In Dubai, you can eat for less

island restaurant

My husband “discovered” this restaurant some years back while wandering around the vicinity while we wait for our turn to vaccinate Benjamin at a government health clinic in Qusais area. He was curious. The place is always teeming with diners, mostly locals who live nearby. It’s always full after prayer time with the mosque nearby.

The diners are all men.


I pretended to take a selfie so I can show them to all of you. These men in the background in the below photo are playing cards at 9 am!

locals playing cards in the background

It was Friday and the husband said we’d drive up to the eatery to have breakfast. There is no McDonald’s breakfast for this family! Benjamin and I have finished eating (we wake up very early even on Fridays or holidays) so it was only Pristine and her dad who were hungry.

island food

The husband asked for his “usual” order – 3 parathas (flat breads), keema curry (minced lamb curry with green peas), egg omelette (not pictured), water, chai (Indian milk tea), Pepsi (because he can get away with having soda for breakfast! Horror, I know!) and a strawberry milk  drink for Benjamin. Pristine and her dad ate their breakfast with gusto while I took photos around.

Benjamin popular

I think because the usual diners (mostly elderly men) are not used to seeing kids there, Benjamin was instantly popular. So many of them want to have a piece of him, he he.  I mean, who could really blame them? 

cute kid

This. Kid. Is. Adorable. And yes, I am the mother so totally not biased there.

This restaurant seem to operate for 24 hours or maybe oddly until late, late night because he said he went there at 3am to have some food when all else were closed after his night shift at work.

He boasted of the inexpensive fare. How at a very cheap price he can be full and satisfied (both tummy and pocket!). This is Dubai – where everyone thinks everything is expensive. But this goes to show that there are places that can feed you if you only learn where and if you’re not choosy. After all, food is food. And this, this is better than the fake food at McDonalds!!

Our bill was 16 dhs (US$4).

Dubai Health Authority constantly checks the health and hygiene standards of these cafeterias so they should be ok  and it was clean.

We left around 10 am when it was already too hot. I don’t know if the men were still sitting outside playing cards or chatting but the looks on Benjamin’s face says we needed to head on to somewhere with aircon!


First visit to Gulfood


Imagine more than 4,000 exhibitors from 120 different countries exhibiting varieties and varieties of food and beverage, all in one place – at the heart of Dubai, Dubai World Trade Center.

In all my seven years in Dubai, I have not checked out the fuss that is Gulfood. Being the Middle East’s biggest food exhibition, this is the time one would really feel that Dubai is a very important business hub. People in the food industry from all over the world come to showcase their products in Dubai. And there are pavilions for each country.

Which pavilion would you visit first? My answer is this picture.

French macarons

These macarons are actually frozen sweets from the French company Tipiak Traiteur Patissier. So you don’t have to go to the bakery to buy some, these frozen babies are stored in the fridge and defrosted naturally. They were so good, I wouldn’t know the difference from the non-frozen ones!

I was already in the France Pavilion so I roamed around to find more frozen sweets!

frozen pastry

This one is from Pomone, a family owned business based in Loire Valley. The exhibitor, Mr. Eric said the apples used in their famous and best selling frozen apple tarts are from his plantation. 

frozen chocolat gateau

It seems that there’s a huge production of frozen desserts in France, however I have yet to see it here in the supermarkets. Have you seen frozen things like this here in Dubai?

chocolate lava

You must know this – chocolate lava cake. There is also a frozen version and it tastes just like the freshly baked one after only a minute on the microwave.

Next stop: Monbana Chocolaterie – can you tell I am such a chocoholic? It’s hopeless, I tell you…

Monbana milkshakes

This very friendly monseur made us chocolate milkshake. 


Ok, enough chocolates. France is also very famous for…what else but CHEESE!


photo 4 (39)

photo 2 (55)
Some of these cheeses are already available here in Dubai like the Roucoulons and Ptit Brie from Fromagerie Milleret but I was drawn to the goat cheeses from Eurial – especially the goat cheese, flavored in honey. I need to find that here, soon. I heard I might find it in Spinneys.

Beverages – there were some interesting ones like this ‘organic’ fruit flavored sodas from La Compagnie Des Boissons Biologiques.

Pure French soda

These beverages were easy to drink and carbonated but not overwhelmingly sweet. The exhibitor said, these are manufactured with the young consumers in mind (children) so it 100% natural and organic without any preservatives and chemical ingredients.


Then we found this friendly lad at the Andros booth. Andros is known for fruit processing, dairy products, confectionery and frozen desserts. It’s international brand is Bonne Maman. They also have fruit purees which was used by this lad to make a mocktail for me, with added twist: fresh basil!

Andros mocktail

One last stop at the French Pavilion: honey.

Miel honey

Ok, some education for me – this is where I knew that not all honeys are created equal. I know some, like the Acacia Honey, Manuka and some others (shame, I couldn’t even remember) but there were interesting others from Nauralim France Miel: Chestnut honey, lavender honey, carrot flower honey, fir tree honey!

That wraps up my trip to Gulfood and because I only had less than 2 hours to go around yesterday, I only visited (and got stuck) at the French Pavilion. There’s a reason this event lasts for 5 days! Last day is tomorrow so if you have time, head on to the Dubai World Trade Center, exhibitions close at 7pm. Nearest Metro Station is World Trade Center on the Red Line.


Going to Gulfood? Here are some tips:

ONE: It’s easy to imagine Gulfood as a place to try out food samples from so many countries (wouldn’t that be awesome) but really, if you go there hungry and expecting lots of samples, you might be disappointed. Gulfood is mainly for business – food suppliers looking to partner with distributors from the UAE to bring their products in the UAE market. So there are a lot of food stands that don’t give away product samples or have food products for taste testing.


TWO: Take the Metro. It’s traffic in and around the World Trade Center so the Metro is your best bet of transportation.

THREE: Don’t wait to leave until 7pm when everybody does! People swarm together toward the Metro station right after the exhibition hall closes at 7pm so it would be best to leave about 5 minutes before. Or else you might need to sit down at the nearest cafe and wait for the deluge to calm down. 

FOUR: Bring a friend – it’s always fun to go around with someone and you can discuss the taste, etc or where to go next!

FIVE: Don’t be like me who only allotted 2 hours for my Gulfood visit. Spend the whole day if you can. I would have wanted to check out the Asian countries pavilion!

Don’t forget:  LAST DAY of Gulfood 2014 is on 27th February 2014!


Have you been to Gulfood, what was the best/most interesting stuff you found/tried?

Shawarma – Arabic street food with a sense

When night falls in this Middle Eastern city of Dubai, expat workers turn on their car engines and ready themselves to face the traffic. The shawarma chefs don their aprons and turn on the fire.

Shawarma in Dubai

When we first arrived here in 2007, we were immediately intrigued by this exotic street food. After more than 10 years of eating Japanese food, a simple sandwich like this is ‘exotic’ enough for us. We ate it at the rate of how people eat McDonalds in America. No kidding. What is a shawarma? A shawarma is a Middle Eastern sandwich-like wrap filled with shaved meat – either chicken, lamb, beef or a combination of any. Other things in the sandwich include pickles, vegetables like lettuce and tomatoes and sometimes french fries(!) and garlic sauce.


~ Syrian shawarma maker ~

Most shawarmas are made outside restaurants and these shawarma shops can be spotted easily by their towering logs of revolving meat and vertical red cookers. It’s a pleasure to see these shawarma shops along with the small cafeterias at night. The meat in these meat towers are usually shaved using a long wield knife by a shawarma cutter, dressed in white like that of a French chef. There’s an aluminum plate below where the shaved meat falls and blends with the delicious dripping. The pan also allows the vegetables to soak up the meat juices from above, giving them a that extra oomph later on. Then the chef fills an Arabic bread or a paper thin bread (Iranian/Syrian style) with the meat and vegetables, wrap it in paper and handed to you. Interestingly, not all shawarmas you see in Dubai are created equal. The shawarmas in the streets is a country to country experience, changing by taste even in the same neighborhood.


The best sharwarma we had is the Iran and Syrian style where the outside of the sandwich is seared crispy on top of a hot plate. This kind of shawarma uses a distinctively thinner sandwich than the traditional Arabic bread so there’s more juicy, delicious filling than the starchy bread.

Shawarma in Dubai

I haven’t been to any other countries in the Middle East but in Dubai, most shawarma shops in the street are open only in the evenings so don’t expect that you can have it at lunch although you can find shawarmas inside some food courts, malls and restaurants.

Shawarma in the city

Shawarma in the city

So, after almost four years in Dubai, we’ve had lots of bad, good, could do better, so-so and great shawarmas. We know where to and not to go, mostly. One of the best ones we frequent to is very near where we live. Every time we take a night stroll with a shawarma sandwich in our hands we always think:

This would be one of the things we’ll miss when we leave Dubai.

This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday Rentals-travel blogging competition.

Glorious figs


If someone would ask me what is good about living in Dubai or in the Middle East, one of my answers would probably be: Figs.

I accidentally discovered figs when I was supposed to buy prunes and grabbed the wrong package at the supermarket three years ago, on our first month in Dubai. I was hesistant to try the dried figs out because it looked so alien – wrinkly, awkward looking and the white spots looked like molds. I smelled it, turned it round and round in strict inspection and finally gave it a go. It was A-W-E-S-O-M-E. From then on, dried figs secured a special place in my heart.

If you’ve had figs but didn’t like it, it simply means you just had the bad ones. I love figs to a fault that I’d like to ask everyone to give me one gross thing about it so I can stop myself from overeating. Anything?

Our life in Dubai is temporary and we might end up somewhere else. I still don’t know where right now but I would love to have a small backyard and preferably, a fig tree in it. Or not, a nearby supermarket that sells my favorite dried fig brand!

UPDATE: Bateel also sells very delicious dried figs. Also, cheaper option is available at Lulu Hypermarket. Choose the bigger ones! The ones available here are flatter, not plump like in the top photo.

Dubai bans cooking with alcohol…for some minutes


News broke out a couple of days ago about Dubai government banning the use of alcohol in cooking in hotels and restaurants. The municipality said it had sent a circular to all food establishments in Dubai last week ordering them to stop the sale of any dishes containing alcohol.

That’s bye bye to juicy steaks, Ciao to sweet tiramisu and sayonara to richly flavored teriyaki dishes!


It is absurd and just complete non-sense because inside hotels and restaurants (and even in our homes) we can consume alcohol to go with food but cooking food using alcohol – which, evaporates when fired up (think pan exploding with fire when alcohol is poured) – is a no? Dubai just reached a new level of weirdness.

Food lovers were up in arms and voiced out their outcries in Twitter and Facebook. Several of our Japanese chef friends were disappointed with the new law. Japanese restaurants will surely be badly hit if this nonsense prevail. A teriyaki will simply be not teriyaki without rice wine!!

So, in full Dubai journalism style, Dubai retracted, a few minutes after the first report. Bring back the coq au vin! Eat and dine with wine and be merry!

They said the “ban” was lifted because it was misunderstood. Cooking with alcohol is permitted as long as restaurants declare them and separate them in the menu.

And all is well in desert land again.

Photo credit: Chicken teriyaki cooked at my home, by me.