Don’t ask me what you can eat in Old Dubai, ask me what you CAN’T.

blankThe past few weeks have been a train ride of food experiences in the city. Everything from Emirati and Egyptian to Korean and Pakistani have made it to my plate, so here’s a summary line-up of a few of the foods that I managed my stick my camera lens into. Some of the foods are old-time favourites, others are new ones that might have me going back for more, while the rest were not inspirational enough to warrant a standalone post. Collectively, they showcase the multi-cultural potential of Old Dubai. If you’ve (a) eaten at any of these places and have a ‘must-try’ dish (b) tried the same dish I’ve mentioned at another restaurant in Dubai that rocked your world, then please be an angel and share it with me.

Shawarma Tashreeb - Bait Al Baghdadi

Shawarma Tashreeb, Bait al Baghdadi, Deira (04-2737064). Crispy strips of lamb shawarma with preserved lemon over tender juice-drenched strips of bread at my favourite Iraqi haunt in town. The bowl boasts the requisite amount of grease and meaty juices sighted in many Tashreeb dishes, and demands that you sink into a siesta right after.

Dolma - Bait Al Baghdadi

Iraqi Dolma, Bait Al Baghdadi, Deira (04-2737064).  I’ve raved about this dish before because it’s so different from the plate of stuffed vine leaves we’re accustomed to getting at most Arabic restaurants around town. What I said about the dish last November in The National still held true when I tried it again this year: It turns out the Iraqi dish was not just limited to vine leaves but was a full-fledged dolma council, presided over by silky onion petals, bitter green peppers, baby aubergines and fleshy, cored tomatoes. Every vegetable clung to its share of stuffing, eager to impress my taste buds with the joint power of rice, minced meat, peppery tomato paste and herbs. The vegetables had been collectively stewed until tender in a broth of fatty lamb ribs, which were stacked up alongside the final dish.

Beef noodles - Han Chengguan

Korean cold noodle soup with beef, Han Chengguan, Deira (04-2299620). A light summery option for lunch that is INCREDIBLY messy to eat with metal chopsticks. I’ve had a more flavourful version in the past, though something leads me to believe that there are hidden gems on this menu and a bit more menu-scouting is needed to fish them out.

Beef dumplings - Han Chengguan

Korean beef dumplings, Han Chengguan, Deira (04-2299620). Loved the hand-crafted feel of the dumplings, they didn’t look like those perfect little thawed dumplings you’d pop out of a freezer. But again, a bit mild on flavour and probably something that I’d skip in favour of a more adventurous dish at this restaurant.

Kachori - Chowki ki Chaat - Indian restaurant KaramaKhasta Masala Kachori aur Hing ke Aloo, Chowk ki Chaat, Karama (04-3548575). Airy pockets of fried dough smeared on the insides with spicy lentil (urad dal) stuffing, with a dipping bowl of potato gravy simmered with asafoetida (hing). My biggest regret is going for lunch alone – I didn’t get to sample the breadth of Indian snacks they have to offer and that folks have been raving about, so the jury is out on this one.

Chowki Ki Chaat - Karama DubaiChowk Ki Chaat. I do love the tucked-away location of this tiny restaurant. Feels like a little piece of India. 

Steamed Lamb bao - Nihal Chinese Restaurant

Pan-fried Lamb Bao, Nihal Chinese Restaurant, Satwa (04-3266888). I’ve done these before, and they were well-worth doing again. They arrive looking uber dramatic with that sheet of edible pan-fried bao skin stretched taut like cling film all over the dumplings that they win points even before you’ve plonked them in your mouth. Juicy, full of lamb and soy flavour, and that perfect doughy-squishy texture that makes you want to pinch their cheeks if they had any.

Handmade Noodle Soup - Nihal Chinese Restaurant

Noodle Soup with Hand-Pulled Noodles, Nihal Chinese Restaurant, Satwa (04-3266888). I can’t remember the name of this dish for the life of me, and to be honest, with the bao in the picture, the flavours were somewhat sidelined. All I know what that I requested for hand-pulled noodles in spicy broth. The soft chewy noodles have a starchy, doughy feel to them – probably something worth trying if you’re into the whole hand-pulled noodles game. If silky vermicelli noodles are your thing, I’d say skip the dish for something else on the menu.

Falafel Mahshi - Al Ammor Restaurant - Egyptian Dubai

Egyptian Falafel Mahshi, Al Ammor, Karama . Al Ammor always wins my vote hands-down. I switched up my usual order and tried the Tammeya (made with fava beans and not chickpeas) Mahshi, stuffed with chilli paste like so:

Falafel Mahshi - Al Ammor Restaurant - Egyptian DubaiAl Ammor does not scrimp on the spicy sauce stuffed into the bellies of their perfectly seasoned tammeya, so spice-wimps (including myself) beware.

Khameer - Mama Tani - Emirati Cafe

Khameer, Mama Tani, Jumeirah (04-3854437). Mama Tani is a comfy café nestled upstairs in Town Centre, Jumeirah. It’s a thoughtful concept that pays tribute to Emirati childhood memories, and smears simple ingredient combinations into the tender folds of a traditional yeast bread called khameer.

Coriander and nuts khameer - Mamatani - Dubai Cream Cheese, Coriander and Nuts Khameer, Mama Tani, Jumeirah (04-3854437). The favourite of the four we tried was simply composed of cream cheese, coriander and nuts – nothing outrageously complex, but just a nice teatime snack if you’re in the area. We paired our khameers with flasks of Arabic coffee (thoughtfully accompanied by chewy-gooey Omani halwa) and with a cool blended date-honey drink. And if you’re got a crapload of spare time on your hands, be one of the rare adults that asks for a colouring page and crayons so you can leave your mark behind on the café walls.

Mama Tani - Emirati Cafe - Dubai

Ice Cream and Falooda, Billo Ice Cream, Ghusais (04-2592933). I admittedly fell in love with the name, the concept and the marketing behind Billo Ice Cream even before I stepped through the door.

Billo Ice Cream GhusaisThis tiny ice-cream parlour tucked away in Ghusais wins massive points on reigniting Indo-Pak truck driver nostalgia, incorporating intricate truck art typically seen all over interstate highways in Pakistan and India, and on concocting the funniest menu names that will leave you chuckling even before you order a single scoop. While my hunt for great falooda in the city didn’t end at Billo, my favourite of the many scoops we tried – Pista, Crunch, Peshawari, Kulfa, Chickoo – the butterscotch-like Crunch appealed to my childish taste buds the most.

Billo Dudes, if you’re reading this, I beg that you line up your ice creams outside the kitchen in one of those usual freezer displays so that indecisive guests can taste across the range – that’s the best part about walking into an ice cream parlor!

So that’s my list, with the restaurant locations listed on my Google map. If you’ve tried these places and feel like I’m missing a glaringly good dish on the menu, give me a shout.

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

4 thoughts on “Don’t ask me what you can eat in Old Dubai, ask me what you CAN’T.

  1. IshitaUnblogged says:

    So, what can’t we eat? The Korean joint sounds very new to me. Agree with you on Chow ki Chaat and Nihal Hotel. Super duper post:)

  2. Oosman B says:

    I have also been on a Kulfi Falooda hunt ! Would love to know what your top pick or top 3 are. So far mine’s Bikanervala In Karama


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