WHAT ARE THE MOST POPULAR TV SHOWS?
Hmm, I don’t really know to be honest. I do know that if you pay for cable TV you can watch hours upon hours of utter crap (most of it from America and the UK). I have, at one time or another, been addicted to the entire Food Network, the antics of the Kardashians, all three versions of CSI and, of course the adventures of Bear Grylls. And whenever I’m not looking, David will watch sports and Ultimate Fight Club (I just can’t with that show). For the most part though we don’t really watch broadcast television, preferring box sets. There are, of course, several programmes on TV aimed at Arabic audiences but the only one I’m really aware of is a show called “Arabs Got Talent” (yes, it is exactly what it sounds like), which became an overnight sensation when it debuted about a year ago. Do yourself a favour and check it out at Arabs Got Talent. I promise you won’t be disappointed!
CAN YOU BUY PORK IN DUBAI?
Yes, you can. A few supermarkets have special little enclaves in which you can purchase basic pork products. They usually have a cute little sign on top stating “Pork: Not For Muslims” (you know, just in case they weren’t sure). It’s a little harder to find restaurants that have pork on the menu. The reason being that the license required to serve pork is associated with the license required to serve alcohol – and those are exclusively reserved for eateries in the large, five-star hotels. Also, I imagine the logistics of keeping the kitchen “uncontaminated” by pork would be quite difficult. For instance, a knife and chopping board used to prepare a pork dish could never be used for any other non-pork foods. As an unfortunate consequence of this, there is a proliferation of bacon substitutes on offer around the city. Trust me when I say that veal bacon, beef bacon and turkey bacon are all pretty bloody awful and best avoided if you don’t wish to insult your taste buds.
It’s not all bad though. Very recently I was scouring the city looking for some Jamón Iberico (yeah, right!) for a Spanish tapas dinner party I was planning. I had almost given up hope when I stumbled across the gourmet deli in Galleries Lafayette (a French department store in the Dubai Mall). While admiring the lovely epicurean delights on offer, David and I surreptitiously inched our way towards the requisite room up the back. As we approached the “Not For Muslims” sign, the opaque sliding doors parted to reveal a cornucopia of all things pig! I do believe that, as the doors slid closed behind us, I jumped up and down and squealed (aptly) for joy. We were surrounded by handmade chorizo, French pork sausages, prosciutto, smoked hams, streaky bacon and much, much more – and in the centre of this plethora of pork, majestically displayed in a large vice-like contraption, was a full hindquarter of corn-fed Iberico pig, hoof and all. I sincerely couldn’t believe my eyes. The attendant, noting the object of my attention, took a carving knife, sliced a little morsel of the deep rose flesh and ceremoniously handed it to me to taste. Oh my god, it was heaven! Suffice to say I have a new favourite shop in town!
THERE’S A LOT OF SPORT IN DUBAI, BUT WHERE TO “REGULAR” PEOPLE EXERCISE?
Yes, just like Australia, the UAE is pretty sports crazy. Things here work a little differently than back home though, in that summertime sends us scampering indoors to hibernate, watch DVD box sets and lose the tan that we acquired during the lovely winter months. But conversely, those winter months are perfect for all sorts of outdoor activity. Blue skies and average temperatures of about 24ºC entice a lot of people out of their caves. People run, walk, cycle, rollerblade, do yoga in the park, swim, sail, surf and even get their butts kicked in beachside boot camps (which is always fun to watch). When it starts getting too hot to exercise outside, the majority of people retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of a gym (though, naturally, there are a few crazies who exercise outside all year round). Most apartment buildings have a gym (and pool) for residents to use. There are also plenty of stand-alone fitness centres around town offering not just gym equipment but all sorts of classes to whip you into shape. Yoga and Pilates are also both very popular here. In addition to all this, Dubai boasts the highest number of personal trainers per capita in the world (I’m actually just making this up, but there sure are a lot of them around and until someone proves me wrong, I’m sticking with it).
WHAT COOL BANDS TOUR DUBAI?
I’ll tell you who tours the UAE. Elton John likes touring here. Rod Stewart. Duran Duran, Sting, Gipsy Kings, Snow Patrol, Dave Dobbin, Britney Spears. Amy Winehouse toured here, five months before she died (and it was not her finest hour). The Eagles are set to tour. Engelbert Humperdinck was here two weeks ago! I am so not joking. Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that the performers I’ve mentioned above aren’t good quality performers – or that they don’t put on a good show. I mean, come on, it’s Engelbert Humperdinck, people!!! No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying that they’re not my thing. I long for some promoter to book Sia for an intimate gig in town. Or Bill Callahan. PJ Harvey would be great. TV On The Radio? Leonard Cohen? Unfortunately, I just don’t see it happening, and that makes me sad.
DO YOU EAT OUT MUCH? WHAT KIND OF RESTAURANTS DOES DUBAI HAVE?
We don’t eat out that much – we did when we first got here and we (rapidly) maxed out our credit cards, and put on an amazing amount of weight. So, now we tend to go out to eat only on special occasions or when we have guests in town. As for what kind of restaurants are available here, I’m pretty sure that if you can think of a cuisine you can find it here. Argentinian, Korean, Italian, Ethiopian, Afghani, Nepalese, Indian, Pakistani, German, Mexican and Russian. There’s seafood, all types of Asian, steakhouses, fish and chips, vegetarian, halal, middle eastern and so much more. In fact, a search on Time Out Dubai’s online restaurant section reveals over 1500 choices. If you can eat it, chances are you can eat it in Dubai (and yes, that even includes pork).
Unfortunately though, simply because it’s available doesn’t mean that the quality is that great. My experience of dining out in Dubai is that there are very few places that do consistently good food. The rest? Not so good. Strangely enough, it is in the higher end restaurants that I have found the food generally to be bland and uninspiring (which is really insulting considering how much it costs to eat at these places). Also I’ve found the service to be grossly complacent (if not sometimes outright incompetent) – which I don’t necessarily blame the servers for. In Dubai, it appears that restaurants prefer quantity of staff, over quality. The servers are rarely trained to give a high standard of service, so how can it be their fault when they fail to deliver? It’s difficult to say if the complacence is the cause, or borne, of the number of restaurant closures in town but it seems that not a week goes by that one restaurant or another doesn’t pack it in, to make room for some new (optimistic) venture. Speaking from a non-financial perspective there just doesn’t seem to be that much investment in creating great dining spaces here, which is such a shame. More attention goes towards importing already established eateries (Rivington Grill, The Ivy, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Nobu are just a few). Another common ploy is to stick a famous name on the door. There are dozens of renowned chefs who have opened restaurants here. And, unfortunately, fewer than a handful of these chefs frequently visit to check on the menu or even (shock, horror!) cook themselves.
Of course there are a few exceptions. For special occasion dining it is very hard to go past Reflets par Pierre Gagnaire – a restaurant we have been to several times to celebrate both of our birthdays, and our wedding anniversary. A new favourite is Table 9 By Nick & Scott, the successor to Gordon Ramsay’s Verre restaurant in Old Dubai (if you are interested in reading my review of this, and other restaurants, please visit my other site “Foodie In Dubai” – still a young project but one I will definitely be growing). On the other end of the food spectrum we have the simple, canteen-style eateries where the majority of the population (being from the subcontinent) go to fill up on a daily basis. There are several places in the city where you can get a couple of fantastic curries and delicious, fluffy naan for less than the cost of a bottle of water at one of the fancier places. Ravi’s is fantastic, and considered a Dubai institution. And in the middle we have a few stalwart favourites – such as Mango Tree, our favourite Thai place where we (unadventurously) take all our overseas guests for a fantastic meal. It’s always a winner, consistently serving up tasty, authentic Thai food and great cocktails! So hey, why wouldn’t we take everyone there? Certainly, no one has complained yet!
I’ve recently discovered a great new blog (The Hedonista) written by a fellow Australian chick living in Dubai who loves the same things that I do (food and travel) and posts far more often than me. Even if you don’t live in Dubai, if you are interested in food and travelling then I think you’ll enjoy reading her. Check her out.