What's not to like about a good burger? A well-made burger – juicy, hot off the grill and boasting the perfect ratio of sauce and cheese to high quality burger patty and buttery brioche burger bun, is the quintessential comfort food. Perhaps fashion model Gigi Hadid put it best: "I always say: 'Eat clean to stay fit, eat a burger to stay sane'."
It seems everywhere you go now across the UAE, there’s a new burger joint – some fancy, some plain – and all serving a humble sandwich that is aiming to recreate the staple.
The last two years have seen an explosion of both independent, stand-alone purveyors of posh patties and innovative insides, as well as the spread of internationally loved burger chains – stalwart favourites like Five Guys, Burger Fuel, Fatburger, Elevation Burger, CaliBurger, Burger Joint, Max Burger and more.
Then there are all the homegrown burgers that have exploded on to the scene in food trucks, burger joints and gourmet restaurants across the Emirates. The fact is, this classic sandwich has even become a regular staple on upmarket restaurants’ menus too.
THE LONGEST BURGER IN DUBAI
So what’s behind our obsession with the burger? Juan Pablo Dominguez Lopez, the Chef de Cuisine at Graze Gastro Grill and the Graze B Burger Garden in La Ville Hotel and Suites in Dubai’s City Walk, says the answer is pretty simple.
“It’s fun,” he says. “People love eating burgers, and nowadays you can find endless creations by experienced chefs – and all have a special touch. It’s fun! Even the most popular fast food restaurants have now added special ingredients that give a special ‘added value’ to burgers. The burger is also a great quick lunch option, you have your vegetables, sauce, cheese and protein, nicely layered inside a bun that you can enjoy in a few bites.”
Recently, Lopez created the Half Metre Surprise burger, which might quite possibly be the longest burger in Dubai, and contains everything from the usual suspects – premium beef patties, lettuce, tomatoes and pickles – to particular additions like chimichurri mayo, Cheddar and Gruyère cheeses, guacamole, barbecue sauce and beef bacon.
“Dubai is a city where you can find the most rare and extravagant products in the market. I have seen the black nun burger, the Burj Khalifa burger, the gold burger, but I’ve never seen an XL burger,” says Lopez.
So he went ahead and created one. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that finishing a burger that size could make for a popular social media post.
ABU DHABI FAVOURITES
Just over a year old, Burger28 has fast become an Abu Dhabi favourite, with a branch near Umm Al Emarat park and another in Mohammed Bin Zayed City. More Burger28 joints will be opening in all the other emirates, promises founder Alexander E Debare because people just can’t seem to get enough of burgers. “The better burger market has seen rapid growth in almost every major city around the world in the past six to eight years,” he points out. “It was only a matter of time before it would hit the UAE.”
And now that it has, Debare's trick is to add a local touch to his brand. "Burger28 is a contemporary burger joint inspired by local Emirati habits, so we incorporated several quirky Emirati touches in our brand,"
The outlets include a “dukkan” section – the Arabic word for a neighbourhood grocery store – and is stocked with nostalgic snacks that are essential eating and drinking for anyone who grew up in the UAE: Chips Oman, Laban Up, Ornamin C and Shani.
“In fact, we feature Chips Oman in some of our burgers,” says Debare.
The wet wipes at Burger28 are scented with oud, and customers are welcome to #HonkforBurgers from the comfort of their cars when the burger craving takes hold. And with the advent of social media, and particularly Instagram, advertising for Burger28 and similar homegrown burger brands is absolutely free.
“Social media not only allows us to advertise for free, but allows us to really build a personality for our brand and allows existing customers a platform to interact.”
Shaden Ali Adil, a 23-year-old pharmacist born and raised in Abu Dhabi, is particularly aware of the power of social media when it comes to promoting food – more specifically a good burger.
Adil, who is from Syria, launched her Instagram account @Shaden_AbuDhabi a year or so ago, for the sole purpose of showcasing Abu Dhabi’s best food spots. “I thought to myself, since I already go out a lot to try food at different restaurants, and my friends always call to ask for recommendations on places to go and food to try, this idea could actually work for me,” she says.
"So, I launched the account and I started writing down all the information that I would like to know myself if I was checking the account of any food blogger on Instagram.
“Abu Dhabi is full of new experiences when it comes to the food business,” she adds, and burgers are at the head of the game. “In the past few years, burgers have become a very widespread phenomenon. We now have limitless number of burger restaurants, which personally brings me joy as a burger lover. Burgers are easy to handle, very delicious if freshly made and can have many kinds of flavours.”
And let’s face it – photos of burgers look great on Instagram. “Although taste is what’s important, a burger’s presentation still plays a very significant role,” says Adil.
She lists Burger28 as one of her favourite burger joints in Abu Dhabi, but the list doesn't stop there. She's also a fan of the variations on offer at Secret Cafe, Ketchup & Mustard, U Turn, Egg Shack, Soldier Burger, Graffiti Burger and Firefly Burger, and highly recommends the breakfast burger at Mandolin Cafe and the chicken burger at Cone House.
According to Shaikha Eissa, the young Emirati founder of the newly-opened She Burger in Dar Al Wasl Mall in Dubai, is “who doesn’t like burgers”, really? No one is opposed to a good burger. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, even stopped by last weekend for a burger with friends.
Long before She Burger opened its doors, Eissa says was cooking her burgers in her kitchen at home, and soon, accumulated a steady customer base with many stopping by her home to pick up their burgers.
“I focus on every single detail of every product I use. I ask myself, how soft is the bun, how good is the beef, how great are my sauces, what do people want in a burger? It’s all important.”
And though She Burger might be a favourite in Dubai, the burger options are endless.
THE MAN THAT EATS FOUR BURGERS A WEEK
Lebanese architect Firas Sfair is a self-confessed burger man: he's been enjoying one four times a week for years now, in his self-imposed mission to find the best burger in town.
“I just really love burgers,” he explains. “My favourite hobby is to go to a fine-dining restaurant and see what the chef has come up with when it comes to burgers.”
The appeal of burgers, believes Sfair, is that they can become a signature menu item with the right touch.
“It’s an opportunity for the chef to take something classic, that can be so simple, and elevate it into something totally magnificent.”
Lopez is of the same mindset when it comes to introducing a burger to a fine-dining menu.
"For me, street food has taken its place in the fine-dining scene," he explains. "Dishes like tacos, Asian noodles, pizza, is what people love – and this makes us, the chefs, think and reinvent the 'fine dining way to eat street food'.
"There are dozens of high quality products, such as foie gras, veal, truffle, aged cheese, aged beef, etc to play with, and that makes creating burgers more fun."
Burgers can be classified into three categories: street food-type burgers, gourmet burgers that have become all the rage, and fine dining options.
For Lopez, a burger is only as good as the quality of its ingredients. “For me, the secret is to produce everything in-house; this way you can control flavour, and add secret ingredients to the bread or beef patty to make your burger stand out from the crowd.”