A dish best served cold: A look into the increasingly popular raw-food movement

A half-dozen local restaurants in the UAE are now serving dishes – or entire menus – that have never seen an oven. We meet the husband-and-wife team who have recently opened Raw Foods cafe in Abu Dhabi.
Granola fruit cup at The Farm restaurant at Al Barari. Jaime Puebla / The National
Granola fruit cup at The Farm restaurant at Al Barari. Jaime Puebla / The National

It took awhile, but with at least six eateries in the UAE either dedicated to serving raw food or incorporating raw dishes as integral menu components, the raw food movement appears to have arrived.

The newest venture appears also to be the capital’s first raw food restaurant: the aptly named Raw Foods, which opened this summer in the new World Trade Center Souk.

The shop and cafe was created by the husband-and-wife team Kerim Muvdi from Colombia, and Najwa Abdulhadi, a Palestinian.

The 24-year-old Abdulhadi, who was raised in Abu Dhabi, explains the couple’s healthy origins.

“We met while living in Boston and our meetups were always in a vegan restaurant – not that we are both vegans but we appreciate that kind of lifestyle. Our diet is probably 70 per cent fruit and vegetables, with the rest meat and fish. When we decided to move to Abu Dhabi we realised we would have a hard time finding a place like that here, so we just came up with the idea then. Kerim’s mother is a certified holistic nutritionist and helped developed the menu.”

But what exactly is raw foodism, anyway?

“It’s live, natural food in an untainted, raw form,” explains Muvdi, 26. “Unprocessed. Anything that is taken from nature and handled with our hands. No heat is applied to any of our foods or our juices. Our outlet is also 100 per cent vegan, so we only use organic fruit, vegetables and ­legumes.”

It’s important to clarify that under the raw foodism umbrella sits another sub-movement, the raw-animal food diet, which embraces the use of animal products as long as they are either uncooked, or cooked up to a temperature of 40 - 46C.

That’s the route The Farm in Dubai’s Al Barari retreat has taken with its new menu. Customer demand has increased for raw dishes since The Farm opened more than two years ago, as have requests for gluten-free, vegan, low-carb and paleo.

“Embracing raw food showcases the product itself, especially as we try to use seasonal, ethically sourced ingredients and as much as practically possible from the region,” says Yves de Lafontaine, the chef and food and beverage ­manager.

“The golden beetroot in season now is packed with flavour and has a different crunch to it when raw. We finely slice it to make a carpaccio, with a salad on top. I’ve also added Vietnamese vegetable lettuce rolls back onto the menu. We now have a tuna tartare and a beef carpaccio using raw produce that gives the dishes more depth and more nutrients. The beef is air-dried so there are no preservatives or interference with anything unnatural. A cheese platter, all unpasteurised, also qualifies, as do our juices and almond and coconut milk drinks.” Meanwhile, back in the capital, Raw Foods only uses certified organic produce supplied by the Dubai-based organic-only company The Green League with a 70 to 30 per cent ratio of imported versus local. Seasonality is key, meaning when local kale is not available, local spinach is used as a substitute. The price point may be high for some, but reasonable considering the effort expended: juices and non-dairy milks are from Dh22 to 48; smoothies Dh26 to 38; and bowls and desserts Dh36 to 44.

With the UAE’s worrying obesity and diabetes problem, perpetuated with a national diet of processed, fast foods, the growing demand for a healthier lifestyle – even extreme measures, such as raw foodism – becomes easier to understand.

Muvdi and Abdulhadi are banking on it continuing, with plans for more outlets and home delivery coming soon.

“The reason people turn to fast food is because it’s readily available and that’s what we want to do with Raw,” says Muvdi. “We are creating a fast-food, healthy chain readily available for the consumer at an affordable price.”

Hungry for more? Head over to our Bites blog for The Farm – Dubai chef Yves de Lafontaine’s recipe for Vietnamese vegetable lettuce rolls


Published: September 2, 2014 04:00 AM


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