Would you overlook the racist hand that serves you brilliant food?

I’d have written an entire post dedicated to…

…this bowl of smooth lentil soup that you’d want to cuddle up with in the cold.

…this disc of bread, undulated with all the uneven craters and peaks, charred bits and soft pockets, doughy bits and wafery bits, that you’d expect from anything fresh and artisanal.

…this breakfast bowl of glossy caramelized onions and mutton chunks, scattered all over a swamp of gravy soaked, tender and chewy bread chunks.

…this baked carb grenade, that…

…explodes into rice fragrant with the sweet zing of cinnamon, noodles, ouzi lamb, chicken, raisins and toasted almond slivers.

…this mound of buttery rice grains, moist lemony chicken and gravied onions, veiled by a fairy-like wing of bread.

But I won’t. I won’t talk about any of these dishes, nor give them a name, nor identify the Iraqi restaurant in Deira that served them. All I’ll say is that (1) it wasn’t Bait Al Baghdadi, where I had a great experience in comparison, and (2) it does serve Iraqi masgouf. If you want to play detective on which restaurant this is, go ahead, be my guest.

Yes, I am boiling mad. Seething, frothing, foaming at the mouth with anger. I thought I’d give it at least a day before slamming the keys on this blogpost, but two hours later, I still feel so violated that I had to write it out. You will only see this post days after I’ve written it – I have to give myself some leeway in case my stance softens and I decide not to publish this post.

But a week down the line, if you’re reading this post, then you know my stance is the same. And if I’m harsh, then so be it. Because I truly believe that racist restaurants should not be forgiven even if they put out earth-shatteringly good food.

Addressed to the hateful restaurant that brought out the worst in me with their primitive racist attitude:


1) you fail to give me a menu unless I beg for it,
2) you take three times as long to serve me as everyone else of a nationality that feels more akin to yours – even when you’ve got barely three tables to service,
3) you make me walk up to you to ask for tea, rather than politely stop by my table in a show of true Arabian hospitality,
4) you scoff at me condescendingly when I ask you to pack my leftovers for a takeout,
5) you mutter under your breath and turn away when I ask you for the bill – for the second time,
6) and most obnoxiously, you deny doing all of the above when called out on it. In fact, you try to turn your back on me and leave midway as I’m talking to you (politely. I don’t believe in impolite loud complaints that ruin the meals of guests around me),
7) you do all of the above, not once, not twice, but to some measure on all THREE of the times I have visited you…

IF you do most or all of the above…if you don’t just have uniformly crappy service, but crappy service targeted at diners based on which country they call home…then you may as well put a sign up on your door saying: “The following nationalities, please STAY THE HECK OUT: [pick your hated nationalities]”

I’m sure you, racist restaurant, don’t give two sumac sprinkles about my opinion. You certainly didn’t at the restaurant, but regardless, I think it’s important that people share these experiences and don’t pander to restaurants like yourself that are openly racist. And no, condescendingly suggesting that you’d comp the meal will not help. I didn’t walk in for free food, even though your stereotype of me would suggest just that.

Back to my readers: The reason I don’t name the restaurant is because it’s well known that restaurants in this part of the world can fling a lawsuit at your feet for uncovering their dirty laundry. I’m not saying this happens everyday, or that it’s ever happened in this city – just that it could, at some point it could. I have neither the monetary resources, the courage, nor the desire to get into a legal battle that would, most inevitably, favor the restaurant no matter what I say or do. In my opinion, the best way to deal with racism in most parts of the world, the U.S. included, is to take your business elsewhere and keep your sanity intact.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Don’t take names of restaurants, I don’t want this blog space becoming Haters’ Central. All I want to know is whether you would be willing to overlook the racist hand that serves you brilliant food.

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.

40 thoughts on “Would you overlook the racist hand that serves you brilliant food?

  1. Didi says:

    EEEEEPPP! The naive me might get in trouble because of some comments buried inside some my posts :( I will be extra careful now. Sigh. Irritating realities this side of the world…

    But I love the comics BTW :) More! More! More! :)

  2. accordingtodina says:

    Nope.. Would never go to a restaurant if they r racist..even if it was the only restaurant left on d planet.. I cant believe this happened to u..Hate such people!!! Gud job writing it though!! Bravo Arva!

  3. Kulsum says:

    no freaking way. You must have heard about the blogger 248am in Kuwait who got into trouble by giving Benihana negative reviews. We were outraged. He didn’t say anything wrong yet the company took him to court. He fought and won. And then they went to higher court. The blogger is still fighting but what’s the use? He spend so much money behind it for nothing. Nothing wrong at all. What the heck – you can’t serve raw chicken and ask people to shutup. You can’t be racist. Bloody no. I have seen that happening around here too. When they see your skin and color they assume we are some labor class Indians. Even if I’m, I’m freaking paying for what I have come for, respect that! I really get mad at such things and want to go smash such people’s face. I understand why you don’t want to name them really but i wish you could. I would never go there again. But I would try and see if i can get my complaint owners or whatever there.

  4. mita56 says:

    Actually I have a better idea – share it on DM. I appreciate your stance on not naming the restaurant but do PLEASE spare us from going there.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Didi – Yep. People can call me paranoid, but when the legal crap hits the fan, those people won’t be around to face the crap with me. ;)
      …more comics? you got it, they’re in production!

      @accordingtodina – you bet, we think the same on this one.

      @Kulsum – Yep, the blogger 248am is exactly the person I had in mind when I wrote this incensed post. A place that didn’t have the time to bring me my tea doesn’t deserve my wasting my time fighting legalities over them either. It’s a mindset, and I would rather stay far from it than fighting it head on when my rights are not completely transparent to me.

      @mita56 – Remember the nameandshame website in Dubai? check this article out. http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/law-force… .. "The move came after it emerged that placing such complaints on the internet was illegal under the libel law, and those doing so could face jail."
      …DM’ed it to you! :)

  5. saleem says:

    Have had experienced a few such incedents and have avoided going to those places – as suggested by mita56 they should be named and exposed.

  6. Sally says:

    Racism doesn’t just depend on the colour of your skin. There is a restaurant in Dubai that I have stopped going to. Fantastic food, great location, brilliant for taking visitors to….but they have certain scams and treatments for people who are not a) Lebanese or b) obviously filthy rich. I agree about voting with your feet….we have.

  7. Sliceofmylyfe says:

    I would have walked off tweeted about it to spread the word. It is easier to do it in India. I am glad you wrote about this Arva

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Guest – Guess away! ;)

      @saleem – yep dad, that’s the best way to deal with it – don’t go to such places, though given how buzy this place was (presumably with the ’right’ nationality), a little lost business they’d didn’t have to begin with, won’t harm them. But I did need to vent, and feel better that I did. Won’t expose them…this article might tell you why: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/law-force

      @Sally – absolutely agree. Colour was the only way I could display it in the comic ;) but I think often, in Dubai, it extends more to nationality. I like that term…’voting with your feet.’ And I’m glad so many readers are sympathetic to this, have asked me to DM them the name of the place, and will do just that!

      @Sliceofmylyfe – You’re probably right…and I don’t want to test how ’easy’ it is do it here. Writing usually helps to vent, and in this case, it did the trick for me!

  8. sarah says:

    The restaurant experience is not just about food – it’s also about atmosphere. Many restaurants, particularly in Dubai seem to forget that atmosphere is not always something tangible, audible or visual. If I wanted to eat good food with lousy service I would cook it myself at home ;)
    Well done for being open enough to see the food for its merit besides the hateful service, and for trying the restaurant again to ensure it wasn’t a once-off. It shows your tolerance is bounds ahead of theirs. I would love to know the name too – can you DM me?

  9. le chef says:

    I have had quite a similar experience at an Arabic restaurant in Dubai. It’s such a shame that you would be forced to never visit the restaurant. All that good looking food just leaves such a bitter after taste. All in the name of racism. Restaurants that serve great food and is a good deal, are gems in this country. All over the world, being a gracious host and showing it with food shows graciousness and love. It really is such a shame.

  10. elainegan says:

    Gah, what an experience! Food must be that delicious to return 3 times. I might too but won’t tolerate it for the second time, especially point number 3. I tend to tweet about my bad resto experience.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @sarah – at least at home, you’d get good service (from yourself!) or no service…which is 20 times better than crappy service. Thanks for the support, gonna DM you the name of the place!

      @le chef – it IS a shame. But it’s also a reality, sadly very true in a city that claims to be so cosmopolitan. I think having a bunch of nationalities together in a city doesn’t make it a melting pot, unless there’s true integration socially and at the workplace.

      @elainegan – yeah, the ’we’re too precious to serve you tea’ attitude was obnoxious. I did tweet about it too, my fingers were itching to write (very impolite things)…and so I spewed it all out over twitter and this post!

      @abigail-mynappytales – Agreed. ME NEITHER!

  11. Neelu says:

    oh! what a horrible experience! sadly I have had it too..

    I love your comic strip though ;)

  12. Sheryn says:

    Oh, this is a tough one. I would go back. I would ask to speak with a manager. I would probably take pleasure in politely reminding the servers to wait on me… It goes back to that principle that when my little sister hated and me and wanted to kill me, I would be extra nice to her and that was the thing that would make her the most mad. Part of me feels like they win if you stop going, although I understand not wanting to give them you’re business. Not tipping would probably be enough for me.

  13. Dracp says:

    By not identifying them aren’t we colluding with their unacceptable behaviour? I appreciate your concerns but we in the West have the privilege of free speech. I would be happy to let people know what an anonymous friend said about their poor experience…

  14. Dubai Bites says:

    This is really sad. My husband and I went on a holiday to Japan, and one night in Kyoto we were denied entry into EVERY Japanese restaurant we went into. They said they were closed, or "Only for Japanese." We ended up just eating some streetfood. We were both livid. It is very sad.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @neelu – yep, sadly we’ve all had it…but yaaay to making shitty experiences better with comics! ;)

      @Sheryn – I actually did call back, multiple times, but the manager wasn’t in. I will try back again at some point. And yeah, trust me, we didn’t tip!
      …and at the end of the day, sisters will grow up and love you. I doubt these people would ever grow up.

      @Dracp – You’re right, those privileges do exist in the West. Sadly, I’m not sure they do here – by not identifying them, I’m protecting my own self-interest. ;) check out this article – http://sandierpastures.com/dubai/in-the-news/no-m

      @Dubai Bites – UGH. That’s revolting behaviour. I wonder what possesses people to behave like that. Behavior like that downgrades the people to a level of being primitive and narrow-minded that is shocking in this multinational day and age. I’m sorry you and your husband had to face that.

  15. FooDiva says:

    Shocking behaviour and I can feel your anger. So glad you have brought this to the fore, but if you don’t mind me saying the restaurant should be named and shamed. I take on board you don’t want a lawsuit but if service, food and atmosphere (all three are critical components to a dining experience) in this country’s F&B are to excel we need to be transparent as long as we are constructive which you always are in your reviews. Otherwise why blog?

  16. RRG says:

    I know also that you are too classy and considerate not to play the name and shame game arva! Regardless of the lawsuit…

    This is horrible but unfortunately it’s a reality in the middle east, and not only regarding restaurants. Sometimes it’s sexism also, and that makes me infinitely more upset!

    If you can still enjoy yr food, go back. You are there to admire the chef and what comes out of his kitchen… If you can’t, it’s their loss.

    I guess sometimes life is not just about whats tasty, or flashy or profitable- it’s also about decency.

  17. stitchy1 says:

    I would not only not go back to a restaurant where I would been given poor treatment due to my race or nationality, I would not patronize any restaurant where anyone else I knew had received such treatment, even if I never been treated that way myself. It’s obviously easier to avoid such places if you know who they are, but sometimes it’s more important to protect yourself. I’m outraged with you!

    Angelina http://stitchandboots.com

  18. @LaMereCulinaire says:

    I really can’t believe there are still people with such behaviour!

    This is disgustingly rude!
    They should be taught a lesson, one way or another!

    Take me to the restaurant & let me give them a taste of their own medicine!!

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @FooDiva – I think what you’ve said makes a lot of sense – I do aim to be transparent, and to give readers a true insight into my experience at a restaurant. But the sad reality is how the legal framework works in this city – much of which I don’t even know about anyway. We’ve had a past case of a name and shame website being shut down, and even if one argues that that only pertains to people rather than institutions, I just feel like I’m not going to risk the odds of the law being interpreted in my favour. If I don’t like the food at a place, I have definitely written about it. But something as admittedly caustic – while very true – as what I have written above can impose far more risk if associated with a name than I’m personally willing and able to take on at this time.
      Sorry readers, I just don’t have the kind of cash, nor clout, to have legal immunity in this city.

      @RRG – Thank you for the vote of confidence! Sadly, I won’t be going back, no matter if they sprinkle their kababs with gold dust and beg me to enter on a red carpet. ;) Lack of decency poisons the food and the experience in my mind.

      @stitchy1 – Yep, I hate being self-centred, but self-protection is more important to me than bringing down a restaurant I fear will never change. I walked past the restaurant the other day, and I kid you not, it’s like the servers walk around with a ’my rear is made of 24 karat gold" attitude.
      …by that last line, I’m guessing you don’t mean that you’re angry at me for hoarding the name, but that you’re as outraged as I am? ;)

      @LaMereCulinaire – You know what? That actually might be a BRILLIANT idea. Would you be up for it? From the way I see them pander to certain guests and not to others, I can bet they’d be (a) super duper courteous (b) totally in denial of behaving like buffoons. But it’d be SO worth it. When/if I simmer down, we’re having an Iraqi lunch date there. ;)

  19. Life in the Foodlane says:

    Outrageous and unacceptable behavior, they have no business being in the F&B hospitality industry. You did well writing about it (and very wel at that!). As for the naming-shaming issue, go with your gut. You have voiced you issue in a clear enough manner for the restaurant in question to hang their head low in shame, or so they should. In a wider context, your post stresses how a restaurant should never treat any customer. A strong, articulate and important post from every angle, Arva!

  20. Devina (FooDee) says:

    It’s disturbing we, as food bloggers, are unable to name and shame restaurants. The main point that F&B outlets, and certainly others, need to bear in mind is that we’re just trying to help by improving their service with our critique. Surely, if they realize that hey, we’re screwing up and this could affect business…they should change? Ego and pride seem to be more important I think.
    Also, while the article on name-and-shame said we can’t N&S restaurants, or libel, or whatever, I wish there could be a more clearer article in the newspapers on how blogs are covered under this law, bearing in mind this is a subjective experience, and surely we should be able to say: "Hey this place did XYZ when I was there." Perhaps an article where the reporter directly confirms whether blogs about personal experiences come under this category of law or not etc. Would help so much and give us an idea of what we’re meant to adhere by exactly.
    Anyway … I have never had to face a racism-related experience, but thinking about something else on a lateral level…might blog about that after reading this.

  21. Nasreen says:

    Arva, DM me the restaurant. Just want to make sure a) I dont ever step in there b) spread the word

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Life in the Foodlane – Thank you for the support…it’s reassuring to hear someone else say: "go with your gut." I have in this case…but knowing me, I won’t drop the issue, I will probably call back and see what their manager has to say. Thank you for the supportive words!

      @Devina – I would love to humor myself that a restaurant would try and change if they read what I wrote, but in most cases, I venture into such hole in the wall places where I doubt the owners really bother to read restaurant review blogs (though in a few cases, owners have…so I better hold my talk on that one…). Somehow with this restaurant, I can almost BET that they wouldn’t give two hoots about an online negative review.
      I agree, given the number of blogs sprouting up in the city, I do wish someone would clarify the law. Maybe we can ask one of the papers to cover this or us…I mean, at the end of the day, when people leave online restaurant reviews on 3rd party websites, no one gets sued right? So is a blog any different? I don’t know. But unless I’m sure, I don’t want to risk it.
      Will wait to read about your experience…

      @Nasreen – Just did! And thank you for the support, and standing up against a crappy restaurant even though I didn’t feel comfortable publicly naming them. ;)

  22. Silvia says:

    I think you should name it on the Facebook page or send an email and then we can gather up as many unwanted ethnic types as humanly possible and converge upon them for lunch there. Perhaps afterwards we can gently point out to them that Dubai is a city of various nationalities and ask them if they might re-consider their racist attitude toward their customers, especially given that it is a good restaurant. If nothing else, it might give them pause about treating the next people this way.
    Sorry you had to experience that. What a bummer.

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @95927ae6e1ac6b8ec8793e3ebbb63de1:disqus – Love the idea! I will be honest though, I have such little incentive to want to waste my time on them again, especially when there are other better Iraqi places around, eg. Bait Al Baghdadi is quite good. But yes, eventually I will go back and make an attempt to display the ethnic diversity we have in Dubai. [you’d think that they’d see it if they step out of their restaurant…]

  23. Angelina says:

    Haha! Yes – I meant to say that I’m as outraged as you are. Whoops. I think protecting yourself is completely honorable, but I am glad you shared this story on your blog and started this conversation.

  24. sushanth says:

    Name it Arva, have a great lawyer friend, and I will ensure even if ur sued, ur not screwed :-)

  25. IshitaUnblogged says:

    Just heard you mentioning this on the radio link. I think you are very kind to have said good things about their food and even shared the food images. Did you take it up with someone senior at the restaurant? And you had also mentioned that this has happened to you thrice. In the same restaurant?

    Absolutely unforgivable and unacceptable.

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @ef231d87b7e69607162a78e699696961:disqus  – got it this time! :)

      @3c58593ad2f2314cce095dc762c4141a:disqus  – hahaha! that’s very kind of you…though I hope I never have the occasion to take you up on the offer, the thought of court cases doesn’t excite me at all ;)

      @openid-138341:disqus   – the ’someone senior’ only gets in during the evenings, so there was no one around at the time for me to take up the issue with. But if I ever do go back, it will be in the evenings and I will make sure that the manager is well aware of what’s going on. My guess is he probably already is, but I would love for him to know that other ethnicities have way more intellect and are able to discern racist service, than their restaurant would like to give us credit for.

  26. Marsha Tally says:

    No I would not continue to patronize any establishment where that type of behavior was something I became aware of, even if it weren’t directed at me. If I only witnessed that type of thing, that would be enough for me to go elsewhere.

  27. eleanore s wells says:

    I would never continue to patronize a restaurant that treated me poorly.  Surely they’re not the only restaurant with great food.

  28. Jane says:

    If their service fails on so many counts to so many people, even if you decide not to name them, they will surely hang themselves in time. As you’ve said, there are other restaurants serving similar fare.

    I actually know the restaurant you’re talking about and was fortunate enough to be taken there (or to another branch well south of the creek) by an Iraqi friend, however, I did notice a divide in the service standards and at the time I thought, I would be very uncomfortable going back unaccompanied, even in this other location which you would normally think should attract a truly international clientele. Now I have heard your account, I would think twice before going anyway.

    1. inafryingpan says:

      @facebook-100001443065267:disqus – I’m with you there! If I hear of an experience similar to this, from a friend or other credible source, I would boycott the restaurant too. Or at least ask around to see if others faced the same deal.

      @twitter-88981953:disqus – yep, tons more good restaurants with stellar services in the city. Thank God for choice.

      @45a9edfce4b9ea194ef5fa2f75447391:disqus – ah ha! now I didn’t realize that the Jumeira branch was as bad, I’m shocked to hear it for the same reason you mentioned, cause that location usually does attract a more international crew. I wish one of the newspapers would pick up on this and make a story of it. That may be the only thing that would get these blokes to notice and change their attitude.

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