The Emirates' elusive tastes

"The phrase 'local food' takes on its very own meaning in Dubai," said Debra Greenwood, director of the annual Dubai Food Festival. "As a city whose residents comprise more than 200 nationalities, 'local' dishes are a smorgasbord of global flavours. From Peruvian to French, Korean to Vietnamese, you can dine around the world in this one small city."

But as marvellous as these multiple flavours are, one cuisine has been woefully underrepresented in the city's dining diversity: that of the UAE itself. Tourists and expats had never shown much interest in the cuisine, and Emirati custom is to enjoy traditional fare at home.

"Although expats and tourists may not see much of it, traditional food is extremely important in private family homes and at celebrations," said Nasif Kayed, managing director of the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU). "Our local dishes are passed down from generation to generation and, especially during Ramadan, you can see local kitchens busy preparing favourite foods."

But today, thanks in part to a new wave of curious travellers hankering for a slice of tradition, there's growing interest in Dubai's native dishes. As a result, Emirati food is slowly emerging from private kitchens and entering the public dining domain.

Arva Ahmed, who leads restaurant-hopping tours around Old Dubai with her sister Farida, admitted that growing up in Dubai, her awareness of local food was "non-existent". Her parents originally hailed from India.

"It's only over the last few years that there's been a real movement to bring [it] into the public eye," she explained.

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