Six to try: restaurants run by women in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Women are behind many of the UAE's most famous food concepts, from the pioneers of food trucks to Dubai's favourite Thai and Vietnamese joints

The two women behind Salt helped start the food truck craze in the UAE. 
Powered by automated translation

While there are many female chefs working behind the scenes of big brand-name restaurants and hotel kitchens across the country, these eateries put the women behind them front and centre.

1. Sticky Rice

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - August 17, 2019: Mother and son duo open Thai restaurant: Mohamed Abedin, Emirati, and his Thai mother, Amena Rakkuson. Saturday the 17th of August 2019. JVC, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

This six-table cafe in Dubai's Jumeirah Village Circle is run by Emirati Mo Abedin and his Thai mother, Amena Rakkuson, who patrons lovingly refer to as "Mama". She's the brains behind the recipes for the authentic Thai food. After all, she's been feeding Dubai's Thai community for the last 20 years and has hundreds of regulars craving after a taste of her green curries and Tom Yum. That's why it's so hard to get a table, and you'll often find people queuing out the door.

2. Vietnamese Foodies

Owner and executive chef Lily Hoa Nguyen has done so well at bringing the true flavours of Vietnam to Dubai's JLT that she ended up opening a second branch of Vietnamese Foodies in Downtown Dubai earlier this year.

The menu promises fresh, healthy cuisine, with dishes such as pho, summer rolls and bao buns on the menu. This restaurant is also known for its extensive vegan and gluten-free menus, which are forever expanding. The first branch is a quaint little spot in cluster D, offering outdoor seating by the lakes.

3. Bait Maryam

This Levantine kitchen can also be found in cluster D, JLT, where chef and founder Salam Dakkak has set up a restaurant inspired by her mother (Maryam). You will find Dakkak manning the kitchen or socialising with guests in the congenial dining room, which resembles a cosy living room.

Formerly a school owner and cooking teacher in Saudi Arabia, Dakkak, who grew up in Jordan, made it her mission to bring traditional Arabian flavours to Dubai, infusing fresh ingredients and recipes just like her mum used to make.

4. Tawa Bakery

Not only is this Abu Dhabi bakery owned and run by powerhouse Reem Al Shemari, it's also the capital's first exclusively gluten-free cafe that focuses on serving fresh, homemade food for diners with allergies.

You'll find it at Al Muneera Plaza, facing the beach, and it serves an eclectic medley of dishes, from freshly baked bread to burgers and traditional Middle Eastern dishes. Al Shemari was inspired to open the place after she was diagnosed with celiac disease. Refusing to give up delicious food, she launched Tawa Bakery and now it's a go-to for healthy diners not just in Abu Dhabi, but across the UAE.

Gluten-free cupcakes from Tawa Bakery

5. Omnia Gourmet

Silvena Rowe is behind this restaurant at Jumeirah Fishing Harbour in Dubai and she's just about to open a new restaurant in Jumeirah Golf Estates, too. Her vision was to make healthy food taste like it's too good to be true. Omnia Gourmet is now a favourite among many of the emirate's health-conscious diners, thanks to its mix of diet-friendly options, from gluten-free breads and dairy-free breakfasts to her colourful salads and fresh-from-the-sea-that-morning fish dishes. Sure, there are burgers on the menu, but we're talking grain-fed Angus patties and free-range Emirati chicken between those (admittedly naughty) brioche buns.

6. Salt

Any burger-lover worth their salt will know of this UAE concept, as it basically introduced food trucks to the country – not to mention serves some of the best sliders around. But did you know it was started by two women? Amal Al Marri and Deem Albassam had the idea back in 2013 to open a simple yet gourmet dining experience.

They bought a pair of Airstream trailers and founded the UAE's first mobile dining experience. It caught on and, today, it's still going strong, with locations across the Emirates and also in Saudi Arabia. You'll spot the truck on Kite Beach, at Dubai Marina, in Mushrif Central Park and over in Al Ain, to name a few.