Ali Karmostaji has visited more than 45 countries around the world, but it was the street vendors of Mexico who inspired his latest venture. In partnership with his brother Yousef, Karmostaji has launched Hola, a Latin American-inspired fruit bar at Dubai's La Mer, and is busy serving up exotic-sounding concoctions such as mango flower on a stick, Teppanyaki-style ice-cream rolls, a variety of freshly squeezed juices called cocteles, and delicately prepared fruit bowls, or fruteros.
The Emirati brothers are well-placed to offer such fruity delicacies, Karmostaji explains. "The concept of Hola was born as an idea to diversify our core family business, which my father started over 35 years ago. Ever since, we've been importing fresh fruits and vegetables from all over the world and supplying within the UAE. So I wanted to come up with a concept that's very unique but still related to our core business, whilst offering something very different than mainstream juice bars and ice-cream shops in the region."
While the menu takes its inspiration from South America, it has been tweaked to cater to a UAE audience, he says. "For example, crepas and coffee were not part of our original menu, but we decided to add them based on requests received from our customers. Another UAE-inspired element is that some of our home-made paletas, or popsicles, and soft ice-creams use produce and flavours from the region, such as dates and karak."
Karmostaji is also behind Fruveg, a fruit and vegetable delivery service that can be used to order high-quality produce and have it delivered anywhere in Dubai, Sharjah and Ajman. Given the trend towards healthy living, it must be a good time to be working in the fruit and veg industry, I suggest.
"Absolutely," Karmostaji agrees. "It is not only a regional trend – people worldwide have started adopting healthier lifestyles, partly due to social media exposure generated by celebrities. One pioneer in that respect is our Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum. He always encourages people to pursue a healthier lifestyle with initiatives such as the Dubai Fitness Challenge.
“I truly believe that he is a great inspiration for thousands, if not millions, of people. I think the overarching aim is to challenge yourself to become a better version of you, creating healthier individuals and ultimately a more conscious community within and beyond the UAE.”
So what are Hola’s must-tries? “Our homemade paletas are certainly one of our signature items. They are carefully prepared with the freshest and ripest seasonal fruits available, while our award-winning head chef, Salvador Carrillo, uses fine-dining techniques to give them their distinctive flavour. The strawberry paletas, for example, are made of slow-cooked strawberries, which are then delicately reduced. Our fruteros are also a must-try. Beautifully assembled with a hand-picked selection of fresh fruits and at the same time very Instagrammable, El Patron is a pineapple bowl filled with exotic fruits and features three different house-made ice creams of your choice.”
Nonetheless, it is the rather odd-sounding mozzarella-blackberry paletas that tops Karmostaji's list of favourites. "When chef Salvador created this version of paletas for tasting, I thought he must have confused ingredients," he reveals. "But as soon as I took
a bite, I knew it was a truly genius combination."