My Love for Culinary Tourism

I have been fortunate enough to do a bit of traveling during my semester here in Dubai. All of my trips have had one tying theme, which was partly unintended but mostly a conscious decision for me – and that has been eating. I have realized that, as of now, culinary or food tourism is my favorite way to engage with a new place. Below are some of my favorite eating experiences from the past few months in the region. Not all were as amazing as the rest, not all have as special a place in my heart, but all have contributed to some of the best experiences of recent memory for me and colored my time in the Middle East in its own unique way.

1. Dubai – Ravi Restaurant, Karachi Darbar, Antar Cafeteria, Bombay Star Juice Bar

I have some really great memories attached to food experiences here in Dubai. It’s a city for food-lovers. Since I’m on a student budget, I couldn’t really explore the high class, gourmet food scene, but I definitely tried my best to cover all the local cheap eateries and they did not disappoint.

Ravi/Karachi/Bombay Juice bar made for some of the best North Indian/Pakistani food I have had in my life and that is including India itself. The owners of these places know my friends and me by face and order by now and can probably thank us for putting their kids through college. Shahi paneer, butter naans, butter chicken and mango lassis were some of the staples, but I can honestly say there is not a bad dish on any of these menus.

2. Oman – Yemeni Mandi, Roadside Biryani

My first foray outside the UAE in early March was a weekend stint in Muscat, Oman. After a beautiful day of hiking, swimming and rock climbing at Wadi Shab, we stopped by a gas station and there were a couple of restaurants attached. I was famished and went into a small café and ordered large quantities of Biryani. After hours of hiking on an empty stomach anything would have tasted good, but this Biryani was amazing on its own accord.

Later that weekend I was fortunate enough to spend an evening with some really cool people over Yemeni Mandi. It was my first experience and my best. Sitting on the floor around huge platters of rice, meat, chicken, yogurt, bread and sauces, eating with our hands and indulging in some great globally minded conversation made for a terrific experience.

3. Lebanon – homemade Kibbeh, Seaside 4-course sea-food, Kanafah

Lebanon featured some amazing homemade Kibbeh from the amazing family that hosted us for a few days in Zgharta. After we made our way down to Beirut and the South, the food experiences really took off.

In Tyr (Sur in Arabic) I ate what was arguably the most amazing meal of my time in the region. It consisted of 5 courses of amazing Arabic sea-food. To try and explain everything involved would be doing complete injustice to the environment, tastes, company and overall atmosphere of the occasion.

Later that week, on our last night after going out in one of the best party cities in the world, I was treated to some of the best Kanafeh I’ve ever had while watching the sun come up.

4. Bahrain – Chicken Tikka, Mandi, Chocolate Special K cereal, chai

Bahrain again made for some delicious food tourism, although one of the coolest parts was a box of cereal at my host’s apartment. I couch-surfed in Manama, and one of my hosts was in the American Navy and he had a box of Chocolate Special K in his apartment. I found myself slowly eating through the entire box while watching trash American TV. It was a nice way to feel American for a bit, and it totally brought me back to my days of cereal eating in college and at home.

I also got to eat some amazing tandoor bread, chicken tikka in a nice park at sunset with some great new (and old) friends, and shared Mandi over some more amazing conversation.

5. Kuwait – street shawarma, kebabs, Indo-Chinese, Tandoori chicken, home-cooked meals

Kuwait may have been the most all-inclusive food touristic experience of all. Pretty much all I did in Kuwait was eat, and it was terrific. Starting with shawarma  from a street-side restaurant in downtown Kuwait City, to a kilo of Kebabs, to Indo-Chinese Szechuan inspired cooking, to more amazing tandoori chicken, I can honestly say I ate more in 3 days in Kuwait, than I usually do in a week in Dubai.

I stayed with some family friends so I was also treated to some amazing home cooked Indian meals, including some of the best and most satisfying Biryani I have had.

Food and culinary practices are obviously part and parcel of a culture. Getting to travel was a great opportunity in itself, but coupled with these food experiences, it made for some very memorable times. I will say that my favorite part about all of these experiences was being able to share them with the friends I have made over the course of this semester. Some of these people I may have known before, but got to know better, and others I met for a short while but they added tremendously to my time in the Middle East.

I am excited to apply these same practices and principles to places in the US as I move forward. My appetite, as it seems, knows no bounds. The inevitable food-babies await my food-parenting.

Ps: I would advise against blogging about food while hungry.