A colorful array of vegetable and meat kebabs on display at Wafi Gourmet in Dubai Mall, which specializes in Lebanese cuisine.
DUBAI, U.A.E. — While in Dubai, I thought we would certainly be eating at Saudi or Emirati restaurants, but somehow, we always ended up eating Lebanese or Indian cuisine, at malls and hotels, no less.
What gives? I put the question to one of the Dubai chefs and he said it's because the Saudis have no real cuisine, and it's only been in the last year that three Emirati restaurants have opened, in a city of 2.5 million people.
Well that was a shocking statement. In my food-centric world, every culture has a cuisine that speaks to its soul and is a point of pride to its people, such that you can't talk stink about anyone's food.
But, it made sense. People of Saudi Arabia were descended from nomadic sheep- and goat-herding tribes, who could only eat what they could carry, such as dates, nuts, figs, flat bread called fatir, and spices that flavored meat grilled in the desert.
Dubai, on the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, started as a fishing village, making grilled fish a simple, satisfying meal.
Also, the nation's Islamic laws include restrictions against eating pork and drinking alcohol, and it's only in places where visitors congregate—malls and hotels—that alcohol is allowed.
I wasn't complaining. Though the names of dishes are different, food in the region is similar from country to country, and Middle Eastern cuisine has always been one of my favorites, though it's sad to say, coming from Hawaii, I never knew what it was like to enjoy a warm, pillowy fresh pita. More times than not, you have to go to straight to the source.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage is in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.