.

4B Street, Karama, opposite Centre Point Shopping Mall. 04-357-6245

NEPALESE

Kathmandu Highland Palace Restaurant

The signature dish is the momo, a steamed dumpling like a robust dim sum. The kothey chicken version, part steamed, part pan-fried, is stuffed with chicken and spiced with the distinctive Nepalese timur pepper. You can also have mutton, vegetable or buffalo meat fillings, and a distinctive tomato dipping sauce.

Meena Bazaar, near Astori Hotel. 04 353-6398 or 055 174-2232

MEXICAN

Maria Bonitas Taco Shop

On-the-spot guacamole, flautas, fajitas, tacos and burritos, filled with chicken, beef or beans, what's not to like? Well, apart from the lack of chilled cervezas, not much. The place is resolutely Mexican in menu and feel, and refreshingly different from the international chains that churn out identikit deep-fried junk.

Umm Al Sheif Street, Jumeira. 04-395-5576

RUSSIAN/KAZAKHSTAN/UZBEK

Gulnaz Restaurant

A trip to the Point Tower in Dubai Marina feels like a trip into the heart of the ‘stans. A peek behind what used to be called the Iron Curtain, this large and extravagantly decorated space offers traditional flavours from Uzbek, Kazakh and Russian cuisines, which have elements borrowed from many different countries, but given a unique twist. Breads are cooked in a ‘tandir', a very familiar clay oven. Grand stews and feasts can be ordered a day in advance and could feed an entire tribe. Starters are mostly variations on the samosa (here ‘samsa'), though they do a wicked cheburek - deep fried pastry stuffed with cheese. Beef tongue features in a lot of dishes. There's traditional Russian borscht for the soup eaters, and mains include the gloriously-named plov - rice, meat and carrots cooked in a cauldron. There's a large range of noodles and dumplings, and special kababs. Do order golubtsy - cabbage rolls with their own special gravy. Don't plan to eat again for two or three days.

The Point Tower, Dubai Marina, opposite JBR Amwaj. 04-453-4887

YEMENI

Turath Almandi

Start with rushoosh - freshly baked warm bread with black cumin seeds scattered on top. This comes with side dips of olive oil, zaatar, and herbs. Also delicious is shfout, a combination of fresh leaves piled onto bread soaked in yoghurt, mint leaves, and other spices. Mains include chicken mandi, slowly cooked for hours and served on a bed of rice with raisins and fried cashew nuts. Chicken madghout is another slow-cooked dish, a whole chicken cooked in a red sauce with rice and peppers.

Jumeirah Beach Road between Dixie Chicken and Pizza Hut, just after Al Seif Road, Jumeirah 3, 04-395-3555
www.turath-almandi.ae

SINGAPOREAN

Singapore Deli

The bulk of the menu may consist of Malaysian and Indonesian dishes, but the long-running Singapore Deli still offers something refreshingly different in an area of Dubai that is teeming with great and reassuringly affordable places to eat. Try the nasi lemak, the Malaysian national dish of rice cooked in coconut cream, with a side of chicken, peanuts, generous slivers of omelette, and sambal chilli sauce. The tahu goreng also deserves a mention. It's a delicious mound of cucumber strips, bean-sprouts and tofu buried under a rich peanut and soy sauce. To drink, share a monstrous jug of lemongrass iced tea with a friend and settle down at one of the outside tables, because the interior is a little claustrophobic.

Behind Ravi's, opposite BurJuman Centre, Karama. 04-396-6885

HONOURABLE MENTIONS

AZERBAIJANI

Baku Caspian
Interesting menu, erratic service. Worth a look
Jumeirah Beach Road. 04-344-3033

BRITISH

Rock 'n' Sole Plaice
A no-frills English-stylefish 'n' chip shop - with Dubai prices.
Al Wasl Rd, Jumeirah. 04-395-3722

RUSSIAN/EGYPTIAN

Nefertiti
Egyptian dishes such as koshari sit alongsidestuffed dumplings.
Khalid Bin Al Waleed St, Bur Dubai. 04-355-8855

AFGHANI

Shahista
As upmarket as Afghan cuisine gets.
Garhoud Road, Garhoud 04-286-5060

TURKISH

Istanbul Flower

Cheerful and hugely popular.
Shaikh Zayed Road, next to Safestway, 04-343-4585
www.istanbulflower.ae

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