An insightful look at how Abu Dhabi’s dining and culture scene has transformed from humble beginnings to hosting a world-class event celebrating gastronomy’s finest.
Four decades ago…
Four decades ago, the very mention of the phrase ‘dining in Abu Dhabi’ may have conjured up images of a romantic dinner under the stars, in a tent pitched amidst towering desert sand dunes. With Arab culture placing heavy emphasis on guest comfort, visitors would be seated on plush cushions and soft carpets — in essence, treated like royalty. Before the guest, would lay a huge plate of spiced mutton and rice, dishes of dates, and flatbread produced on a hot stone and all washed down with rich camel’s milk, sweet, minted Suleimani tea or heady Arabic coffee flavoured with cardamom. Dining near the sea would produce an array of spiced fish, which had been wrapped, secreted under the sand with a fire burning atop – and again, accompanied by the staple rice. As time moved on, so did the culinary offering, influenced by traders and travellers from throughout the Middle East, Levant and sub-continent. It could now feature rich biryiani or a tempting spread of mezza — a collection of dishes, usually served in small amounts — served complete with Arabic coffee or tea. Some of the common mezza dishes which guests would see before them include ‘tabbouleh’ — a salad-like fare consisting mainly of finely chopped parsley, tomatoes, bulgur and mint, served with olive oil — and hummus — a paste made from olive oil and chickpeas, usually consumed with pita flatbread. Kofta, balls of ground beef or lamb, mixed with onions and spices and served with spiced sauces could well have found its way onto the guest table.
Four decades later…
Today, while dining in a traditional goat’s hair tent out in the desert, or sampling the delights of sand-oven fish, are still options thanks to tour operators’ dune dinner and island sailing packages, restaurants in Abu Dhabi have preserved the hospitality synonymous with Arab dining, as well as the taste of authentic Arab cuisine. The emirate now also boasts numerous top-tier international restaurants. This change in Abu Dhabi’s culinary fortunes was heralded by the arrival of towering skyscrapers, the influx of foreign talent and the increasingly sophisticated palates of UAE nationals, expatriates and overseas visitors. A tour through the city reveals many establishments offering European cuisine from France, Switzerland, Spain, Greece, Germany and most notably, Italy. The number of Italian restaurants in this emerging capital is second only to restaurants serving Middle Eastern cuisine. Additionally, with the city establishing itself as the Middle East’s cultural hub, visitors will also find many fine Asian restaurants serving bona fide Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Korean cuisines. These sit remarkably easy alongside popular Tex-Mex restaurants.
The latest evolution in Abu Dhabi’s culinary scene is a trend towards celebrating Emirati cuisine with the destination now boasting a fine-dining Emirati restaurant and local dishes finding their way onto a number of five-star menus.
Signature restaurants are opening up throughout the emirate’s hospitality landscape, standards continue to improve and with it comes an ever increasing willingness to embrace the culinary world.
And a catalyst in this evolution readies for a new era of maturity.
In 2013 Gourmet Abu Dhabi celebrates its fifth anniversary. This gastronomic event congregates internationally acclaimed chefs, representatives from distinguished châteaux, restaurateurs, industry professionals and personalities to this emerging global capital. Get ready to celebrate this milestone with first-class cuisine, exclusive vintages and culinary events par excellence as Abu Dhabi plays host to the world’s brightest constellation of cuisiniers, vintners and hospitality providers.