Monday, August 3, 2009

Dining in Dubai vs. Dining in Toronto

I came home today and saw an interesting new comment on my post on blandness.

The commenter, Ah pois, seemed taken aback by my apparent preference for food in Canada over food in the Middle East. The issue is a little more complicated than that, but overall, I do prefer a great deal of food in Canada to what's available in the Middle East.

Why that is, is simple - variety.

You could be reductive, and hold that Canadian food consists of pemmican, maple syrup, beavertails, and maybe moose meat. But in truth, Canada has a much more varied cuisine than most people know.

In Dubai, I can get Arabic food, great Arabic food, incredible Arabic food. I love it to death, and I will miss it terribly when I am gone. But Arabic food really is not very varied, consisting of a combination of meat (kebabs, chicken legs), hummous, bread (pita bread), yogurt, and salad (fattoush, or tabouleh).

Like I said, the food is good, but you can tire of it quickly. So then what do you eat? Good Italian is hard to find in Dubai for a decent price. Greek food? Sorry, no gyros, since few restaurants use pork. Chinese? Nope, all you can find is either Indian-Chinese or Asian-Fusion. If hakka noodles and chicken lollipops suit your fancy, then power to you, but good luck finding any hot pot, or congee. Caribbean? Forget it. Mexican? Second rate Tex-Mex is all there is. Thai? To date I have found only one or two restaurants that can make a passable pad thai, and forget about masaman beef. Korean? Sorry, but you are not going to find good bibimbap or kimchee around these parts. Japanese? Perhaps. There are a few good sushi joints, but forget about finding decent ramen or gyoza. Vietnamese? Nowhere to be found around here.

Better yet, how about a place that serves roast beef with gravy, roast potatoes, with freshly picked steamed carrots, broccoli, and green beans, with a pile of cobs of peaches and cream corn on the side? Sorry, but you are totally out of luck. How about mashed turnip, butternut squash, or mashed potatoes? What passes for those here is not usually edible.

Dubai is great if you love Arabic food, South Asian food, or fast food, but for anything else, you are generally out of luck. And of those three, Arabic food usually sits in your stomach like a brick, most Indian (and pretty much ALL South Indian) food leaves you looking for the Pepto-Bismol, and fast food? No explanation needed.

Wait, I forgot. You can also get good Filipino food in Dubai, but other than pancit, I don't know many non-Filipinos who got out of their way for that cuisine.

But in Toronto...

Want Bún bò Huế or Banh Mi? Head on down Spadina, and while you are there, pick up some awesome Baozi, or the best freshly made pan fried dumplings you will find anywhere. Feel like a legendary gyro? Pop on over to the Danforth and head to Alexandros. Want Thai? There are countless places with excellent pad thai, and fresh spring rolls. Go over to Bloor and Christie, and take in some honest to god real Korean food. Head on up to Jane and Finch where you find some of the best curry goat and roti or jerk chicken you have ever tasted. In North York and Woodbridge there are numerous excellent Italian restaurants, and if you feel like hot pot or congee, then hurry on over to Markham or Vaughan.

But it doesn't end there. You also have every European cuisine available, in addition to French-Canadian cuisine (Poutine, anyone?, and even a few decent Mexican joints.

And as always, the ubiquitous selection of Canadian blandness - corn, carrots, peas, beans, cauliflower, potatoes, squash, turnip, beets, roast beef, baked ham, roast turkey, cod fillets, salmon steaks, gravy, yorkshire pudding, butter biscuits, buns, and numrous breads. On the side, you will fine any number of clear broth soups with different fresh ingredients, a plethora of different types of salads. And then there is dessert.

What I wouldn't give to have a freshly baked apple pie made with fresh apples, or peach cobbler, strawberry shortcake, get the idea.

All of it wholesome, savory, sweet, and satisfying.

Sure there are fewer excellent Indian restaurants in Toronto than Dubai, but that doesn't mean they're not there.

Oh, and before I forget, there is the subject of sanitation. Do you know how many people have gotten seriously ill or died here from food poisoning this year? More than a few. In fact, government inspections have found that a surprising number of joints here, especially in Sharjah, have not only been found to be unsanitary, but engage in unsanitary practices, turn the freezers and fridges off at night to save on electricity, change expiration dates, and knowingly sell expired food.

So in all, yes, I do definitely prefer the food situation back in Canada over what I can find here.


  1. Chinese, try China Times at Jumeira Plaza on Beach Road.
    Thai, try Royal Orchid at Marina Walk, Dubai Marina.
    Italian, for fresh, home-made pasta try La Dolce Vita at The Walk JBR. For pizza too, and there are also authentic pizzas at Scoozi and Napoletana, also at The Walk. More expensive, naturally, but good Italian food also from Don Corleone at the Metropolitan hotel on SZR, Capanna Nuova at Dubai Marine Beach Resort and Bussola at Westin Mina Seyahi.

  2. To be fair James, Dubai does have a plethora of restaurants other than Arabic cuisine which would obviously be readily available seeing we are the hub of Middle East suburbia..I can name a few more restaurants slightly easier on the pocket..for congee it would be Noodle Bowl on Diyafah street, Italian Stefanos behind Mall of the Emirates etc. etc. You gotta keep in mind that the majority of the expat population here is Indian so it would only be natural to have tons of them around here..
    Having said all of that, I do agree with the autheticity of dishes that are NOT readily available here not to mention the lack of Salad bars here (miss that terribly!)or even the very satisfying and filling $10 lunch special at the vietnamese 'Ginger' downtown yonge st. or even a Timmys at every corner for fresh timbits n delish French vanilla whenever u need sum comfort food! And abOVE EVERYTHING I completely agree with lack of hygiene in UAE..Best left unsaid!!
    Sigh.. missin Canuckland so much... :O/

  3. Landed on this post as I was writing my own comparisons of Dubai vs Toronto and I have to say I agree with the gist of what you are saying. The authentic diversity of Toronto food is not present in Dubai.

    However, speaking as a Muslim, everything in Dubai is halal and for some reason, even McDonalds tastes better in Dubai (perhaps they use real meat there!).

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    Actually, I've never seen a single restaurant out here refer to itself as selling "Arab/Middle Eastern Food." Arabic may be the name of a language, but it is also the name of a cuisine. The same goes for French, Chinese, Vietnamese, Italian, etc, & c.