From stellar sauces to snacks with all the right attributes, traditional French baguettes that deliver the goods (and can be delivered to your door) and more, the local food scene is thriving.
Here are five born-in the-UAE brands that are in the early stages of their journey, but certainly deserve to be on your plate.
The Sweetie Shop
The story: Headed by Faizah Ajmal, a self-confessed “sweetaholic” with a particular penchant for old-school sweets and favourite childhood candy – think Love Hearts, Drumstick lollies, Refreshers bars and Dip Dabs – The Sweetie Shop is a family-run business in the true sense of the word.
“We’re a mother-daughter duo who operate with a lot of help from my family and our chef – it’s an all-round team effort,” explains Ajmal. “My mama has always been the most amazing baker and, as for me, I believe there are no sweets like retro sweets.”
The idea for turning those dual loves into a business came about during the UAE’s stay-at-home measures last year and resulted in The Sweetie Shop opening in one of the shipping containers at the pop-up Ripe Market in Dubai Police Academy. In keeping with the family vibe, the space is shared with Ajmal’s younger brother, Shoayb, who simultaneously operates his own home-grown concept, the popular fast-food joint Burger Stop.
The Sweetie Shop’s combination of tuck-shop sweets and made-for-Instagram bakes proved instantly popular, with customers continuing to flock to the store to get their fix and ordering online in abundance. With a dessert selection that boasts crunchy-on-the-outside, gooey-in-the-centre cookie dough slabs adorned with toppings galore, all manner of flavoured fudge and giant stuffed cookies, it’s not hard to see why.
Sample the goods: Visit The Sweetie Shop at the Ripe Market in Dubai Police Academy, order online through Deliveroo or Talabat, or get in touch via Instagram @thesweetieshop.dxb or WhatsApp on 054 564 7147.
On the cards: Plans are in motion to open a one-stop sweet shop and burger spot concept combining the talents of both siblings, in Dubai in the next few months, with the long-term goal being expansion into Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. The Sweetie Shop pick-and-mix will also be launching in supermarkets towards the end of the year.
The story: Calling all parents of young children: consider your snack-related battles won and your worries concerning how to fill lunch boxes resolved. We say this because Koala Picks, a parent-run company that’s all about making it easy to provide children with nutritious, healthy snacks free from preservatives, artificial colours, flavours, refined sugars and trans-fats, actually appeal to little ones. And it’s this dual delivery that makes Koala Picks stand out. Because, as any parent will attest, sometimes a cucumber baton – no matter how lovingly sliced – just doesn’t cut it.
From rainbow breadsticks to animal-shaped za’atar crackers and strawberry fruit rolls, as well as home-made cereals and pre-prepared cake, cookie and pancake mixes, all the reasonably priced items in the Koala Picks range are prepared from scratch, in the company’s licensed kitchen, and approved by a nutritional expert, as well as the under-10 set.
Sample the goods: All products can be ordered on the Koala Picks website and delivery is UAE-wide, with a minimum order of Dh50. Customers can opt to purchase items individually or try the weekly snack subscription service.
On the cards: A selection of spreads (chia jam, wholesome peanut butter, protein-rich hazelnut and chocolate spread) has recently been added to a product line that is likely to expand over the coming months.
Eat Better Foods
The story: Eat Better Foods is a company on a mission to help people do just that. The idea for Justine Dampt and Niraj Balwani’s business came about at the peak of the pandemic last year, when they felt empty supermarket shelves, particularly in the health food sections, highlighted an ongoing reliance on imported goods.
The goal with Eat Better Foods, Dampt says, is not to reinvent health food, but to offer alternatives to staple products. “All our recipes start in our own kitchen and cater to our own family needs. With every product, the idea is to provide a better, healthier alternative to a conventional item,” she explains.
“Better and healthier have different definitions for different people, so we don’t tie ourselves to vegan, gluten-free, keto-friendly features. The idea is better and cleaner ingredients.”
The range so far includes two flavours of Eat Better Foods wrap (coconut and spinach), both plant-based, gluten and grain-free, and a bake-at-home pizza crust that has the same health credentials. The product we’re most excited about, though, is their recently launched, entirely natural Almond Mylk Base, which provides a preservative-free, cost-effective way to make pure almond milk at home by blending the pantry-staple paste with water as and when you need it.
Sample the goods: The coconut and spinach wraps are available UAE-wide at Kibsons, Spinneys and Waitrose. The gluten-free pizza crust and Mylk Base are exclusive to Spinneys and Waitrose.
On the cards: The company has ambitious intentions for the coming months and means to both grow its product range and extend its distribution footprint within the UAE and to international markets, including Saudi Arabia, Oman and Mauritius.
“What will not change is that all our products will be made in the UAE,” says Dampt. “We will continue to work with local suppliers where possible for ingredients, packaging and other value-added services such as marketing and advertising.”
The story: “For me, a good-tasting hot sauce should have a balance of heat and flavour,” says Ambika Rajgopal. “It’s such a common misconception that hot sauces only need to be spicy; flavour is an equally integral component – they go hand in hand.”
As the founder of Haute Sauce, the UAE company responsible for adding flavour and interest to the meals of those in the know for the past 18 months or so, Rajgopal knows exactly what she’s talking about.
The products in her Haute Sauce range are the very definition of artisan. They are prepared with admirable care and attention, in deliberately small batches, using fresh, high-quality ingredients including, of course, carefully sourced chillies. The end result is not just delicious, but also entirely natural, vegan-friendly, and free from gluten and preservatives.
The sauces veer from the seriously spicy Original: Habanero & Coriander to the milder but no less flavourful Mellowing: Bird’s Eye Chilli, as well as the seasonally available sweet-sour Puckering: Habanero & Raw Mango and a Haunting Ghost Pepper hot sauce that comes with the description “Spice level: Very Very High” (don’t say you weren’t warned).
Sample the goods: Order on the Haute Sauce website. Delivery is offered across the Emirates, within six days of the order being placed.
On the cards: Haute Sauce has already joined forces with a number of other restaurants and brands that share the same commitment to quality and freshness for one-off projects and events. A recent tie-up with Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, for the UAE campaign launch of the brand’s new lip gloss Gloss Bomb Heat, marked its first international and non-food related collaboration. Plans to enable delivery on a larger scale are currently being worked on.
The story: “The whole reason I started baking baguettes was to try to perfect them and bake the best baguette in Dubai, and that's still the main goal,” says Magnus Ericsson, aka The Viking and one-half of the husband-and-wife duo behind Viking Bageri.
An unwavering commitment to that aim has stood the pandemic-born company well, and Viking Bageri’s baguettes have had bread lovers across Dubai swooning. As converts ourselves, we’re willing to say these golden-brown beauties, with their crispy crust and chewy-airy centre, really are the finest in the UAE.
Ericsson is a self-taught baker (his full-time job is chief operating officer for a hospital group in Ajman), who takes a highly scientific, technical approach to his bread-making – hydration levels, yeast percentages, proofing and baking times are all carefully calculated and constantly monitored to ensure absolute consistency.
Currently, the Viking Bageri range includes the simple pleasure that is the original and two rather more indulgent baguettes: a dark chocolate and sea-salt-flecked number, and the truffle baguette, featuring swirls of truffle sauce, porcini mushrooms, black olives and black truffle.
Sample the goods: When Ericsson says he is absolutely committed to quality and freshness, he’s not just paying the idea lip service. “Our baguettes are best enjoyed fresh and we try to make sure that none of the baguettes that reach our customers are more than two hours from the oven.”
What this does mean, though, is that delivery is limited to the weekends and Dubai only. So, if you live in that emirate, head to the Viking Bageri website and book your day and time slot, then start getting excited. (There is a minimum order of two baguettes, with delivery charged at Dh10).
On the cards: A collaboration with Freedom Pizza, another hugely successful home-grown concept operated by shared partner Krush Brands, has just launched. This means that those who live in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai can now order the seriously tasty garlic and herb butter and chocolate and sea salt baguettes online at freedompizza.ae.
In addition, The Viking has said that requests for expansion to other emirates are being listened to and could well come to fruition in the near future, provided it doesn’t impact the quality of the end result.