Friday, 13 May 2016

My secret guide to eating out in Dubai - Indian, Pakistani, Arabic & Persian food

The original Bu Qtair Restaurant, before they got fancy and moved across the road. 

I've said this is a secret guide to eating out in Dubai, but there are some old classics on this list that will appear in most eating out guide to Dubai. Despite that there are some places that I'm only sharing now that I've left the city and I don't need to worry about getting a table on a Friday anymore.


When people move to Dubai it's quite common to hear that they've gained the Dubai Stone, this is the weight you put on from all the eating and no moving that tends to happen in the city.

As most people know Dubai is known as a city of glitz, glamour and excess and this is true of its restaurants. With more 5-star hotels than you can imagine where a lot of expats spend their dirhams and hours on the weekend, there are restaurants to match. Of course, you can choose to dine with Gordon Ramsay, Gary Rhodes, Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar, Nobu, Richard Sandoval, Giorgia Locatelli, Jamie Oliver, Wolfgang Puck, Antonio Carluccio, Jason Atherton and the list goes on and on. Not to mention the fit out of these restaurants being totally mind-blowing.

For me, though, this isn't what eating out in Dubai is about. There are so many places where you can get the meal of your life without damaging your wallet. There's a little secret to discovering the best food and that's to take a look at the people around you. The nationalities of the highest numbers in Dubai are Indian, Pakistani and Arab, so these that are the cuisines to head for and you won't be disappointed.

Here are some of the places that we ate at time and time again:

Ravi's
It would be impossible to write an eating guide to Dubai without mentioning Ravi's. It's an institution. It's a place where Pakistani taxi drivers and British investment bankers alike dine at rickety tables eating curries, roti and kebabs washed down with cold bottles of water. We once feed a group of 10 people for under AUD$100 and had leftovers for lunch the next day, so it won't break the bank. If you've never tried Pakistani food before, then Ravi's is a must. I recommend the mutton Jalfrezi and the ginger chicken, palak paneer (spinach and cheese) and the dhal. Order up big, have a chai while you're waiting and then sit back and people watch. This is about as Dubai as you can get. If you'd like to visit this restaurant jump in a cab and say you want to go to Ravi's in Satwa, the driver will know exactly what you mean.

Gazebo
This North Indian restaurant was a slow burner for me. I'd heard people talk about it, but didn't venture there for some time, what a mistake that was. It's a chain of restaurants so you can find them throughout the Emirates, including Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ajman. The quality of their food is consistent and I was never disappointed. I've never had a bad meal from Gazebo, but the Murgh Kastoori Kabab and the ladies fingers (I could never find this on the menu, but if you just ask for ladies fingers they'll know what you mean) are truly outstanding. I might be crying a little as I type this as I can't believe I won't be eating either of these any time soon. To find one of their restaurants visit their website.

Raju Omlet
Oh my. This place is really the goods. If you don't like eggs, then you can forget about it as that's all they serve - breakfast, lunch and dinner. The restaurant is an Indian franchise that serves curried eggs (don't think about Aunty Beryl's curried egg sanga cause they are nothing like this), rolled omelettes with chilli and marsala. The curries are served with pav (which are a Bombay-style bread roll) and roti. Their chai is also the best around, lovingly made, my favourites were the ginger chai and the mint chai.
There is a tiny outlet in Karama near the Park Regis Hotel and since I've left they opened another on Sheikh Zayed Rd in Al Quoz. They don't have a website, but you can check out their Facebook page.
In researching this, I've discovered there's a Raju Omlet in Melbourne, so I'm off to check out some cheap flights….

Calicut Paragon
If you like seafood and you like Indian food, then this is the place for you. Another franchise (they love a franchise in Dubai), they serve up seafood curries you wouldn't believe. I had the best prawns I've ever eaten in my life here, unfortunately they were ordered by someone else and I sadly I never worked out which ones they were. They also do a mean Appam here (a pancake made from ferment rice batter and coconut) which go perfectly with their dishes. The crabs and prawns are fantastic and they also do a mean dhal. They have two restaurants in Dubai (and a couple in India), so check out their website. We used to visit the Karama one and then you can go and visit the famous Karama Handbag market, to pick up a few genuine imitation handbags. Here's their website.

Bu Qtair Fish Cafteria
This is another Dubai institution and has been around for many years! While we were living in Dubai it was housed in a small portable shack near the beach with one of the best views of the Burj Al Arab around. People would begin queuing in the sand before they opened to get the best pick of the prawns and fish, then sit at tiny plastic tables to gobble it down. They serve two things - fish and prawns both served in the same marinade, you can pick your fish out of their large bucket and order the prawns by the kilo. You can order rice and roti and they come with a spicy coconut gravy which I could drink by the barrel. Just before we left Dubai, it moved across the road to the Fishing Harbour and is now served up in a more sterile environment and they now open for lunch. This makes me a little sad as Bu Qtair was the best most unpretentious place you could come across. If their prawns still taste the same then it's still worth a visit because they're unbelievable. Get their early to avoid the queues! They're located at the Fishing Harbour in Umm Suqueim, turn at the Chalet restaurant on the Beach Rd towards the beach and follow the road around.

Al Safadi
Within a couple of days of landing in Dubai we discovered this gem and kept returning time and time and time again over the three-and-a-half years we were there. Their Lebanese food was some of the best I had in Dubai and that's saying something because the Lebanese food in Dubai is plain awesome. Their baba ganouj, hommous, falafel, grilled chicked, kafta, fattoush is out of this world. Fresh, tasty and delicious. They are located on Sheikh Zayed Road, not far from the DIFC. This is a pretty local restaurant, so you won't find any other tourists there, but you will leave with a happily full belly. Check out their website (where I also just noticed that they have another restaurant in Dubai in Al Rigga and another restaurant in Erbil in Kurdistan!)

Burj Al Hamam
Another reliably good Lebanese restaurant. They are also a chain (are you getting the gist about chain restaurants in Dubai yet?) with outlets around Dubai and the whole Middle East, so you can get a good feed whether you're in Dubai, Kuwait, Amman or Riyadh. The outlets in Dubai Marina Mall (lovely to sit outside when the weather is good, also has shisha) and the Mall of the Emirates (this outlet is seriously plush and full of bling). All the dishes are good here, but the calamari and the whole grilled chicken are standouts. Darbs says they have the best french fries around.

The Iranian Club
This is a fantastic place to come if you've never tried Persian food before and you want to get a taste of Iran. They offer a buffet every Thursday, Friday & Saturday lunch for around 75 dirhams a person (AUD$27) you can eat as much as you like and they serve unlimited soft drinks and black sweet tea. There's a plethora of fresh salads, Persian kabobs and saffron rice. Note: to enter the club everyone must be modestly dressed - no shorts or singlets for men; arms, legs and heads covered for women. This place is well worth a visit, check out their website.

Barbecue Delights
The only bad thing about this North Indian, Pakastani, Afghani place is that I didn't get to go there enough. I encourage you to go there and delight for yourself. Order the Barbecue Delights Special Platter (don't bother with anything else) and prepare to roll out of the restaurant. They, of course, have a few outlets in Dubai including Lamcy Plaza, JBR and Downtown. Visit their website.

Bamyam Afghan Restaurant
We discovered this gem when we were invited to eat by the cousins of the owners, it was my first taste of Afghan cuisine and it didn't disappoint. The Aushak (kind of like Afghan ravioli) and the bolani gardana are delish. Located in Business Bay, when the weather isn't scalding you can sit outside and the kids can play all in the shadow of the world's tallest building. Visit their Facebook page.

German Doner Kebab
Before I went to Dubai I was not much of a kebab person, greasy unknown meat wrapped in soggy bread did nothing for me. Then I discovered kebabs in Dubai. There's the famous shwarma (chicken, pickle and french fries with garlic sauce wrapped in bread, OMG, so good. You can get these anywhere, even at IKEA. My favourite kebab though used to come from German Doner Kebab. A mix of chicken and veal, with sauce and fresh red cabbage and salad wrapped in a cripsy waffle-style wrap. So, so, so good. German Doner Kebab shops are all over the city and make a perfect quick lunch or late-night belly filler. Visit their site here. PS you can find them throughout the Middle East and Europe.


Phew! That's a lot of eating. There are still a few gems that I want to share with you including cafes and the famous Dubai brunch, so I'll post again this time next week!

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