Where to take visitors to eat in Dubai – on a budget
Dubai means five-star (and seven star) hotels, lavish limos, outrageous gold cocktails and luxury dining doesn’t it? Yes…and no. This city is home to all nationalities and budgets with a wealth of eateries to match. Since we arrived in Dubai in 2000 we’ve had a steady stream of visitors, many returning again and again. Their favourite places to go are not the sparkly, glitzy ones (although they like those too) but the street cafés, holes in the walls and other unique eating haunts. So when you’ve maxed out your credit card at the Skyview bar, in Dubai Mall or at Dubai World Cup, here are the top three favourite budget places to eat as road-tested by my friends and family. Highly recommended whether you’re a tourist or resident – just don’t expect linen napkins. And I better mention that they are all un-licensed (i.e. no alcohol) – and all the pics were taken on various nights out (and cameras, iphones etc).
Ravi restaurant (Ravi’s)
Sit on plastic chairs by the side of one of the busiest streets in Dubai, with the sound of honking horns as a background, eat Pakistani curries in front of the neon sign which is emblazoned Ravi Restaurant in brightest green. It’s a legend in Dubai and I have it on good authority that it hasn’t changed in twenty years (apart from tin plates being replaced by plastic). While still frequented by taxi drivers (you’ll see them dining inside), get there early to find your table on the pavement.
What to order: The menu is extensive (brain curry anyone?) and confusing for the uninitiated but don’t expect any help from the staff. I recommend chicken tikka (on the bone and fresh from the grill), aloo paratha (bread stuffed with potato and chilli and fried in ghee), dhal, any vegetable dish, chicken ginger and chicken achari. Meat tends to be on the bone so ask for it without if that’s what you want (although less tasty). We’ve never tried anything from the Chinese menu (and why would you?). Freshly baked flat bread (go to the alley at the side of the restaurant to see it being made), salad and water are brought automatically.
What to do: Go and visit the kitchens (see below). Spoof for who pays the bill.
Where to find it: Satwa Dubai. Follow the main road through Satwa heading in the Al Diyafa (2nd of December street) direction. Ravi’s is the last restaurant on the right hand side before the road curves round to the left. If you go straight on, there is a small car park to the left. Ignore the earlier Ravi restaurant on the left hand side. Tel: 04 331 5353
Note: Bu Qtair has moved – the pictures are of the old location.
Once a little known
portacabin serving tea and meals to surrounding labourers this has morphed into one of the most popular places to grab an earthy eating experience. Set in a building inside a car park in the Fishermen’s Accommodation area between two dhow (traditional wooden sailing boat) building yards and behind a small port, on a patch of sand, the fish is caught locally and delivered fresh every morning.
How to order: Go into the
hut restaurant as soon as you arrive and wait to be served at the hatch. Choose from the fish and prawns behind the counter – they’ll show you what they have piled up in containers. Ask what they have on offer and tell them how many people will be eating. There is a rumour that there are two prices and it goes up if you look affluent so question it if it sounds too much (maximum 120 AED for three people). Don’t pay now, leave your name and go outside and sit on the small stools at the side. Don’t worry, they’ll find you a table before your food arrives however haphazard the system looks.
What to order: Hammour is very over-fished so avoid if you have a conscience; Perch and Sheri are good, as are the prawns. All fish is coated in a spicy paste and shallow fried. At the table ask for roti (bread), rice, and curry sauce. A small salad of onion and cabbage is served. Water and soda drinks are available.
What to do: Take a metal knife with you to cut the fish, otherwise just tear off pieces with your fingers (there is a small sink inside the portacabin or take wet wipes). Go early in the evening to avoid the queues (or wrap up warm on a rare chilly night).
Where to find it: Heading out of Dubai on Jumeirah Beach Road, take a right hand turn immediately after The Chalet ( before Al Thanya street junction and Umm Suqeim Park). Turn right at the end of the road so you are driving parallel to the sea. It’s
set back after the first dhow building yard inside the Fishermen’s Accommodation car park next to the fishing harbour. Also read a review from Pear Tree Diaries.
Breakfast at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding
This is about the whole experience rather than the food alone – although it’s a jolly good breakfast. The strapline for the Centre is ‘open hearts, open minds’ and it’s an experience that every visitor I have been with has talked about for ages after. They also do walking tours, lunches and brunches. In the heart of Bastakia, you can wander round the art galleries or down along the creek afterwards.
What to do: Go with an open mind, some questions about Emirati and Arab culture (you can ask anything you wish) and expect to be there for a couple of hours. Wear comfortable clothes, you’ll be sitting on the floor cushions. Make sure you book ahead.
What to eat: You’ll help yourself from a spread of chickpeas, balaleet (a slightly sweet dish of egg and pasta), spiced bread, lgeimat (Arabic doughnuts), cream cheese made from camel milk and date syrup. Tea, Arabic coffee and water is served. However this isn’t just about the eating – you’ll gain an understanding of a very different side of Dubai, Emirati life and Arab culture.
Where to find it: The SMCCU is in House 26 on Al Musallah Road in Bastakiya, Bur Dubai, between the Al Fahidi round-about and Dubai creek (further directions here). Parking is very limited so take a taxi; or take the metro to Al Fahidi station and walk towards the creek (Al Musallah Road has plenty of interesting shops along the way). For booking and more information about the breakfast, lunches and tours visit the website. A cost of 60 AED per person at time of writing.
P.S. Another ‘not to miss experience’ is a Frying Pan Food Tour. Spend 3 to 4 hours exploring little known, cheap eateries and learning about different cultures through food led by ‘Queen of the Street-eats’ Arva Ahmed. Tourists will never find these places unaided and I guarantee even long-term residents will not dream of the culinary treasures that exist down dark alleyways. Book your food tour here.
Other good things to do with visitors in Dubai
Have you visited to Dubai (or do you live here)? Where is your favourite budget eatery? Where do you take visitors in your home town?