Camel hot dogs, now at a Dubai cafe near you

Jassim Albastaki is an Emirati entrepreneur and the owner of Cafe2Go in Dubai, which offers unusual camel-meat snacks.

Jassim Albastaki's cafe serves everything from camel-milk drinks to camel-meat snacks. Delores Johnson / The National
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Jassim Albastaki’s Cafe2Go in Dubai has made a name for itself as one of the only purveyors of coffees, teas and shakes made with camel milk.

Such has been his success after opening branches at Al Marooj Rotana and on Sheikh Zayed Road that he’s now eyeing up expansion across the region and even the rest of the world.

But it’s not only caffeinated products that are its draw; the cafe also offers camel meat in a range of tasty snacks – from hot dogs to salami sandwiches.

The hot dog

The camel-meat sausage looks and tastes pretty much like any hot dog you’ve ever tried. This, says Albastaki, is a testament to the hard work that went into its manufacture.

“It was a big challenge with the camel meat,” he explains. “The meat is a little tough. For a hot dog, it requires special techniques and recipe to have what we call marshmallow meat. We have to mix the meat with the fat from the camel hump, then go through certain processes for a soft consistency.”

Now, the hot dogs are almost buttery in their texture. “You will not even notice that it is tough,” says Albastaki as we tuck into our meal.

Traditional approach

One of Albastaki’s aims has been to help people understand the camel’s importance to people of the Arabian Gulf.

“We want to keep our traditions and culture alive,” he states. “Foreigners and even younger Emiratis probably would not want to try camel milk or meat. But we want the new generation of Emiratis to return to their forefathers’ type of food, but in the modern style.”

In days gone by, the indigenous peoples of this region would have eaten camel meat with mounds of rice, served at huge feasts.

“Most people, even Emiratis, don’t have the time to sit down for big meals,” he says. “They prefer to eat snacks. So we serve camel meat in convenient snacks, like salami or hot dogs.”

Going global

“Until now, alhamdulillah, we’ve been doing very well. We have signed franchises in Qatar and Libya,” he says. Albastaki is also in negotiations for outlets in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, while he’s also met with possible investors in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

Farther afield, camel milk was banned in Europe until recently. Now that the ban has been rescinded, Albastaki is eyeing some of the continent’s major cities.

“Now that there is no issue with camel milk in Europe, we will target Europe very soon,” he explains. “I believe Europeans and Americans would really love my products because they are so healthy.”

Customers’ views

Some patrons at the cafe were intrigued by the camel products, some less so.

Byju George, a 51-year-old businessman from India, says he tried a camel hot dog and thought it was delicious. “I’m not really into junk food because I train for a lot of marathons. But I had the hot dog and it was really nice,” he says.

Meanwhile, Parth Trivedi, a 38-year-old watch importer, also from India, was less enthused.

“I don’t really like the idea of eating camel meat or drinking camel milk. I come to this cafe only because they have nice coffee. But I choose cow’s milk,” he explains.

The McCamel hot dog?

With the popularity of his camel products, is Albastaki afraid global corporations could steal his ideas? Could Starbucks one day produce a camelchino coffee or McDonald’s offer camel hot dogs?

“I’m not worried about the big names taking my ideas,” Albastaki says.

“I am one of the pioneers. Cafe2Go invented all this, the camel products and the coffee drinks. Yes, these recipes are secret and I have a patent on them.”

It’s also all about personal preference. “You know, when it comes to coffee, one person prefers Starbucks, one person prefers Costa Coffee and one person prefers Tim Hortons,” he says.

“People love my products because of the taste. If the competitors cannot get the taste right, then who will buy it? I am not worried.”

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