“In Dubai, we have this unique ability to be able to compare similar dishes from completely different places and cuisines – like Korea and Uzbekistan, for example,” says Arva Ahmed, chief executive of Frying Pan Adventures, the city’s first food-tour company. “It’s the kind of place where you can have those incredible conversations around food,” she says, of Dubai’s gastronomic scene.
The company launched a series of food podcasts on this very topic, exploring the emirate's diverse food offerings. Where else can you sample, compare and contrast several cultures's take on biryani in one city? Or sample multiple versions of hummus, each version seasoned by its own country's culinary backstory? In Dubai, a podcast comparing the same dish from different nationalities can exist because of the breadth of choice found here.
It's not only residents who have noticed the region's expanding appetite. Michelin is taking note of the UAE's bubbling foodie scene, too, with talk of a Gulf Michelin Guide in the pipeline and hints from Michelin that it is only a matter of time until restaurants in Dubai start earning their stars.
Stroll past the many cafes and restaurants along City Walk, Jumeirah and La Mer, and it will not come as a surprise to discover that Dubai's food scene was recently ranked the eighth most diverse in the world by Bott & Co, travel insurance solicitors and specialists. Beating foodie capitals Los Angeles, San Francisco, Montreal and Tokyo, Dubai's culinary scene encompasses the gastronomical heritage of 62 nationalities, ranking after New York, London, Toronto, Chicago, Paris, Berlin and Melbourne.
By analysing Google Maps data in cities with a population of more than a million, Bott & Co was able to find out which are the ones to head to if you have multifaceted gastronomic tastes. The company found the cities boasting the most national cuisines, and the Google Star ratings feature was used to determine which of that city's restaurants were most highly ranked (in Dubai's case, an extensive list offering world cuisines that span North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australasia).
Look to the list for Dubai's most highly rated restaurants, which also includes Jamaican at Ting Irie, Argentinian at Asado, Kenyan at Nyumbani Tasty Kenyan Food, Portuguese at Taka Taka and Iraqi food at Iraqi: Bestoon Samad Restaurant. It delivers the world on one map.
“In Dubai, I’ve eaten buffalo meat dumplings from Nepal, ox tail from West Africa, horse meat from Uzbekistan,” says Ahmed, emphasising just how far you can travel when heading out for dinner in the city.
"Many people plan their trip around the places they eat, often booking restaurants before they even arrive in the city," says Bott & Co's Georgina English on the decision to create the map. "One trend we were keen to explore was the rise of the foodie traveller. We were curious to determine which of the world's cities can offer the most diverse culinary adventure," she says, emphasising Dubai's growing popularity.
The city is continually developing and its food scene is not left behind. "Once upon a time, having shisha at JBR was the most exciting thing to do. Now, you can head over to La Mer and get lost in a whole line of gastronomic magic," say Dubai Bites food bloggers Saif Alnasur and Danna Abrahim. The duo say they are fans of the recent developments at La Mer and Jumeirah, as well as older foodie institutions in Karama. "Karama is a place where you can throw a dart blindfolded and have it land on an entirely different culinary experience each time, from Ethiopian and Indian to Korean."
Ahmed insists on the draw of old parts of town, such as Karama for its authentic, community dining experiences. "The restaurants are so unassuming, they serve up unbelievable flavours at totally reasonable prices, and they're successful because the community here supports them," says Ahmed.
In terms of atmosphere, then, Dubai also has something for everyone. "There are probably more American, Indian and Lebanese restaurants than there are Emirati," adds Ahmed.
Home to more than 200 nationalities, Dubai has developed a smorgasbord of flavours, and that's not just restricted to restaurants. "You can walk into any regular Carrefour, and you'll find ingredients from Thailand, the Philippines, even Mexico. We have the world represented in regular hypermarkets, and the ingredients that are considered 'speciality' ingredients in other parts of the world are commonplace here in Dubai," notes Ahmed.
She references Dubai’s geographical positioning as one of the key reasons why the city’s food scene is so varied. “We are at a crossroads of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and North Africa, and we have always welcomed people from different cultures,” says Ahmed, ascertaining that when people move to Dubai and begin settling in, they take the flavours of home with them.
“One of the last things people let go of when they leave is the flavours of their home. Food is nostalgia, and nostalgia keeps you connected to your home country,” she says.