A taste of home

Feature The British supermarket chain Waitrose may have opened a new branch in Dubai, but a variety of other shops across the country cater to almost every expatriate palate in the region.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - NOVEMBER 8:  People shopping in the recently opened Waitrose supermarket at the Dubai Mall in Dubai on November 8, 2008.  (Randi Sokoloff / The National)  To go with story by James Brennan. *** Local Caption ***  RS029-1108-Waitrose.jpg
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Do you pine for pasta and pesto just like Mama used to make? Are you ­desperate for a thick slice of Double ­Gloucester, melted on an unfeasibly large wedge of toasted English farmhouse bread? Or perhaps you're ­hankering after Hershey's chocolate to complete that life-saving ­midmorning coffee break? Whichever part of the world we are from, be it Italy or England, India or the Philippines, we all fall prey to cravings for food from our home countries. And it doesn't matter how well we've adjusted our palates to the local cuisine, when the urge hits we need to do something about it - fast. The news that Waitrose has opened its first supermarket outside the UK at Dubai Mall has been music to many Britons' ears. Now they can buy more of the products that remind them of home. But what about everybody else? If you're fresh off the plane from Tokyo, where are you going to find a familiar brand of nori seaweed sheets and sushi rice to help you through those first hectic weeks? And if you're a Muscovite who's been settled here for years, when your yearning for a bountiful bowl of borscht reaches crisis point, how do you keep the hunger pangs at bay? Although restaurants serve food from almost every nation ­imaginable here in the UAE, we all need something in the cupboard or refrigerator to hit that homesick spot. Here is a round-up of some of the best shops, delicatessens, bakeries and supermarkets that can take your taste buds back home...

Once upon a time, British people in the UAE had to rely on Spinneys supermarkets to get their weekly fix of Waitrose goodies. But the opening of a 5140 sq m Waitrose store at Dubai Mall - and the promise of more to come in the UAE - gives homesick Britons a direct-access point for an even wider range of ­familiar foodstuffs. Despite being designed by a ­London-based consultancy to ­recreate the feel and ambience of the British branches, the new store sticks a bit too closely to the ­Spinneys formula to entirely ­satisfy Waitrose-obsessed ­expatriates. But it does offer a wider selection of dry goods. From reduced-sugar, high-fruit marmalade to ­Scottish chocolate shortbread and all-­butter onion and chive twists, there are hundreds of Waitrose-brand products available. As well as a ­variety of locally sourced items, a large fruit and vegetable ­market has English Bramley apples at Dh29.5 per kilo. The cookware section even has pots, pans and baking tins by John Lewis - in fact, everything you need to knock up a quintessentially ­British apple tart. Meanwhile, good old Marks & Spencer continues to dispense its trusted fare in both ­Dubai and Abu Dhabi - its ­digestive biscuits and fair-trade tea and ­coffee are a particular attraction. Waitrose, Dubai Mall (04 362 7500); Marks & Spencer, Festival City, ­Dubai (04 206 6466); Fotouh Al Khair ­Centre, Abu Dhabi (02 621 3646).

Dubai already has the world's tallest ­building, but it also has the safest bet for anybody in the UAE searching for food from the USA. Quite aptly for a city renowned for its superlatives, Safestway on Sheikh Zayed Road will steer you towards some classic American brands. If you fancy Tex-Mex, there are Taco Bell Home Originals Flour Tortillas. Meanwhile, for those with a sweet tooth there are Skippy ­peanut ­butter, Pillsbury cake mixes, Kool-Aid, Act II Popcorn and pretty much every flavour of Jell-O you can imagine - all in a kaleidoscope of vivid E-number-enriched colours. Safestway, Sheikh Zayed Road, ­Dubai (04 343 4050).

Since the vast majority of ­expatriates in the UAE come from the Indian subcontinent, it's little surprise that they are well catered for when it comes to food. Al Adil ­Supermarket was opened in Dubai in 1984 to serve the ­growing demand for South Asian products, and now there's a store in Abu Dhabi. Here you can pick up anything from urad dal and short-grain surti kolam rice, to Priya pickles and Ganesh Papads. For fresh fruit and vegetables, however, Lulu ­Hypermarket is hard to beat. The ­varieties of mango, from both ­India and Pakistan, are excellent. But it's the less obvious fruit - such as ­physalis (cape gooseberry), chickoo (sapodilla) and custard apples - that make Lulu stand out. One frustration that many an ­enthusiastic cook has faced is finding the right cut of chicken for ­curries - fortunately the branch of Emirates Supermarket on Hamdan Street in Abu Dhabi sells freshly cut joints that include the bones - ­crucial to strengthen the flavour. If something sweet is what you are after, Puranmal in Dubai is one of the best Indian sweet ­centres around. There's a dazzling array of colourful confectionery, from anjeer barfi (a small cake of figs and nuts) and laddoo (sugary ball-shaped sweets), to jalebi (deep-fried, pretzel-shaped orange sweets) and rasgulla (chenna cheese curd mixed with semolina and sugar, then boiled in syrup). Al Adil Supermarket, Electra, Abu Dhabi (02 676 1162); near Admiral Plaza Hotel, Bur Dubai (04 351 3124). Lulu Hypermarket at various ­locations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai (head office: 02 642 1800). ­Emirates Supermarket, Hamdan Street, Abu Dhabi. Puranmal (Trade Centre Road, ­Dubai (04 396 8486).

The secret of great Lebanese food lies in its freshness. Which is why Lebanese bakeries will always be busy in the UAE. One of the best in Abu Dhabi is Lebanon Flower. Tucked away in the backstreets of Khalidiya, this unassuming place bustles at all times of the day with expatriate Beirutis searching out the smells and flavours of home. It might be a simple packet of ­flatbread that hits the mark, but there's so much more here to ­explore. The za'atar and cheese manakish is baked to perfection while you wait, which gives you ­ample time to study the selection of sweets, from baklava with pistachio and honey syrup, to kanafa with cheese, syrup and nuts. In Dubai, Al Reef Lebanese ­Bakery has achieved near-legendary ­status as a late-night/early-morning stop-off for jaded partygoers and dedicated office workers alike. The bakery boasts some of the best bread in the emirate, as well as ­kibbe (teardrops of deep-fried lamb and bulgar wheat), and some excellent waraq enab (stuffed vine leaves) to go. For Lebanese staples, head to Al Mahmasa Al Lebnaneya in Abu Dhabi, where you'll find a fine ­selection of Lebanese coffee, kashkaval (sheep's milk cheese) and za'atar (a condiment of thyme, sweet marjoram, Syrian oregano and sesame seeds). Lebanon Flower, Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi (02 666 9928); Al Reef ­Lebanese Bakery, Za'abeel Road, Dubai (04 396 1980); Al Mahmasa Al Lebnaneya 13th Street between Al Najda and Al Salam across from the Etisalat ­Building, Abu Dhabi (02 677 7155).

There are few substitutes for ­genuine Japanese food, and while supermarkets like Spinneys do have small sections devoted to Japanese brands and products, the ­selection is often limited - and expensive. Give thanks, then, for Deans ­Fujiya Japanese Supermarket and its wide ­variety of comestibles, not to ­mention its kitchen and tableware. Its modest premises in Dubai's Oud Metha may not look promising from the outside, but its shelves are well stocked with little reminders of the land of the rising sun. A cup of Marukome green onion miso soup a day apparently keeps the doctor away (according to the on-pack blurb), while the Hikari yuzu-flavoured miso crackers are made with authentic mochigome glutinous rice. From the Shirakiku company, we found tempura batter mix and a bag of cut wakame seaweed to add to soup or ramen. We even added a cute little bottle of ume apricot drink to our basket and got change from Dh80. In Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, ­Abela Superstore stocks all kinds of ­Japanese goodies from mirin to bonito flakes. Deans Fujiya Japanese Supermarket, Oud Metha, Dubai (04 337 0503); Abela Superstore, Corniche Road, Abu Dhabi (02 667 4675).

You wait all day to find a specialist food shop, and then two crop up within a blini's throw of each other. Just across the street from Deans ­Fujiya in Oud Metha is a little Russian deli with a big heart. Russian Food does exactly what it says on the sign, and for those of you who are not from Russia but feeling ­adventurous, the staff speak only a smattering of English and hardly any Arabic. Nevertheless, the deli counter ­displays a variety of cured meats and dried fish, while the shelves buckle beneath a stack of tinned fish, such as kilka and bichki in tomato sauce. You'll also ­find jars of pickled dill, Russian-style and pickled cabbage to go with your cold cuts. Priyatnogo appetita, as they say in Russia. Russian Food, Oud Metha, Dubai (04 337 2055).

Filipino cuisine may have been ­influenced by the Chinese, the Spanish and the Americans over the years, but it retains a strong ­local flavour that's totally unique. On an unremarkable street ­corner in the Satwa area of Dubai, ­Philippine Supermarket keeps ­local Pinoys well supplied with food from their homeland. Here you'll find Barrio Fiesta sauteed shrimp paste, Star garlic margarine, ­Takami Quick & Easy bihon noodles, Boy Bawang garlic-flavour corn snacks, Ding Dong mixed nuts and peas and jars of halo-halo (a traditional dessert with mung beans, sweetcorn, coconut gel and jackfruit). At the fresh produce counter, ­distinctively coloured with deep-purple dye, are salted duck eggs, and occasionally you'll find the ­infamous balut eggs, which contain the whole duck embryos - beak, feathers, claws and all. Philippine Supermarket, Satwa, ­Dubai (04 345 0178).

Both Abu Dhabi and Dubai have their fair share of Italian restaurants, but as any Italian will tell you, food isn't just for eating, it's for cooking too. Only when you prepare your own food can you add the most vital ingredient in Italian cuisine: passion. And for that to happen, the rest of the ingredients have to be ­authentic and of a high quality. Prego's delicatessen occupies a small nook at the entrance of the restaurant of the same name, but what it lacks in size, it most certainly makes up for in quality. You'll find the Ursini brand of pestos, including a cipolla rossa di Toscana variety made with red onions, and a zucca gialla ­pesto, made with a green pumpkin or squash with yellow flesh. There's also Tentazioni balsamic vinegar, De Cecco extra virgin olive oil and Villa Monte Vibiano salad dressing. And what better way to end the meal than with a cup of Illy espresso and a Venchi chocolate cigar, made with praline and dark chocolate. Sure, it's not cheap, but sometimes it's just worth it. Prego's delicatessen, Beach Rotana Hotel, Abu Dhabi (02 644 3000).

Gallic gourmets are not forgotten, either. Branches of Paul's cafe chain offer the same standard of tarte au citron as you can pick up on the Boulevard St Michel. Lenôtre Paris in Jumeirah, Dubai and at Fotouh Al Khair Mall on Hamdan Street in Abu Dhabi ­provides breakfast jam, toffees and sugared ­almonds. ­Although the recently opened branch of La Duree at DIFC means that one is now spoiled for sweet choice, especially with their sought-after macaroons. For more practical items, Hediard stocks good ­coffee and Carrefour provides all manner of French ­delights, from own-brand yogurts to tins of confit de ­canard and Labeyrie foie gras. Paul, Burjuman Centre, Dubai (04 351 7009; Garhoud (04 283 2304); Mall of the Emirates (04 341 4844); Lenôtre Paris, Fotouh Al Khair Mall, Abu Dhabi (02 621 9888); Jumeirah Beach Road (04 349 4433); La Duree, DIFC, Dubai, (04 363 7394). Hediard, Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi (02 681 6131); BurJuman Centre, Dubai (04 297 3000).