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Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Dubai Melting Pot is in the Kitchen Too

Technicalities aside (see my previous post on Dubai as 'salad bowl' rather than 'melting pot') I was pleased to read The Dubai Melting Pot Is In the Kitchen Too in the New York Times. After an abundance of Dubai-bashing in the media recently, it was a relief to see a story by a writer who actually enjoyed himself in Dubai, and to read a well-researched piece of travel and food writing that gave such a scrumptious insight into the place. However, often it's the focused, one-subject stories that are more revealing than the all-encompassing pieces that try to do everything and don't end up covering anything particularly well at all. While cuisine, cooking and a culture's eating habits tell a lot about a place, in this case what's heartening is the fact that the story was centered, that it stayed on topic, that it rang true, and that it dug a little (although perhaps not as deep as it could have), rather than staggered all about the place, scratching here and there at the surface, and scraping together nothing but castles in the sand. During his three-day "odyssey across the culinary landscape of Dubai" writer Seth Sherwood samples an array of restaurants featuring cuisine from North Africa to the Sub-Continent, crediting Dubai’s cosmopolitan population for this culinary diversity, and writing "For devotees of food from the Arabian-Islamic world, Dubai may offer the grandest and most concentrated smorgasbord on the planet." Okay, so they're not really 'Arabian' (he probably means Arabic), but we'll forgive him because at least he was there. You see, I still can't get over Brisbane writer Elizabeth Farrelly's nonsensical piece in which she admitted that she had never been there but strangely for six months had "wanted to write about Dubai as a ruin". In stark contrast Sherwood's piece is grounded in reality: "Though the international economic crisis has raged like a sandstorm through Dubai’s office towers, financial markets and construction sites, a January visit found the sprawling restaurant scene remarkably intact." He concludes: "The upshot is a citywide food bazaar in which restaurants, high- and low-end, serve up tapaslike mezes, aubergine par excellence, fluffy couscous, tangy yogurts, endless kebabs, meats stewed with fruit, fiery arrak liqueur and honey-drenched desserts. All you need is taxi fare and a love of spices." I couldn't agree more. Although I don't always agree with his choices. Sherwood covers everything from the chic Moroccan restaurant Almaz by Momo (pictured) to the gritty Pakistani worker's eatery, Ravi, an expat favorite. The challenge of doing a story like this is that the writer only has three days to eat his way around the city and has to rely on his research abilities as much as his skills at discernment whereas we have had 11 years of dining in Dubai, with plenty of time for repeat visits. Another reason I love guidebook writer - 6 weeks in a city allows you plenty of time to return to places, to wander by on different nights, and to talk to locals. But once again - at least he was there.


Athens said...

Dubai is no more then fashion.

Lara Dunston said...

I completely overlooked this comment somehow, I'm sorry.

I'm going to disagree with you that it's "no more than fashion" (assuming you mean that to be that it's simply the flavour of the month?) because it's been a popular expat destination for the last 40 years, many of whom have lived there for 10 and 20 years, and expats comprise 80% of the population. So, it's also a wonderful place to live (safe, secure, stunning weather etc) as much as it has become a popular travel destination.