I was in Waitrose yesterday where you can buy everything and anything. Like black-skinned tomatoes from Holland, baby carrots from the USA (Food air miles are a moot point here). There is a special room for pork, a bit like the room for adult entertainment in American DVD shops.It’s the opposite of Berlin where I face day after day of local kohlrabi, cabbage and oh potatoes, miles of waxy potatoes even when they claim to be floury.
Margins are similarly different. Dubai Marina, where I am staying, is clogged with Pauls and Pain Quotidiens and the prices are astonishing. A cappuccino is 18 DHR or €3.60. The chains open up so fast that the food bears little resemblance to a Pain Quotidien in London, say. This mushrooming can only be explained by returns. The reason there was a gold rush in 1848 was because one could pick up nuggets of gold from the ground, I think food outlets in Dubai promise similar riches.
But it doesn’t make for good food, or exciting food. My experience so far has been disappointing. Sure I can order Singapore noodles from the Noodle House and they get delivered hot but they are just ok. Much better than the food from Yo Sushi which is barely edible.
I suspect there is a lot of good food to be found, if you are willing (able) to go break free of the chains. My father has a local friend who works for the King (not sure which King exactly). His job seems to be similar to that of a courtier. The other day he woke my father up at 5am to go eat somewhere special. Somewhere special turned out to be a cheap standing only joint for the local Indian taxi drivers. They ate flat bread filled with onions. My mouth watered at the sound of it as I ate my sterile chicken wrap from Zaatar and Zeit with exactly 100g (keeping those margins healthy) of soft chicken breast (they play if fast and loose with the meat tenderizers here).
Not a good “oh my”.
More of an “Oh my god! This is award winning?!”
My starter of calamari was large enough to feed 4 and greasy. The whole lot was blanketed with a bitter confetti of courgettes. Why? I don’t know why. My father’s halibut was so overcooked, the fillets rocked back and forth as the plate was set down in front of him. My rigatoni with aubergine and aged ricotta – I didn’t eat it. And all for the price of a pair of sandals I thought were too expensive to buy. When Layla wanted to see the kitchen I caught a glimpse of the chefs. Two Britsh men, eating their lunch in front of their daily order sheet (nowhere near where our food was being prepared). What did they know about Italian food? They were probably lured to Dubai by good salaries they could never hope to get in the UK. For me the best part of Dubai has been the culture. For example in the baby changing room a perfumed, bejewelled Gulf lady, clad in the traditional black attire with mile long eyelashes realized she had run out of diapers. She turned around and bummed one off a woman dressed in tight jeans with a ponytail. No mention of future remuneration or awkward explanation of why she came unprepared.Children reign supreme here. They can do no wrong. Layla has recently taken to paying Russian roulette with her bladder. Which inevitably led to an accident while she was having an ice cream. Urinated all over the seat to my complete and utter mortification. “No problem.” the man said as he smiled his biggest smile. Or the other day on the beach, Layla filled her shovel with sand and threw the whole lot onto the burger and fries a man was eating next to us. I half expected him to give her a back-handed slap but he just tutted slightly as he tried in vain to brush off the sand. The most absurd moment came at Sugar Daddy’s Bakery when while picking out her mini cupcake she declared that she didn’t want the man to “look at her” so he turned and faced the wall, it made me want to take two mini cupcakes and shove them in her little Suri Cruise nostrils. Instead, I tipped the patient man and walloped her on the head with my large wallet, which was full of coins….(That doesn’t count as hitting right?)And the twins. I was corralled by 5 teenage Gulf girls in a bathroom, they simultaneously whipped out their Samsung phones and started to take pictures of them like they were the Jolie-Pitt twins. “Not you, just your babies.” one announced before putting her phone down and planting wet kisses all over Zoey’s perplexed little face. I saw Zoey finger her pacifier menacingly, she might wear it like a gentleman’s pocket watch but she wields it like a weapon.