Dubai Food Festival was in full gastronomic swing when we arrived in the city last month. Celebrity chefs, pop-up dining, mystery dining tours and home-grown food all made appearances at the culinary collaboration.  This was the second Dubai Food Festival which showcases the multicultural aspects, fine-dining and home-grown restaurants of Dubai’s food scene.

Beach Canteen Dubai

The Beach Canteen

I’d never thought of Dubai as a leading gastronomic destination but with over 200 nationalities living in the city there’s a huge culinary diversity and range of flavours including the city’s own Emirati fare and Arabic traditions. The theme at this year’s Dubai Food Festival was ‘Find your Flavour’ and we set out to do just that in the few days we were in the city as we indulged in some of the festival’s delicious line ups.

Dubai Culinary Skyline Tour

This mystery tour devised by Lime and Tonic took us on a Dubai Culinary Skyline Tour to eat and drink at some unique rooftop terraces with fabulous and distinctive views over the city.

Our first stop for a taste of the high life was for drinks and nibbles at 40 Kong in the centre of the business district.  The fabulous rooftop terrace on floor 40 of the H Hotel is the highest outdoor rooftop bar in the city and the perfect spot for a sundowner with views of old Dubai.

40 Kong Roof Terrace

40 Kong Roof Terrace

More cocktails and starters were on offer at our next stop but this time, instead of looking down on the city, we gazed upwards.  The Mosaic Poolside Bar at The Sofitel Dubai Burj Downtown has amazing views of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.  In fact this must be one of the best views of the tower in Dubai and is the perfect place to chill with a glass or two and some nibbles – the duck pâté canapés were delectable – while the Burj Khalifa stands twinkling and winking at you in the night sky.

Cloud inspired starter

Cloud inspired starter

Our main course took in the lights and downtown views from the new Alta Badia Italian restaurant set on level 50 of the Jumeirah Emirates Tower building where our meal was cloud themed.

No mystery dining tour would be complete without desert so our last stop of the evening for some sweet treats and more cocktails was to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel’s Uptown Bar.  There are fabulous views of the Burj al Arab which is right next door.   By now it was late and time to come back down to earth but we’d had a lovely evening feasting on some excellent food and the best of Dubai’s skyline views.

Dining on Dubai Creek

Dinner on a traditional Arabian dhow boat whilst floating down Dubai Creek under the stars is a unique dining experience.  Add to the menu food crafted by India’s celebrated chef Sanjeev Kapoor and it makes for a moveable feast of epic proportions – or should I say portions…

Dhows at night

Dhows at night

As we floated past the Old Dubai’s souks and palaces their lights reflecting on the water we dined upon Kapoor’s culinary creations.  Amongst them a South India Kerala fish dish; fish wrapped in a banana leaf with fresh spices, pepper and chilli with onions, tomatoes and coconut – so much flavour and so tender.  We had the chance to chat with the man himself about his culinary journey and cuisine which he learned from his parents. ‘One lifetime is not enough to taste all Indian food’ – I’d have to agree with that. Kapoor doesn’t believe in subtlety either – sweets are very sweet and spicy is very spicy with a riot of taste created with up to twenty different spices.  Well I can now vouch for that and every dish I tasted was mouth-wateringly delicious.

Beach Canteen at Kite Beach

The Beach Canteen was back for the second year and featured nine different home-grown restaurant concepts offering unique beach dining experiences and were set up on the sand at Jumeirah’s Kite Beach during Dubai’s Food Festival.  Street-food turned beach-food.

Each mini-restaurant was housed in a converted shipping container – the ultimate in quirky! I loved the brightly painted boxes full of deliciousness and it’s where I sampled my first camel burger with halloumi, date and lime jam in a beza bun.  You can’t get much more home-grown than that and camel is considered a delicacy in the Middle East.  The burger was delicious, very tender and tasted like a cross between beef and lamb and came served in ‘newspaper’ wrapping. DJs, local bands, sports and children’s activities give the entertainment and featured celebrity chefs also made appearances.

Farmer’s Market on the Terrace

Although not part of Dubai Food Festival I have to tell you about The Farmer’s Market on the Terrace which has got to be one of Dubai’s best kept foodie secrets.  In a city where shopping is done in massive malls and the supermarkets stock the home comforts that every expat craves this little market came as a complete surprise to me. I’ve been to markets around the world but never one set amidst towering sky-scrapers under an avenue of palm trees!  The community Farmers’ Market happens every Friday morning on the terrace of Jumeirah Emirates Towers hotel.

The Farmer's Market on the Terrace

Fresh Produce

The produce sold is picked just hours before in nearby farms and brought to the market – the ‘field to fork’ concept. It doesn’t come much fresher than this and it’s certified organic, sustainable and ethical. The market first came about when Yael Mejia, food consultant to Baker & Spice Dubai, struggled to source fresh local regional produce and brought the farmers together at the market which is now into its sixth year.

We spoke to Riath Hamed aka the honey man of Balqees Honey and sampled sweet Yemeni honey from the Sidr Tree.

Balqees Honey

Balqees Honey

Fresh pomegranate juice quenched my thirst and the wafting smells of bread and pastries from Baker & Spice tantalised.  Of course there was a colourful array of fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables and a selection of coffee beans as well.  It was all incredibly tempting and gorgeous to look at but the best thing about the market was the community vibe and as Yael Mejia says ‘ the ritual of growing and gathering and bringing people together in order to help sustain, grow, restore society, community, and in so doing, help mend the fabric of our lives’.

This is just a small taste of the food we sampled during Dubai Food Festival.  There’s more I need to tell you including the fabulous food at the Ritz Carlton Dubai and Frying Pan Adventures where we learned loads about Emirati cuisine but that’s to come in future posts.

Have you ever been surprised about the cuisine in a destination you’ve visited – let me know where and why in the comments below.

Disclosure: Many thanks to Dubai Tourism and The Ritz-Carlton Dubai who kindly hosted my visit to Dubai. Opinions and love of good food, are as always, entirely my own.

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Dubai Food Festival