On a hopping tour of Dubai‘s restaurants, you are guaranteed to discover surprising nuances in the vegetarian platters. By Rashima Nagpal

As far as visitor stories go, Dubai comes across as an abundance of lavish malls and desert safaris. None of these interested me. Tasting local food is integral to my experience of a new destination. But as a vegetarian visiting Dubai for the first time, I knew that traditional Emirati cuisine, which comprises mostly meat dishes, would not be my cup of tea. On my way, I resorted to dreams of finding the best hummus of my life.

Dubai A Melting Pot Of World Cuisine
Kao niew ma muang, or sweet sticky rice with mango, coconut syrup, and sesame seeds, at Pai Thai.

In Dubai, the locals make up just about 20 per cent of the population, the rest being a global mix of expats. Its culinary culture is, thus, a smorgasbord of cuisines. The Dubai Food Festival — held in February every year — was a good place to start exploring. As a guest of the Dubai Tourism Board, I got a taste of this fancy little emirate, one restaurant at a time.

Recipes From Lebanon

My wish for fantastic hummus was fulfilled at the very first diner. Located on the ground floor of the Jumeirah Emirates Towers, Al Nafoorah offers a ‘taste of Lebanon’ with its hearty portions. Dodging the al fresco seating and the chill of February air, we sat amid beige walls that wore colourful paintings of people donning fezes. The table brimmed with starters even before the ordered dishes arrived — pita baskets and bowls of olives, pickled carrots, oily hummus and soaked almonds. The bread-lover in me was content with the endless pita and fresh hummus, until more plates including a tangy fattoush, rich baba ganoush and a peculiar dish of mashed potatoes bound with roasted wheat flour were brought in. I didn’t expect to be spoilt for choice with vegetarian starters at a five-star Lebanese restaurant in an Arab emirate. Meals for two from INR 8,725.

Dubai A Melting Pot Of World Cuisine
Chef Salad at Al Nafoorah.

Going Glocal

Atlantis, The Palm is a glorious world of its own. One of my three afternoons in Dubai was spent experiencing the latest among its 22 dining venues: Wavehouse. Rustic, lively, and done up with delightful pops of colour, it is essentially a modern gastropub that serves international cuisine and doubles up as a bowling arena. We settled into a sunny spot on its terrace and browsed the menu. I zeroed down on a margherita, a charred corn salad and a watermelon mojito. Each of the orders turned out to be exemplary. While the corn with baby gem lettuce, pomegranate, sun-dried tomatoes, smoked almonds, parsley and balsamic was a fabulous combination, the pizza, with the perfect balance of chewy and crunchy, was the best margherita I’ve ever had. Need I say more? Meals for two from INR 6,451.

Dubai A Melting Pot Of World Cuisine
The margherita at Wavehouse

A Slice Of Australia

My personal favourite in Dubai’s alchemy of culinary cultures is the charming Boston Lane in Dubai’s Al Quoz neighbourhood. Owned by Australian expats and inspired by Melbourne’s laneway coffee culture, it is the kind of place where you can spend an entire day. The menu is impressive — think vegan lattes, fig toasties, soba noodles and more — and it gets brownie points for its almost secretive location. When we reached the address — a place called Courtyard — we wondered if we were at the right place. Courtyard turned out to be a conglomerate of theatre, fashion, music and decor outlets, located in an area dubbed as the emirate’s underground art hub. The Boston Lane cafe occupies a cute little room in the setup, with a colour palette of pink and turquoise, tiny vases with cotton branches on each table and fascinating murals on the walls. Meals for two from INR 2,940.

Dubai A Melting Pot Of World Cuisine
Pai Thai at dusk.

Thai Plates

My three-day food trail came to a close with a dinner at Pai Thai, in the opulent Jumeirah Al Qasr hotel. With little information on what the experience was going to entail, we hopped onto an abra (traditional boat) and set sail on the canals within the grand property. In a few minutes, we reached our mesmerising venue, all lit up along the waters. Head Chef Aphichat Amatmontri guided us through the authentic dishes on the menu before we made our picks. Right from the crispy rice crackers with sweet chilli sauce and aromatic green curry, to tap tim krob (water chestnut in cold sugar syrup and coconut milk) and ultimately, the sweetened sticky rice with fresh slices of mango, the meal was so sumptuous that words found no place on the table.

Dubai A Melting Pot Of World Cuisine
Coffee at Boston Lane

When I visit Dubai again, I’ll seek out local Emirati dishes that eluded me this time — chebab (saffron pancakes), gahwa (Arabic coffee) and ligamat (deep-fried morsels dipped in date syrup). Meals for two from INR 8,348.

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