DUBAI // On second thought, waiter, maybe I'll have that order of coq au vin. Hotels and restaurants in Dubai will be allowed to serve food cooked with alcohol after the municipality yesterday retracted its ban on such dishes. In fact, there may never have been a ban. The confusion was a result of restaurateurs "misunderstanding" a circular sent to them.
The apparent U-turn came as a relief to chefs and hoteliers who feared huge losses if they were forced to remove from their menus all dishes containing alcohol. Chefs from leading hotels in Dubai had approached the municipality on Sunday asking for a review of the decision. Khalid Sharif al Awadhi, the director of the Food Control Department at Dubai Municipality, said that food containing alcohol could be served, provided it is segregated from other food and clearly labelled.
"We are asking them that any alcohol content in food should be declared," he said. "We have found violations where hotels are not clearly stating alcohol content in their food. "This is why we issued the new circular," Mr al Awadhi explained. He said alcohol should be handled like other "non-halal products", such as pork. A municipality circular sent to all hotels last week clearly stated that food in alcohol would be strictly prohibited. "Use of alcohol in preparation and cooking of food is strictly prohibited. Display and sale of food products containing alcohol as an ingredient is strictly prohibited," said the circular, seen by The National.
Ahmed al Ali, the head of food inspections, had said on Sunday that alcohol in food would not be allowed even if clearly labelled. Mr al Awadhi said yesterday that the circular was misunderstood. The municipality will meet with chefs from leading hotels later this week to communicate the regulation and clear the confusion. Restaurant owners said they were waiting to hear from Dubai Municipality before they made changes to their menus.
Yann Chevris, the general manager of Nozomi at Al Habtoor Grand hotel, said: "I think I will wait for the final word before we do anything. We will have to follow the regulations, anyway. We are in a country with different rules because of the religious aspect of it and we have to respect that." He said that a restriction of alcohol in cooking would be a handicap for chefs as alcohol is used in numerous sauces and desserts.
"I think the more restriction on them on how they cook or what they can cook is a restriction on their originality and the freedom of creating," Mr Chevris said. "We will change some dishes if we have to and maybe it will challenge people to work around it." Uwe Micheel, the president of the Emirates Culinary Guild, said he knew what changes to expect: "It will be similar to how we handle pork." This would mean separate storage, clear labelling communicated to patrons "and when it's on the buffet it is separate from the other foods".
He added: "I think it is fine and we must not forget we are in a Muslim country and we have a lot of Muslims coming into the restaurants." A scholar from the Islamic Affairs Authority's fatwa centre, the only body in the UAE authorised to issue religious edicts, said the use of alcohol in cooking was unequivocally forbidden. "It is not allowed to put alcohol in food because it is impure," he said. "Just the fact that it touches the food makes it impure even if [the alcohol] evaporates."
The affair raised questions about the law in Abu Dhabi, which is usually considered more conservative in matters cultural and religious. According to Fareed al Zubi, the chief lawyer at the capital's Department of Economic Development, the law in Abu Dhabi prohibits the use of alcohol in food unless the establishment, such as a hotel, has a special licence issued by the tourism authorities and the menus clearly label which items have alcohol in them.
Reema Baroudi, the director of communications and public relations at the Intercontinental in Abu Dhabi, said less than one per cent of meals in her hotel were prepared with alcohol, and those were clearly labelled. "It would not be a big issue" if Abu Dhabi decided to ban the use of alcohol in cooking, she said. "We have not received any instructions from the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, but if we do we will just have to comply."
* The National