Food Safety

What most people outside UAE think about UAE’s food culture

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Hello from Dubai, again.
It’s been a whirlwind of activities ever since I got back from Milan.

Host Milano 2015  was an enriching experience for me as it was not only an honour to represent the United Arab Emirates at the biggest international hospitality exhibition in conjunction with Expo Milano 2015, but it was a good learning curve as well as I got to interact with various personalities from different parts of the globe. During my (rather short) three day assignment in Milan, I got acquainted with quite a good number of individuals who have never traveled to UAE before and in fact, chose to steer away from this particular region because of mixed views about the food culture here – some of which alarmed me. Food culture essentially is defined by the inhabitants of a given region. It’s a known fact that the bigger slice of the demographics cheesecake in the United Arab Emirates comprises the expatriate community. That being said, as different cultures converge on the same platform, some of us may try to blend in with one another (culturally speaking) because it’s human nature to influence and emulate. The one aspect that will always remain a core element of our culture ergo making it the hardest thing to let go of, will be food. We connect better with the dishes we grew up with and no matter how hard one tries, one cannot ignore that feeling of déjà food.  The questions / statements I was confronted with and my responses to them are below. Brace yourselves 1. It must be difficult to find cuisines apart from Asian and Arabic ones considering the number of shawarma stands that dot the area: We love our shawarmas, there’s no denying that. However, it’s not the only type of cuisine or dish this vibrant nation has to offer. I’ve had Brazilian brunches, Italian dinners, Japanese desserts, Cantonese soups, Indian street food, Sri Lankan preserves, Latvian bread, Australian coffee, Filipino snacks, Peruvian lunches and much more all in the same country. Give UAE a chance and we will definitely surprise you – even if you’re a vegetarian.

 It must be hard being a woman there – you don’t have the freedom to move around like you’d want to and you must probably be covered from head to toe:
My eyes nearly popped out when I heard that remark about being a resident (for over 25 years) in UAE!
It’s funny how the lines are blurred when it comes to reality in the United Arab Emirates versus the rest of the Middle East. This country has been the closest place to home for me and many others like me and I sometimes take the security here for granted – I could get back home all by myself at 2 am knowing that the streets are safe – and I have. It doesn’t bother me when an assignment or an outdoor event ends before the sun rises. Also, it is common courtesy to dress modestly and I don’t have to necessarily clad myself from head to toe to do that.
How is this related to food culture? My freedom to move around town plays a role in my freedom to explore and eat out. Not many people fully enjoy that benefit especially when it comes to solo female travelers.

  3. UAE imports most of it’s food – you can’t really experience anything truly local: I will have to partially agree with that – yes, UAE does import a big percentage of food and beverage but you would be surprised to learn that this country is also treading on the path towards sustainability. We have over 30,000 farms in this country (yes I got the number of zeroes right here) and our agriculture is well beyond dates – did you know that we also grow wheat here? I’m not kidding.

  4. Do you even have wine nights? It must be rare and expensive if you do: This varies from emirate to emirate within UAE – the number of licensed restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages are relatively higher in Dubai and yes, we do have wine nights here. We like to raise the bars a bit (pun not intended) by coupling vino with an extravagant spread of meat and cheese – fondue included.  As is the case with most things, the costs vary depending on where one chooses to dine at. Rest assured, there’s something that fits everyone’s budget here. On a separate note, some of the people had also mentioned that it must be hard to find a place that serves good pork, which I had to explain was contrary to the actuality in UAE.

5. We don’t come across too many food festivals that happen in UAE. Are they very rare?
We do have a good number of food festivals that are spread across the year. Some of them are based outdoors whilst the others may be indoors (food trucks included). We have entertaining farmers markets that also support artisan businesses, street carnivals, major food conferences and exhibitions, bake fests, cook offs, live demonstrations, ad infinitum. The holy month of Ramadan too comes with a string of events and dining options that revolve around Iftars and Suhoors. UAE is a country that doesn’t sleep very much.

#HollandminipancakesDubai in action! I definitely recommend them! @tasteofdubai

A video posted by Judy Sebastian جودي سيباستيان (@foodsheblogged) on


6. What’s the latest  dinner reservation that you can make in UAE? Most restaurants must probably close by 9 pm: As I had mentioned earlier, it varies from emirate to emirate. For the most part, the restaurants that I have been to across UAE close as early as 11 pm and as late as 3 am. We don’t realize how lucky we are that we are spoiled for choices when it comes to dining in UAE until we travel to another country where the streets have this abominable lull at 9 pm after the shutters are drawn down and the restaurants and cafes are closed for the day.

7. Food safety laws don’t exist in UAE:
I would be lying if I had denied that I got offended by that statement.
Food safety is my passion and my lifeline – even more so in the United Arab Emirates because I was born here.
This industry is a vast ocean and it’s still developing in the Middle East. If there’s any Arab country that’s leading the implementation pace of regulatory food safety systems right now, it’s UAE.
Food safety management systems here are relatively younger in comparison to the established ones in the United States, EU, Canada, UK, Australia, etc.
That being said, countries with full fledged food safety management systems and food laws since the early 70’s are facing hurdles even today with contamination – this is a global challenge.

8. Fair trade has no place in UAE:

I’m not sure how many people are aware of fair trade practices and policies on a global level. It is however, reassuring to learn that there are food businesses within UAE that promote and practice fair trade. Ours is not an economy that solely depends on luxurious dining options – we even include the voices that are not loud enough in the food industry and support them wherever possible. Some of the restaurants here prefer to business with the smaller brands in order to support them better and to eliminate the role of the middle man.


This trip not only helped me learn more about the food culture outside UAE but also realize that most people outside UAE don’t necessarily view this country in the light that it deserves.
Presumably it could be because of the mixed reports from the media and press, word of mouth from people who haven’t been to this country before and the pre-set notion that this country is all about the scintillating appeal that surrounds the cities.  Yes, the United Arab Emirates is different but it is not indifferent.  More often than not, one finds it easy to make new friends in this country because we collectively are a community and our food culture is constantly growing. What better way than to bond over a meal?


Comestible regards,
Judy Sebastian


  1. Daniel

    November 9, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I have to agree with every point you just made.
    Sometimes I find it hard to convince people that Dubai is not a different country.
    Well written!

    • Food She Blogged

      November 10, 2015 at 12:10 am

      I get that a lot too, Daniel.
      Dubai appears to be a country by itself to some people.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂
      Take care!

    • Food She Blogged

      November 10, 2015 at 12:11 am

      I get that a lot too, Daniel.
      Dubai appears to be a country by itself to some people.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂
      Take care

  2. Shiela

    November 9, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    Wow! I heard about your blog through Kevin’s friend and she’s right, you’re a rare food blogger.
    I’m so with you on the misconceptions they have about this place.. Lol!
    Is that appam I see?

    • Food She Blogged

      November 10, 2015 at 12:08 am

      Thanks for your kind words, Shiela.
      That’s very sweet of you.
      As for the appams – yes it is. Hoppers and poached eggs – delicious!

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