Sure, the UAE is all about how many foods you can gild in gold, make as small as you possibly can on the largest plate, and make into gases that do nothing to sustain the hunger you’re eating the food for – but there is actually a raft of options on the other end of the spectrum too.
Steer clear of the main drags of the Marinas, the Downtowns and the Tourist Club Areas by a few blocks and we’ll bet your bottom dollar you’ll happen upon a little hole-in-the-wall canteen where the hummus costs Dh12 and the spicy potatoes aren’t just paprika fries.
If you’ve been too wrapped up in your gild-gilded, small-portioned, gassy bubble – yes, we’re here to tell you that you can feed yourself on a hearty meal for one-tenth of that experiment in gastronomy that actually made you kind of want to puke.
In fact, at most of these places you can have your fill for less than
1. Bait El Khetyar, Nadya
It’s not one of the well-known, cheap Lebanese joints around town, and it barely has an online footprint – but that shouldn’t deter you from this nondescript canteen-style eatery.
Nondescript from the outside it may be, but from the inside it’s actually fairly homely – with cosy stone walls and an open kitchen within the tiny interior; almost like pulling up a plate of shish touak in Mum and Dad’s dining room. It’s also generously portioned, fresh and just plain excellent food.
It seems a waste to fixate on the free stuff, but we were really enamoured with the piping-hot arabic bread. The shish touak is another absolute win – and for Dh25 a plate, you can get two for the price you’d pay for one elsewhere. Best of all? As far as Lebanese goes, this is cheaper than the cheap stuff. Articulate? No. Delicious? Yes.
Fried potatoes (fries): Dh10
8 Falafel: Dh10
Shish Taouak: Dh25
Free: Piping-hot arabic bread
Ever tried Circle Cafe? Yes? Well, I’m really obsessed with it, thus why I have to draw a comparison here. If you haven’t – then this entire entry is lost on you and you may aswell just forgo the entire thing. And my entire website actually because a human who doesn’t like Circle is no friend of mine.
This is like a poor man’s Circle Cafe – and I mean that in no way as a criticism. A salad bowl at Sumaq will ping you only Dh22 for the falafel variety, and you then get a choice of a couple dozen things to chuck in with it – with a maximum of SIXTEEN. I can barely count that high. And this isn’t your average condiment rodeo, oh no, the roasted red pepper hummus is better than you’ll find at Waitrose (we also really, really love Waitrose so this is just about sacrilege for us), the roasted potatoes are herby and crisp, and the leafy greens are far from limp. I haven’t tried yet, but one day I’m going to put them to the test and see how many of the sixteen ingredients can actually make it in before the box explodes.
Then: after they’ve clear blown your mind with the monumental choice of salady things – you’ll also get your choice of FIVE sauces. Just in case you wanted more mayo than lettuce (let’s be honest, who doesn’t). The portions are ridiculous too – so Sumaq is either contributing to the obesity epidemic via salad, or is exceptionally good at pleasing their customers. Because obesity via salad is the stupidest thing I’ve ever written, I’m going with the latter.
At less than half the price of a Superbowl Salad (I love you Circle but your prices hurt my poor, bandwagon-jumping wallet sometimes) and even less when there’s a 25 per cent off discount (which is often) and even less, less when ADCB cards get 20 per cent off (which is also often), you could end up paying a handful of coins for dinner.
They also do wraps and the such. But the bowls/ salads are our pick.
Tip: A falafel salad is Dh22, and a falafel bowl is Dh26. We have no idea what the difference is, but we’ve ordered both and they were exactly the same. We can only assume the extra Dh4 is for the trendy name.
One falafel salad feat. rocket, cucumber, tomatoes, sumac onions, roasted red pepper hummus, babaghanoush, sweet potato fries (it was an off day, okay), tomato and fattoush: Dh22
Whopping great side of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus: Dh16 (cause that sh*t is addictive)
Free: Well, nothing. But considering the amount of things in that bad boy and the plethora of discounts we just can’t imagine how they’re making money.