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Visiting Dubai

Published by Paul O'Sullivan in Internation Food · 31/7/2015 19:59:34
Tags: Dubai;ChefTarek;Lamb;AussieLamb;Aussiebeef

Lying by the hotel pool in a sauna, otherwise known as "Dubai in the summer", is a great time to reflect. This food adventurer is on the way home after a 5 week trip through Spain, France and Italy, packed with memories of welcoming people, great experiences, heavenly food and some bike riding!  
However, on our way home, Mrs Food Adventurer and I wanted to visit Dubai to catch up with Chef Tarek and the Meat and Livestock Australia marketing team. We hosted Chef Tarek on our property last year to film an "Aussie Lamb" promotional video, and now it was our turn to check out his turf.
During our travels, it’s the natural and cultural wonders that most impress us, but Dubai’s man made efforts had a real WOW factor. It’s a small nation made wealthy by oil since the late 60’s, and ruled by some clever sheiks. Realising that oil revenue wouldn’t last forever, (oil now supplies only 7% of the country’s revenue) they embarked on infrastructure development to stimulate industry – in particular transport, tourism, education, IT and health industries were prioritised. And it’s often quoted  "if you build it, they will come" – well, try 100 million visitors to the Dubai mall annually!
And they’re not short of ego! They boast the highest building in the world, the biggest shopping mall, longest metro, world’s biggest fountain, world’s richest horse race, and to be built soon is their own version of the London "eye", but bigger! You get the picture!! And then of course, what every desert country needs – an indoor ski field with 5 runs, ice rink and giant aquarium. If you can put aside your concerns about the environmental impact of all this consumption for a second, the scale of development on this patch of sand just makes you shake your head in disbelief.
On the back of their winning bid to host the 2020 World Expo, further development is planned – including 100 high rise 5 star hotels, and a new international airport has already been built (I’m guessing it’s the largest in the world??).
So, we arrived in Dubai around midnight - "temperature currently 37 degrees, with 45 degrees forecast for the next day" says the pilot upon landing. Fantastic was the obvious response! A thick haze engulfed the city for most of our 2 day visit – apparently a mix of heat haze, fine dust from the desert and a bit of smog – it cleared on our last night to present a sea of lights stretching upwards and outwards to the horizon.
Touring the city and malls, an (unofficial?) hierarchical class system was obvious. The wealthy Emirati locals were clearly at the top, with literally hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers from Malaysia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, India and others at the bottom, providing the manual labour and services. We were told there is also a middle class, comprised of a mix of locals and immigrants who have done well. Regardless of class, everyone we met were friendly to these Australians, and crime is not really an issue.
But what about the food?
First and foremost Dubai is an Islamic country, so halal food is a must. This meat producer doesn’t have a problem with that, as Australia is well organised to provide meat according to this protocol, but don’t go looking for pork on the meat shelves. There is "beef" bacon or turkey bacon available on the breakfast menu, but trust me – based on appearance and taste, don’t go there! Chicken is consumed in large quantities, being the cheapest source of meat protein, mostly imported from South America.
While most of the food is imported, some local corporations are developing some clever large scale farming operations alongside the traditional small producers. For example there are 2 herds of 20000 dairy cows, providing fresh milk – apparently yarded year round with feed largely imported. 120km down the road at Abu Dhabi a range of fresh produce is grown in large green houses, although again, this really only supplements the imported product.
The 45 degree heat and the short duration of our stay meant we explored little further than the air-conditioned supermarkets and our hotel restaurant for food adventures. My experience is that supermarkets vary little around the world, except for the packaging, place of origin and a few local specialities, and this was the case here. However, we did see a stunning range of spices for sale. Fortunately our hotel’s restaurant came highly recommended on two accounts – it sources Australian lamb and beef for its menu, and our friend Chef Tarek works with the executive chef to perfect the lamb and beef dishes.

So we caught up with celebrity Chef Tarek filming on location to promote Weber’s new range of BBQs cooking Australian beef and lamb. (He reminded us of his television audience reach of 300 million across the Middle East and northern Africa)  The backdrop to the filming was a marble and gold trimmed mansion, apparently built by a sheik for his young Moroccan lover – story goes she left him shortly after completion, and he was so devastated he couldn’t look at the house, so sold it immediately, fully furnished.
Like a true professional, Tarek withstood the high temperatures to cook outside over a hot BBQ, taking time to ensure the turning action and "sizzle" was perfect for the film crew. Apparently they were filming him in the desert the following day to demonstrate the versatility of their portable range of BBQs! God (or Allah) only knows how hot that would be.
So back at the restaurant we were treated to some lovely lamb dishes. There were the lamb seekh kebabs, made from lamb mince and Indian spices, served with a flavoursome sauce of mint, coriander and lime. However, the lamb shank Rogan Josh stole the day. It was a superb curry, and the chef was kind enough to join us after the meal to explain the recipe.
The dish was made up from the meat off one shank, and a second cooked on the bone. Spices included turmeric, garlic, cumin, coriander and masala, cooked in corn oil, with tomato paste added. The recipe is a bit more detailed, so we thought we’d give it trial run, then pass on all the details and directions.

Heading for home, r



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