Tuesday, 8 March 2022

Emirati cuisine is having its day in the sun

When guests would ask where they could have Emirati food, we’d send them to Iranian restaurants,” admits chef Uwe Micheel, director of kitchens at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek. “I didn’t even know what Emirati food was – I felt a little bit ashamed,” the German-born chef continues, remembering when he first arrived back in 1993.

We are chatting at Aseelah, a Middle Eastern fine-dining restaurant at the Radisson Blu. The menu here features a blend of traditional Emirati fare such as machboos (fish and rice cooked in a rich onion and tomato broth) alongside more contemporary offerings such as camel sliders with toppings including date jam with halloumi. “We wanted to do a mix of traditional Emirati dishes and modern dishes… that, to me, is the taste of Dubai today,” he shares.

That blend is evident in dishes such as the grilled kibbeh, an Emirati-style meatball appetiser which I pair with a beetroot carpaccio. The crispy bulgur and minced onion shell reveals a delicious stuffing of spiced minced lamb that is perfectly balanced with the salad – thin slices of beetroot with wild rocket and labneh (a soft cheese made with hung yoghurt) that’s been flavoured with tahina (sesame paste).

In fact, Aseelah is the perfect spot to begin an exploration of this lesser-known cuisine. Born of the desert, traditional Emirati recipes – some thousands of years old – draw heavily from the region’s Bedouin heritage, shaped by the availability of core ingredients such as dates, wheat, lamb, camel meat and – specifically in Dubai – fish and shrimp.

Due to other factors that come with a historically nomadic lifestyle, such as the scarcity of water, classic dishes have been simple. They are cooked in single aluminium pots over an open fire or underground, often for hours and sometimes even overnight.

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