Where’s all the Emirati food?

This month sees the Muslim world celebrate Ramadan; 30 days of spiritual reflection, prayer and fasting. For the catering industry, the Holy Month can either be considered as a quiet period when restaurants are closed and no music is played, or a time to join in the celebrations and host Iftar events throughout the month

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By  Laura Barnes Published  October 1, 2006

Caterer Middle East update: October 1, 2006|~||~||~|This month sees the Muslim world celebrate Ramadan; 30 days of spiritual reflection, prayer and fasting. For the catering industry, the Holy Month can either be considered as a quiet period when restaurants are closed and no music is played, or a time to join in the celebrations and host Iftar events throughout the month. Having attended a number of Iftar celebrations across Dubai I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food, the friendly atmosphere, and the superb decorations and displays. Although Ramadan is only called a few days in advance, a restaurant has an entire year to decide what it wants to do and how it hopes to attract both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. From a commercial aspect it can be a roaring success in what would otherwise be a slow period, as people opt to stay at home and celebrate with family and friends. However, offering Iftar specials — complete with tents and shisha — is a sure fire way of attracting a high number of Arabs and Westerners alike. For the Arabs, it is a chance to meet friends and taste some of their favourite dishes, and for Westerners it is a rare glimpse into what Arabic cuisine is all about. Talking to friends about their Ramadan celebrations, they commented that the UAE had a lot to offer, as the majority of hotels are eager to promote Ramadan and boast their Arabic offerings. But what about the rest of the year? Scanning the restaurants in Dubai I can pinpoint where to find great Italian, French, Thai or Persian cuisine, but when it comes to Arabic food, I falter. It is hard to believe that a country is lacking in restaurants native to the region. If I visit Italy every street is lined with trattorias, while traditional English pubs scatter the UK countryside, and the back streets of Bangkok are lined with Thai outlets. So why does the UAE neglect to provide Emirati cuisine? Of course, there are plenty of kebab stands and the occasional Automatic restaurant, but hotels need to catch on to the demand for Emirati cuisine, because in all honesty, tourists and Western ex-pats rarely go searching for restaurants outside of hotels. Arabic cuisine may not have as much kudos as a fine dining Italian restaurant, but it will open up the market to a larger clientele and show visitors that there is more to the UAE than sunbathing, tax free earnings, shopping, and a general Western life. It may encourage diners to explore the culture more, embracing not only the cuisine, but the history of the food and the people as well. I would love to see more hotels offer Emirati cuisine on a regular basis, employing Emirati chefs, and using traditional cooking methods. Yes, it may be a long process to achieving this, but everyone would benefit in the end. ||**||

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