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.

locals

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!

Mingling with the locals

Meeting locals and/or making friends with them was such a remote possibility for me, even after living in Dubai for more than two years.

“Locals” as we call UAE nationals only compose a small fraction of Dubai’s overall population. Think ONLY 20% of the entire population. So here you could see so many Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, American and other expats from about 200 different countries and a handful of locals in one city.

I see them in malls and in the streets but they seem to be aloof and naive – it’s almost impossible to engage in random conversations with them or better yet make friends with them. While we (expats) live with them in the same city, I always felt that they live in a different, parallel world.

Just an FYI, Emiratis work in the government sector and there are only a very few of them in the private sector. There’s no local working in the company I work now. Be aware of the fact that there are more jobs than the number of locals so expats are needed.

My husband volunteers for an organization teaching Japanese to the locals every weekend.

locals-in-japanese-class-1

~ an Emirati student writing Japanese on the board ~

Since I always have to work on Saturdays, I only got to hear the stories from him like some of the locals are actually nice and easy to talk to, that they are fluent in English, that they talk alot about their country and how they think about themselves being the minority, etc and how his students are so eager to learn about Japan and the Japanese language.

locals-in-japanese-class-2

~ local male students hard at work ~

cupcake

Last Saturday, I took an off from work and went with him. For the first time in my stay here, I met and interacted with Emiratis. Interacted means I didn’t only met them in the eye or bumped shoulders to shoulders with them but actually spent time with them and talked to them! They were there to learn Japanese and I am amazed by their diligence learning a difficult foreign language. After 8 weeks, (despite only having once a week classes) they were able to memorize, read and write the two sets of Japanese alphabet!

After the 2 hours class, they had a class party to celebrate the end of the curriculum. We had Arabic and Japanese food. Yum. These beautiful cupcakes were brought by one student and I post them here just because.

There I got to mingle with the locals and got to know some of them.

I told one of them (a guy) that this is my first time actually talking to someone from the UAE and he said, “Oh, I’m sorry. That’s not nice of us.”

Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, how to or what to talk with them. I don’t know why I fear if I would upset them with my conversation or something like that. There’s this invisible wall between them and me (I know most expats would agree) that’s difficult to explain. In fact some locals are aware that expats are intimidated by their presence, find them unapproachable or sometimes arrogant. But you know what? They think the same. They think it’s not easy to approach expats as well (although some Emiratis do not see the need to).

The local I talked to said, “Why? We’re all the same. Some locals are eager to talk to expats too and ask them what they think of our country. Wouldn’t that be a good conversation?”

While talking to him I thought, not all locals are arrogant and unapproachable. There are bad and good people, regardless of nationality!

I talked to a group of young ladies and asked so many questions. Will they want to work after marriage (I got a big YES on this one)? Do they love traveling (yes they do! and so many of them have traveled extensively over Europe and the Americas!), why do they study Japanese, etc. We had an hour of lovely conversation. They even agreed that I take a photo of them with Pristine.

local-ladies-in-japanese-class-2-hid

~ friendly Emirati young ladies I met (photo altered to protect their privacy) ~

At the end of the day, as we were saying our goodbyes, they invited me to visit them in their houses. Some of the ladies want to hear my Japan story and want to spend more time with me.

I’m glad I came to that class/party. It was a precious experience and an eye-opening one, too.

If  you’re an expat in Dubai, do you have Emirati friends? Where did you meet them?