Organised by Dubai’s Festivals and Retail Establishment, the 11th edition of Dubai Food Festival (DFF) is set to enter its last week – signaling epicurean adventure-seekers to feast their senses.

The DFF began this year on April 19 and will conclude on May 12, showcasing exclusive menus by leading chefs at premium restaurants, with direct insight into their creative process.

The festival brings back the iconic 10 Dirham Dish pop-up, inviting everyone to try incredibly crafted dishes.

The food event will also feature more than 50 of Dubai’s popular culinary hotspots to cater to a wide range of audience.

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A new addition to this year’s festival is Chef’s Menu, taking place from May 1 to May 12, and offering an opportunity for both residents and visitors to immerse themselves in the fine dining experience.

Meanwhile, Dubai Restaurant Week will continue showcasing culinary highlights of 60 of city’s top dining establishments.

Apart from its architectural marvels and luxury experiences, Dubai has attracted tourists through its diverse culinary scene as well. These events offer just a glimpse of all that the emirate offers when it comes to ‘catering’ to a wide range of travellers.

In December 2023, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism (DET) released its second annual Gastronomy Industry Report that underlined the city’s growing status as a leading destination in the global landscape.

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The year 2023 saw a 61% surge in the amount residents were dining out in Dubai, and a significant increase in satisfaction with the food scene’s value for money among international visitors, the report added.

DFF’s profile continues to grow with hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors embracing the event. In 2023, the report said, beachside dining pop-up Etisalat by e& Beach canteen attracted more than 95,000 visitors in DFF, while more than 13,000 diners enjoyed the discounts and promotions during last year’s Dubai Restaurant Week.

Glitzy Dubai hungry for culinary fame

Dubai has been experiencing remarkable growth the last few years, exemplified by growth in the real-estate sector as well as the recent relaxation of visa policies.

This growth has also been reflected in its culinary scene with the increase of chef-helmed restaurants as well as Dubai earning its inaugural Michelin stars.

The city, widely known for towering skyscrapers and opulence, received a record 17 million international tourists in 2023, an increase of 19% compared to January-December 2022. This is no small feat.

Dubai Mall, located in the heart of the city’s downtown and adjacent to the Burj Khalifa, witnessed 105 million visitors in 2023, up 19% from 2022.

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At the same time, Dubai’s gastronomy industry today encompasses more than 13,000 restaurants and cafes - more per capita than New York City as per a feature published in The New York Times earlier this year.

Diversity on a plate

Dubai is a culinary treat that reflects the city’s vast ethnic diversity. Its culinary scene has successfully developed into a melting pot of tastes, ingredients, and cooking styles as it receives visitors from all over the world.

 Allo Beirut, a colourful roadside Lebanese restaurant in Dubai offering a full gamut from burgers and hot wraps to grilled meat platters, all served with chunky curved fries. - Photo credit: Allo Beirut
Allo Beirut, a colourful roadside Lebanese restaurant in Dubai offering a full gamut from burgers and hot wraps to grilled meat platters, all served with chunky curved fries. - Photo credit: Allo Beirut

Dubai boasts an array of restaurants offering cuisines from all parts of the world, including traditional Emirati dishes, Lebanese mezze, Indian curries, Japanese sushi, Italian pasta, and much more. This global culinary mosaic is a testament to the city’s openness and acceptance of different cultures.

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In recent years, Dubai has also witnessed the rise of innovative dining concepts, with celebrity chefs opening restaurants and pushing culinary boundaries.

 Inside of Indya by Vineet, a famous Indian restaurant in Dubai offering elevated versions of Indian cuisine in signature Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia. - Photo credit: Time Out Dubai
Inside of Indya by Vineet, a famous Indian restaurant in Dubai offering elevated versions of Indian cuisine in signature Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia. - Photo credit: Time Out Dubai

As per the 2023 gastronomy report, casual dining establishments were the most popular options in the city, followed by food courts, and street food vendors.

Rise of food delivery services

Dubai has long been recognised among the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) leading food delivery markets. The report states that growth has accelerated in recent years, thanks to the proliferation of new technologies - most notably increasingly sophisticated and convenient food ordering apps.

 A food delivery rider can be seen in the photo.
A food delivery rider can be seen in the photo.

Unlike Pakistan, the riders who deliver food in Dubai are seen with bikes in good condition and they have to comply with strict rules set by the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) for the safety of both the rider and food.

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In winter 2023, as per the report, food deliveries accounted for 87% of all online purchases made by residents in Dubai, compared to 73% during the same period the previous year.

Moreover, one in every 10 international visitors used food delivery apps during their stay in Dubai in 2023, with the visitors ordering online 2.7 times on average.

Traditional Emirati cuisine

The surge in food tourism in the city has also given a boost to restaurants that offer traditional Emirati cuisine. Social media has played a catalyst role in promoting local food among international visitors.

Dubai has experienced a significant rise in the popularity and prevalence of local food restaurants, reflecting a growing trend towards embracing traditional Emirati cuisine.

 Al Fanar, a vintage-style Emirati restaurant that uses age-old recipes and fresh local ingredients to create dishes that tell a story of heritage and flavour. - Photo credit: Al Fanar
Al Fanar, a vintage-style Emirati restaurant that uses age-old recipes and fresh local ingredients to create dishes that tell a story of heritage and flavour. - Photo credit: Al Fanar

Locals and expatriates can be seen at restaurants that offer traditional Emirati cuisine, featuring specialties such as Machboos (a spiced rice dish with meat or seafood), Harees (a savory porridge made with wheat and meat), and Luqaimat (sweet dumplings drizzled with date syrup).

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Emirati food also shares similarities with cuisines from neighboring countries, such as Omani and Saudi Arabian cuisines, as well as from different Middle Eastern and Asian cuisines.

Cashless food courts

Dubai’s food scene is advancing with cashless restaurants and food courts, a modern approach that offers convenience, efficiency, and enhanced customer experience.

 Time Out Market Dubai, a cashless culinary hotspot at Souk Al Bahar featuring 18 restaurants and three bars at one place. - Photo credit: Time Out
Time Out Market Dubai, a cashless culinary hotspot at Souk Al Bahar featuring 18 restaurants and three bars at one place. - Photo credit: Time Out

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In a bustling city like Dubai, where time is often of the essence, cashless payments streamline the ordering and checkout process. Customers can simply use their credit or debit cards, mobile payment apps to make purchases swiftly, avoiding the hassle of handling cash or waiting for change.

Final words

Dubai’s booming food scene is contributing to the city’s D33 agenda that aims to double the size of its economy by 2033, making it one of the top 3 cities for living, investing, and working.

Food is a universal language that promotes cultural exchange and fosters social connections. Dubai’s diverse culinary offerings appeal to visitors from around the world, enhancing the city’s reputation as a global tourism hub.

Maybe there is a lesson for Pakistan in it as well. One can boost tourism by focusing on the strengths. Pakistan needs to draw a page out of Dubai’s booming sectors, including gastronomy, and look inwards. Maybe then, Pakistan can move past offering its ailing state-owned entities and instead pitch its competitive sectors for investment.

The article does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Business Recorder or its owners

Rehan Ayub

The writer is a Senior Sub Editor at Business Recorder (Digital)

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