Dubai: Being a Kosher-observant Jew is a breeze for someone travelling to New York, London or Paris – but it becomes a bit tricky when visiting destinations where the Jewish representation is marginal at best. The UAE and its hospitality businesses, however, will soon make Kosher observers feel right at home.
Al Habtoor Hotels for example was the UAE’s first hotel operator to introduce 24x7 Kosher-compliant in-room dining services at three of its properties in Dubai. While Abu Dhabi's Department of Culture and Tourism has started offering hotels free Kosher certification services for a year. All of which can push the UAE’s credentials as one of the must-see places for travellers of the Jewish faith.
“The Jewish demographic, both inside and outside of Israel is a very affluent one. They are typically professionals or entrepreneurs who have the means and propensity to travel,” said Raphi Bloom, co-founder of TotallyJewishTravel, one of the most visited Jewish travel websites in the world. “They take three to four foreign trips a year and they tend to always look for luxury in their “Kosher-travel”.
“That’s what will make Dubai such a popular destination among Israelis and other Jews. I have spoken to many who can’t wait to travel to the UAE.”
A whole different ballgame
Kosher-travel these days is completely different from what was being served up a decade or so ago. “Back in the day, it meant either sitting in a hotel restaurant or eating an airline-style Kosher meal wrapped in foil in a fine dining restaurant, while other diners sat down to silver service,” said Bloom. “Or it also meant, taking your own frozen Kosher meat with you and cooking for yourself each night.”
That state of affairs has long since disappeared. Jewish faith travellers now can visit hotels offering full-board options, like the Ritz Carlton in Cancun for example, or participate in multi-city tours with fresh Kosher food provided through the day. They can even go on Kosher cruises with all inclusive la carte dining.
Steps to follow
Being Kosher-compliant is not a very easy process. There are defined steps that will need following down to each precise detail. “Similar to Halal, Kosher requires the ritual slaughter of the animal,” said Ellie Kriel, founder of the first licensed Kosher food delivery service in the UAE. Elli has also recently been OU certified now, which is the world’s best-known trademark of the Kosher consumer marketplace.
Where Kosher differs from Halal is that certain seafood like shellfish (mussels and oysters) and crustaceans (lobster, prawns, shrimps, octopus, and calamari) are also off the menu. Kosher menus do serve fish, but they must have fins and scales. (That means no place for a smooth-skinned fish like shark, for example.)
Additionally, a Kosher diet only allows them to prepare dishes featuring mammals with split (cloven) hooves that chew the cud. “Many locals are surprised to learn we are not allowed to eat camel meat or drink their milk,” said Kriel, who runs Elli’s Kosher Kitchen.
A core Kosher practice is to not mix meat and milk food products. This even extends to the utensils, serving dishes and cooking facilities. So, there won’t be dishes like steak in creamy mushroom sauce or butter chicken in Kosher recipes.
“Many Kosher homes like mine, install two separate kitchens - one for meat and one for milk to adhere to these principles,” said Kriel.
Awaiting the rush
There will be 28 weekly commercial flights between UAE and Israel, which will launch as soon as the governments deem it fit amidst the pandemic created uncertainties. UAE hotels and airlines can expect a rush during popular Jewish holidays such as the Passover, which falls during Spring.
Rituals to get through
Observant Jews spend the weeks before Passover cleaning their homes. Even the cracks on kitchen counters are thoroughly scrubbed, to remove any traces of flour and yeast, however minute.
“As a result, many Kosher observing Jews would rather travel to a luxury destination, where a Kosher travel company can create Passover programmes for them,” said Bloom. “People will come to that particular hotel with their families for the 10-day festival. They can enjoy luxury in a completely Kosher environment.”
According to Bloom, 70,000 hotel rooms are booked each year during Passover. “Travel companies have approached us and confirmed that they are in negotiations with hotels in Dubai to run Passover programmes for March/April 2021,” he said.
This means a travel company books a certain number of hotel rooms, lease one of their kitchens, clean it in a Kosher way, and bring in their own Kosher chefs and Kosher-certified food to cater the guests.
This might seem a niche market at this stage, but there is plenty going on behind the scenes.
Go for the diaspora
In all this frenetic activity the one area of Kosher travel that seems to have gone relatively unnoticed is that of the "diaspora" Kosher travel market - in other words, Kosher observant tourists from countries outside of Israel.
“Whilst understandably the focus has been on Israeli tourists, other Kosher tourists from countries such as USA, UK, Israel, France, South Africa, Australia and Latin America should very much be on the radar of UAE hotels,” Bloom explained to Gulf News.
This is where travel websites, like Blooms, come in, which will show the hotels or travel companies hosting Kosher holiday, whether it's Passover, Sukkot or just a regular family trip. They also gather info on Kosher butcheries, restaurants and supermarkets and create a large list that Jewish travellers can check out to know where they can get their supplies.
So far only a few spots have made the list in the UAE, but Bloom is certain that the number of UAE's Kosher spots will continue to grow.
The market is massive and the opportunities are untapped at the moment. With six million Jews in the US, 300,000 in the UK, and 600,000 in France, these Kosher-observant travellers are clearly prepared to pay extra to have that assuredness for proper luxury experience.
And where does it get more luxury than in the UAE?
Many Kosher observing Jews would rather travel to a luxury destination, where a Kosher travel company can create Passover programmes for them