I was really excited when I saw on our itinerary that we would be coming here. I hadÂ visited the website to get a proper taste of what we would be experiencing and I was pumped that the day had arrived.
Here is little background from the SMCCU website;
“Dubai is a uniquely modern and cosmopolitan city and the United Arab Emirates is home to families from all over the world, each with their own distinctive culture. Expatriates and UAE nationals are neighbours; however they can also be strangers. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, saw the need to reach out and educate expatriates in the traditions and customs of the UAE. His vision led to the creation of The Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU) in 1998.”
Our trip to the SMCCU involved us having a question and answer session with a local Emirati woman over a delicious, traditional breakfast. No questions were off limits and we were encouraged to ask anything and everything that we could think of. We discussed traditional dress, the local foods, religious celebrations, marriage, courtship, children, schooling and much much more! I thought that I knew quite a bit about Dubai, it’s culture and Islam but my eyes were certainly opened and I definitely left with a much deeper understanding of thisÂ enchantingÂ city and it’s beautiful people.
Below: The meal area set up for our Emirati breakfast in the Wind Tower House at the SMCCU
Below: Water, tea, coffee and fragrances
Below: When hosting guests, your never ever fill their coffee cup when you pour it. Filling the cup implies that you areÂ choosing to be a lazy host and also that you wish for them to drink their cup and leave. Rather, you fill their cup halfway up or less, to demonstrate that you are there to refill as required. When a guest would like more coffee they simply raise their glass and it will be refilled. When a guest isÂ finished with theirÂ coffee they will raise the cup up and gently tilt it left to right holding it with their thumb and pointer finger to signal that they are done. In addition to this, when you are offered anything, a business card, a drink, a plate of food, you always accept it with your right hand.
Below: (Left) A Â traditional egg and vermicelli dish and (Right) An Emirati chickpea dish.
Below: Emirati shakshouka.
Below: Emirati flat bread.
Below: Saffron pancakes.
Below: Emirati ‘doughnuts’ covered in date syrup – AMAZING!
After an awesome morning at the SMCCU we walked down to the Dubai creek, boarded an Abra (traditional boat made from wood) and headed across the water to the Spice Souk. I have two words to describe the Spice Souk and they are ‘sensory overload!’
The smells! The colours! The textures! It was just PHENOMENAL! Not everything on display is designed to be used in cooking. As well as a huge range of spices, there are herbs, incense and many traditional medicinal products available. The vendors are generous in their knowledge sharing and also in giving you plenty of things to taste, smell, and touch! Be sure to haggle with them before purchasing, however, or you might just end up with some very expensive dates.*
*this is not a random example! This may or may not have happened to me! 🙂 🙂
Below: Phoodie on an Abra
Below: An abra.
Below: Camel milk gelato at the Spice Souk.
Below: Some of the offerings at the Spice Souk.
Below: Camel milk chocolate – surprisingly delicious!
Below: Saffron by the kilo!
It’s been nearly an hour since we last ate (oh my goshhhhh!) so it is DEFINITELY time for another meal! I am excited to try the food at Ravi as I have heard it serves some of the most authentic Pakistani and Indian food in Dubai.
As we enter, I become immediately aware that this is a place where the locals eat. And any “professional eater” knows that that’s a GREAT thing. If it’s white tablecloths and a fancy interior thatÂ you’re after, this is NOT the place for you. But if you want to eat genuineÂ Pakistani and Indian fare with a bunch of Emirati localsÂ then you have come to the right place!
The other girls do the ordering as Pakastani and Indian food is something that I am not overly familiar with…. well I didn’t used to be! Everything we ate was totally scrumptious and (according to my travel companions who regularly eat this cuisine) very authentic. I was too busy shovelling food in my mouth to take many snaps, but my favourite thing from the meal was the cheese-stuffed naan. Check it out below;
Below: The incredibly delicious cheese-stuffed naan.
We head back to the St Regis hotel, which is to be our home for the remaining 2 nights of our trip… and boy are we in for a treat!
As we pull up to the hotel I feel like I must be living in a dream. It is an absolutely breathtaking building. So incredibly grand with an elegantly wide-paved driveway. And if I thought the outside was amazing, the inside is REALLY about to blow me away! The website describes it more articulately than I ever could;
“The St. Regis Dubai extends the legacy of the Astor family to Dubai.Â It is located on the arterial Sheikh Zayed Road, the hotelâ€™s interiors are influenced by the cityâ€™s beaux-arts architecture of the original St. Regis in New York, and accentuated by bespoke elements such as the grand staircase and carefully selected artworks dotted across the hotel.
Part of Al Habtoor City, Dubaiâ€™s first-ever integrated urban resort, the hotel sits alongside two other hotels, three high-rise residential towers, as well as a Las Vegas-style theatre that are collectively located on the banks of the breathtaking Dubai Water Canal.”
And that staircase really is something else. The way it drapes from the first floor down to the grand entrance is divine. The rooms were decadent and spacious, and delicious treats and beautiful personalised welcome notes greeted us upon our arrival. The service and care at the hotel was also next level. I would absolutely love to stay here again in the future. Check out some snaps below;
Below: The grand staircase.
Below: The first level bar.
Below: The swimming pool and surrounds.
Below: The grand staircase in the evening.
AfterÂ grabbing a coffee and settling in to the hotel, we regroup back in the lobby ready to face the next adventure; a Platinum Luxury Desert Safari with the friendly folk from Platinum Heritage! I am completely pumped for this experience as we are about to…. Drive through the Dubai Desert Conservation reserve, watch a Falconry demonstration, enjoy sunset canapÃ©s, ride camels, devour a six course dinner and view the ‘Flaming Sands of Arabia’ fire show! Phew!
At about 4pm, we were picked up in 2 Range Rovers and taken straight to the desert, about a 45 minute drive away. I don’t know why, but I was genuinely surprised to see wildlife (such as the Oryx’s pictured below) living in the desert! I’m such a city girl! Upon arrival we were each able to choose a coloured headscarf that was then wrapped properly around our heads and necks to protect us from getting sand and wind in our eyes for the remainder of our journey. We posed for a bunch of photos (see the JUMP snap below!) and were on our way!
Apart from the delicious food that we ate at our final destination ‘camp site’, my favourite part of the adventure was the camel ride. They are such gorgeous creatures and being led through the desert on them was a once in a lifetime experience that I feel very blessed to have had. I’m not sure if it was because they knew that I was Lebanese, or just because they sensed that I am an all round legend (jokes!) but the camels took a massive liking to me, with one of them going straight in for a big kiss and refusing to take no for an answer (see below awkward camel selfie!)
I cannot recommend this experience more highly, it was fabulous! See some snaps below;
Below: Oryxes in the desert.
Below: Paolo fixing my scarf for me.
Below: Falconry demonstration.
Below: The Spice Girls take Dubai!
Below: Told you the camels loved me!
Below: Inside our private dining space at the ‘camp site.’
Below: Incredible selection of Middle Eastern food to begin our meal with.
Below: Some of the mains that we enjoyed.
Below: Our ‘camp site’.
After a wonderful night’s sleep we meet again in the lobby of the hotel, jump in our car and are taken off to meet our tour guide, Nahla, from Frying Pan Adventures! She is about to take us through the city on a Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage and I cannot wait!
There were so many highlights of my trip, but this tour was definitelyÂ one of them! Don’t get me wrong, I love a fancy restaurant and a white table cloth as much as the next person, but what REALLY excites me when travelling is uncoveringÂ all of the secret eating spots within that particular city or town, the places you would never normally walk in to but you do becauseÂ you know that they are famous for the delicious treats that they serve. This food pilgrimage was exactly like that. Special secret spot after special secret spot. Unfortunately I cannot name each of the places we visited but if you want to sample some of the best, most authentic cuisine that Dubai has to offer, book in with Frying Pan Adventures ASAP! Click here to visit their website!
Check out some of my drool-worthy snaps below;
Below: Falafel (chickpea fritters with coriander & parsley) – I have NEVER experienced falafel like this. Freshly fried, texture of a cloud and bright green (from the fresh herbs) on the inside. I will never, ever be able to eat heavy, brown, solid, room temperature falafel again!
Below: TheÂ firstÂ table of Middle Eastern Goodness that we were presented with. We were also each given Lebanese bread and invited to make our own sandwiches using any of the food below that we liked!
Below: The best hummus I have ever eaten.
Below: Falafel mahshi (chickpea falafels stuffed with chilli paste called shatta, sumac spice and onions)
Below: Fried cauliflower and eggplant.
Below: Lebanese bread.
Below: Tea to soothe and prepare the tummy for many more delicious delights!
Below: We were lucky enough to watch this ‘Knafeh’ (also known as ‘Kunafa’ – Nabulsi cheese pie with kataifi noodle pastry on the top, cooked in ghee) be made from scratch. We were then served it piping hot, fresh off the stove. THERE ARE NO WORDS.
Below: Our next stop was an incredible Lebanese sweet shop. We were served ‘Gahwa’ (Arabic coffee with cardamom), ‘maâ€™amoul madh’ (spiced date bar), â€˜natefâ€™ (cream made from the roots of the soapwart plant) and ‘bukaj’ (the Baklava shaped like a cloth knapsack.) Everything was delicious but my favourite was the baklava!
Below: After the Lebanese sweet shop we ate ‘Feteer’ with basturma (beef pastrami), veggies, mozzarella cheese, aged Egyptian ‘roomi’ cheese served with a side of spicy ‘shatta’ sauce.
Below: Our second last stop was a local restaurant specialising in Emirati food. We ate ‘Sherbet Adas’ (lentil soup), ‘lama madfoon’ (goat traditionally slow cooked underground) with ‘Bukhari’, ‘Kabsa’ and ‘Machboos’ rice. We also tried the delicious ‘daqoos’ (spicy tomato and green chilli sauce.)
Below: Our final stop is a Persian sweets shop where we try ‘Faloodeh’ (icy sweetened noodles with rosewater and lemon juice) and saffron ice cream. It is very sweet, which I love, and tastes like nothing I have ever had before!
J&G STEAKHIUSE @ ST REGIS
It is incredible to think that we could eat again that WEEK, let alone that same day, after our morning and afternoon pilgrimage but…. here we are! At The St Regis hotel’s J&G Steakhouse!
“The J&G Steakhouse offers aÂ sophisticated collectionÂ of American steakhouse favourites presented with a modern flair.” says the restaurants website, and it’s spot on.Â We are all very excited to experience everything on offer.
It’s ‘Tomahawk Tuesday’! So, no prizes for guessing what we ordered first….
On top of the incredible Tomahawk we also ateÂ a huge selection of sides and starters… oh and mains and desserts… see below!
Below: Crispy baby calamari with basil salt and lemon dip.
Below: Grilled black pepper octopus.
Below: Black truffle fritters with ComtÃ© Cheese.
Below: The TOMAHAWK!
Below: The mustard trolley.
Below: AACo Master Kobe MB11 – melted in the mouth!
Below: Creamed spinach.
Below: TruffleÂ macaroni and cheese.
Below: Potato gratin with ComtÃ© Cheese.
Below: We tried all of the desserts but this was my favourite; Salted caramel parfait with popcorn and chocolate sauce.
I was incredibly sad to wake up with the realisation that today we would be leaving the St Regis and heading home. “I want to stay here longggggger!” I cried to my travel companions – they also agreed!
There was no way I was leaving Dubai without trying the amazing breakfast on offer at the St Regis! I started my meal with my favourite drink; Mint and Lime Dubai ‘Lemonade.’ I then proceeded to work my way through the fresh pastries, the smoked salmon and the multiple types of labneh cheese. It was all scrumptious! Check below for some snaps;
Below: Dubai ‘lemonade.’
Below: Fresh Madeleines
Below: Chocolate croissants.
Below: Za’atar croissants.
Below: doughnuts, muffins and pastries.
Below: Za’atar labneh balls in olive oil.
Below: Chilli and za’atar labneh.
Below” Smoked salmon, fresh bread and freshly squeezed orange juice.
Below: Mini za’atar manoushe.
So there you have it. My trip of a lifetime, all summed up! BUT I don’t think ‘trip of a lifetime’ is the right way to describe it, as that implies it was a one off and won’t happen again, and I can tell you RIGHT HERE and RIGHT NOW I am doing everything in my power to ensure that I get back there (with my husband and kids this time) as soon as possible!
We are looking at possibly travelling to Greece over the summer and Dubai is the PERFECT stop over destination for anyone wanting to go to Europe from Australia. After everything you’ve seen above, it is obvious that no matter whether you have a few days to spare on your stopover or simply 8 hours, there is PLENTY of reason for you to get out of the airport and out of your hotel and START EATING!
I was so impressed with the level of service every single step along the way on my trip and also by the amountÂ of genuine and heart-felt hospitality shown to me by all of the locals, from people in the souks to the malls to the cafes and small, local restaurants. I could not speak more highly of a city. And that’s the honest truth.