Though the years, I have noticed how International food chains quickly multiply in Dubai. Anyone can clearly see that International dine-out spots have out numbered the local restaurants. In a shopping mall, I can easily find specialty restaurants and variety of cuisines; anything except authentic Emirati food! It is my fifth year in Dubai and my knowledge about traditional dishes is pretty shameful. It's not because I don't want to try them, I just don't know where to have them!
Then, I came across Al Fanar Restaurant at Dubai Festival City. It is said to be the "first and only Local Emirati restaurant in Dubai". I'm not really sure if that's the truth, but I have been living in Dubai for half a decade and it's the only Emirati restaurant that I have ever seen in a shopping mall so far.
Being the "first and only" restaurant that caters authentic Emirati cuisine, Al Fanar is always full. We have attempted to dine several times, but have always backed out due to the long waiting time. Several days ago, Ed and I tried to make a reservation two hours before iftar (a meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan). To our surprise, Al Fanar was again fully-booked.
That weekend, I made a firm decision; "it's now or never". Even if the wait staff told us that the restaurant is already full, I still asked if we could dine at one of the outdoor majlis. Yes, I can brave the very hot and humid summer weather for a classic Emirati meal. Much to my dismay, they don't serve outdoors during this time of the year. And so, we took the wait staff's advice to come back after Iftar time.
At 9 pm, Al Fanar Restaurant seemed like a quiet Arabian home. We were guided to a semi-private dining area; an open booth with wooden furniture, with seat cushions covered with Arabian fabric and on the wall are photos of Old Dubai. From our booth, we could see the branches of the huge fake tree that stands in the middle of the main dining area. The kerosene lamps on the wall perfectly fit the restaurant's theme as "Al Fanar" is an Arabic term for kerosene lamp that was used to light the homes in Dubai in the past.
A Filipino wait staff approached us with the menu books. I was so glad to see someone who can fully assist us in ordering, someone who understands our taste preference. As our Filipino taste buds are not really inclined to strong Arabic spices, we asked for a dish that is not spicy, mildly seasoned with Arabic herbs, but flavourful. Our wait staff recommended Machboos Deyay; a traditional rice and chicken dish. We also ordered a mixed salad called Salatat Al Fanar and an Arabic dessert called Luqaimat.
Minutes later, our traditional Emirati dinner started as the dishes arrived at our booth one after the other. First to be served was a complimentary bowl of chickpeas or "Dango", followed by Salatat Al Fanar. Then, we shared a huge serving of Machboos Deyay which was served with two types of sauce; one tomato based and the other made of yoghurt. An Arab wait staff was kind enough to teach us how to eat the traditional dish the right way. We followed what he said, "Add your chosen sauce or you can mix both on the rice. Then, take a piece of meat and savour the goodness of a true traditional meal!"
Then, for dessert, we had Leqaimat; fried dough balls that was served warm, drizzled with date syrup and sprinkled with sesame seeds. We enjoyed the sweet traditional dish with a pot of Arabic tea! :)
With the authentic Emirati dinner that we had at Al Fanar, I somehow felt that my expat life in Dubai is almost complete. I have yet to find more Emirati restaurants and feast on more exquisite traditional cuisine.
Bill for 2:
Salata Al Fanar: 22 AED
Machboos Deyay: 42 AED
Leqaimat: 19 AED
Arabic Tea Pot: 13 AED
Water: 4 AED
Al Fanar Restaurant
Dubai Festival City