When I first moved to Dubai in 2007, there weren’t any restaurants (except maybe hole in the wall cafés) serving Emirati cuisine. So I started my Emirati cooking project to teach myself what local food could taste like. I say could because at the time, I had no idea if I was making the recipes right without having ever tasted the food.
Since 2007, a few Emirati restaurants serving local cuisine have opened their doors in Dubai (and Abu Dhabi) and it’s great to see. My cooking project gave me a little insight of the types and the flavors of dishes that were served and at my first Emirai restaurant (Al Fanar in Festival City – read my review here) I was pleased to find out that my Emirati cooking was pretty spot on.
Recently, I was invited to Al Barza restaurant, a new cafe on Beach Road serving Emirati food, for their UAE National Day celebrations. The restaurant is located across from the Dubai Zoo and underneath a Kandoora shop.
It was an evening event so the photos aren’t great but I wanted to capture as much of the food as possible. I hope I have described all the food accurately. Some dishes I had to ask about a few times as it was hard to understand some of the wait staffs’ accents.
My friend and I were seated outdoors on the restaurant’s terrace overlooking Beach Road. It was a beautiful evening to be outside – slightly on the cool side but I had a shawl so was happy enjoying the light sea breeze.
We were offered small cups of Arabic coffee upon being seated. Next came a small plate of dates drizzled with tahini (tastes like peanut butter) and a platter of chobab bread wtih Arabic pickles, olives, hummus, moutabel, and what I was told was Kraft cheese.
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The food was offered buffet style and we started off with the different types of salad. I’ve never been a fan of grape leaves salad but I always give the dish a try. Maybe one day I’ll end up liking it but something about the texture puts me off. I did enjoy the Fattoush-like salad and the basic rocket/arugula salad.
There was also an appetizer called Harees Laham which looked like pancake batter – it is made of wheat flour mixed with ground meat.
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When I scanned the entree offerings, I was excited to see Jisheed (baby shark) as it was a dish I had been meaning to attempt for a while now (I even scope out the fish section of LuLu’s hypermarket on a regular basis because they sometimes sell baby shark). However, I just get skittish at the idea of cooking shark. Plus, I wonder if it’s a sustainable catch.
Regarding Jisheed, cookbook author Celia Al-Ansari writes:
Shark is plentiful throughout the UAE and is reasonably priced. A traditional belief amongst men is that fresh cooked shark will make them feel strong and masculine! Always buy the shark fresh from the market and ensure it is about the length of your arm – the longer the shark, the tougher it is. The market will clean the shark, de-head it and remove the skin and tail.
Usually this dish is accompanied by boiled white rice, sliced limes, sliced raw onion, radishes, garlic chives and dates if in season.
Interestingly, as I was speaking with the chairman of the restaurant group, he informed me that the “baby shark” used for this dish is not really the offspring of a shark but a fish-like shark. He said they call it “Wiled al Wiled” (just writing out phonetically what I heard) which translates as “son of the son.” Make any sense to anyone? I think I need to talk to a fisherman.
How did it taste? The shark is boiled, then the meat is shredded off the bone and simmered in Emirati spices. It’s then served over a bed of basmati rice. It tasted a bit like flaked tuna or flaked sardines and was nice with a squeeze of lemon.
Some other dishes that I sampled included (I am using the spelling from the restaurant’s menu cards): Chicken Biryani, Thareed Lamb (lamb stew layers with flat bread), Majboos Grilled Shrimp, Mandy Chicken, and Meat Salonah.
Many Emirati dishes were adapted from the Indian sub-continent – like biryani – but the Emirati combination of spices known as bezar is used.
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Finally it was dessert time and my friend and I tasted a sample of each offering. We liked the Leqaimat (fried dough balls with sweet syrup) but our taste buds weren’t used to the flavors of the other desserts so one small spoonful to taste was enough for us.
Besided the Ranjeenah (made with flour and dates) pictured below, there was also Sago (tapioca pudding flavored with cardamom and possibly rosewater taste), and Assedet Bobar (a pumpkin puree dessert flavored with saffron and rosewater).
I can’t really describe the flavors. You’ll just have to try out these dishes for yourself one day if you haven’t already.
Happy 44th UAE National Day!
Disclosure: I enjoyed this complimentary dining experience as a guest of Al Barza restaurant but all views and opinions are my own.
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