One of the best parts of traveling is tasting the local food, but there is a surprising catch to eating in Dubai: Over 75% of the population of the United Arab Emirates is foreign, meaning that it is far easier to find U.S. and European restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory and Coldstone Creamery than Emirati cuisine!
Luckily, during my travels in Dubai, wise hosts guided me to the top Emirati restaurant in the city — a delicious spot called Seven Sands. There, I was able to sample a feast of local yumminess. Come with me to explore the sumptuous tastes and luxurious decor of the restaurant, getting a mini-lesson in Emirati food in the process. Beware that this article may cause you to lick the computer screen.
Because the United Arab Emirates rests upon a desert with a challenging climate for its inhabitants (until the air conditioned malls of Dubai were erected), foundations of Emirati cuisine are hearty Bedouin meat stews (Thereed) and meat with rice (Fouga), pictured below from our dinner. The flavors are rich and comforting: just what a gal would need after a long afternoon clomping on a camel through sand.
The most exciting surprise of my dinner is pictured in the upper right of the photo above: Harees. It may look like mashed potatoes, but it’s not at all! Rather, Harees is cooked wheat mixed with meat (in this case, veal). The consistency is thick and stretchy like soft dough, and the taste is as satisfying as a hamburger.
Observing me passionately scarfing the Harees, the charming chef from Seven Sands explained that the dish is “very healthy to eat in my pregnant state, since growing babies need wheat and meat.” I like that scientific analysis, sir!
I appreciate Seven Sands for its tasty food education, but its decor also furthers its mission to celebrate the United Arab Emirates. The name of the restaurant alludes to the seven sheikhdoms or emirates that were united in 1972 to make up the UAE: Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sarjah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Fujairah, and Ras Al Khaimah. One section of the restaurant’s floor even displays sand from each of the emirates, the differences in color and texture reflecting the subtly differing cultures of each region.
To continue the educational theme, the walls of the restaurant are decorated with achievements of the United Emirates. Below is a photo I took of just a small part of the wall, on which you can see the Palm Jumeirah (the artificial island chain that Dubai has created in the shape of a palm tree) the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building, located by the Dubai Mall), and the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi.
Seven Sands is located in the Jumeriah Beach Residence (JBR) neighborhood of Dubai, right on the water of the Persian Gulf. My host and I opted to eat on the restaurant’s outdoor balcony, as Dubai’s steamy weather in late October cools down just enough in the evening to be ideal for al fresco dining.
As I sat on the balcony with my host, we gazed out at the blazing lights in the water beside us. “What’s that construction over there?” I asked our delightful waiter. “Oh,” he replied, “They are building the largest ferris wheel in the world over there.” Of course they are! Leave it to Dubai to add an accomplishment like that alongside its indoor ski mountain.
Back to the food. Tied with the Harees for my favorite dish of the night was our dessert, Seven Sands Date Pudding, which features a sticky toffee sauce embracing sweet date cake and sprinkled with almonds. Dates are a huge part of Emirati cuisine, and I was thrilled to learn how high in nutrients they are. Hence, this dessert was healthy! Burp.
Doing research for this article, I was saddened to read a CNN article highlighting that another reason that Emirati cuisine is hard to find in Dubai (besides the fact that less than 20% of the UAE population is Emirati) is that few locals are choosing to become chefs. What a gift it is to Dubai, then, that Seven Sands exists to teach us about scrumptious Emirati food! Perhaps the restaurant will serve as a pioneer in a resurgence of local UAE food in Dubai and beyond.
Dinner at Seven Sands was one of the most memorable meals of my life, partly because of the excitement of learning about a new cuisine, but to a large extent due to the kindness of the staff, who went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. I do hope that the restaurant gets the attention it merits so that more people may experience the joy of Thereed, Fouga, and Harees!
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I was a guest of Seven Sands, but all opinions and double helpings of dessert are my own.