A Global Taste Tour of the Capital
ABU DHABI WEEK |
Food is just one of the many magical journeys one can take in this city of futuristic skyscrapers, ancient mosques and towering minarets.
The capital’s myriad restaurants afford residents and visitors the opportunity to tour world cuisine, experience one another’s cultures, enjoy a taste of home, or discover something entirely new. I’m proud to introduce to you a comprehensive guide to taking a taste bud tour of the world right here in Abu Dhabi.
Africa and the Middle East
The food of the Middle East and Africa has been cross-pollinating for many thousands of years through trade, conquering armies and travel. The cuisine of the various countries and peoples of the Middle East and Africa are diverse, but the food does share central themes in common.
The Middle East is a vast swathe of territory, whose boundaries include everywhere from the Asian side of Istanbul to the west to the Omani tip of the Arabian Peninsula to the east. Some might argue the theoretical border goes as far as Pakistan if we factor in culture and religion.
The history of its cuisine starts in the region once known as the “Fertile Crescent” (the intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), where wheat was first cultivated, followed by barley, pistachios, figs, pomegranates and dates. These early people discovered the process of fermentation and were the first to leaven bread so we can thank the present-day Iraqis for our love fest with carbs.
The region effectively served as the crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa as the long-standing centre of food and recipe interchange. During the Persian Empire, the foundation was laid for modern Middle-Eastern food when rice, poultry and various fruits were incorporated into the local diets.
Mongol invaders also influenced the region, introducing dumplings, turmeric, cumin, garlic and other spices from India. The Moors of Spain are thought to have introduced cloves, peppercorns and allspice from the Spice Islands; okra from Africa; and tomatoes from the New World.
Religion has also had an impact on the cuisine. Due to dietary restrictions on certain meats, lamb became a staple and the region has all but perfected its preparation.
The people of the Middle East have a sweet tooth like no other. Under the Ottoman Empire, sweet pastries of paper-thin phyllo dough and dense coffee were introduced to the region from Europe and many syrupy sweet desserts were born. But the native date will always serve as the most beloved natural sweetener around.
African food varies by regions and, again, owes many characteristics to foreign influence. Ingredients brought in by traders, invaders and migrants have heavily influenced the food of North Africa. The Arabs introduced spices such as saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Wheat and its by-product, semolina, were introduced early on. The nomadic Berbers adapted semolina into couscous, and it became a staple of the region.
Cattle are regarded as a symbol of wealth across Africa, so while farmers may use them for dairy products, they do not for their meat. Many people in the South and East rely mainly on grains, beans and vegetables and fruit, and fish for those living close to water.
Maize was introduced during the slave trade between Africa and the Americas. As it was inexpensive and its preparation simple, it became a foundation for African cuisine and still is to this day. Maize flour is cooked with water to form a stiff porridge or made into dough that is served with sauces or stews.
The cuisine in the west of Africa relies on heavy starchy foods that provide fast energy. West Africans prefer their food spicy and seasoned with hot spices and chilli peppers or peanut sauces.
Take a culinary tour of the Middle East and Africa. Try to distinguish the similarities and where the gastronomies crossed while dually noticing the regional differences.
A taste of the region
The cuisine of the Middle East and Africa are diverse but do share some common ingredients, such as spices, lentils and fresh herbs. In the Middle East, commonly used ingredients include olives and olive oil, pitas, honey, sesame seeds, dates, sumac, chickpeas, mint and parsley. While in Africa, one is likely to find locally available fruits, cereal grains and vegetables, as well as milk and meat products, which are rarely imported. In some parts of the continent, the traditional diet features a lot of milk, curd and whey products. Any Middle Eastern restaurant can be judged on its mezze – order hot and cold dishes, expect tasty hummus, and look for kibbeh and meat mixed grills that have genuine flavour rather than the bland stodge that can sometimes turn up.
Biryani male is a rice dish transformed with interesting local spice infusions topped with dried Omani limes. Rubyan meshwi is made from the sweet and meaty prawns that are local to the Arabian Gulf.
Northern and Central African cuisine is perhaps best known for its stews and porridges served with bread to help you mop up the last bits. Try West African jollof rice for a carbalicious treat. South Africa is another meat-oriented area with top barbeque techniques and European-inspired specialities like boerwors sausages.
Emirati food explained
Visitors to the UAE are of course eager to sample the local cuisine but can often be left a little baffled as to specifically what they should be asking for.
That is perhaps because like the rest of the region the food is a mélange of many influences. Emirati cuisine has also been shaped by modern techniques and flavours while still retaining an overriding traditional character. Expect a medley of spices such as turmeric, saffron, cinnamon and nutmeg mixed with a good smattering of dried fruits and nuts such as almonds and pistachios. This will of course be coupled with fresh herbs such as coriander, mint and thyme.
Traditional Emirati food includes slow-cooked stews, gently spiced and roasted meats and fish and fragrant rice dishes, many of which take their inspiration from Indian biryani meals. You can also find tasty folded pastries and of course salads with unflinching flavours.
The historic Bedouin culture was nomadic calling for a reliance on rugged animals like chicken and goat for their meat. To get a taste of this bygone life, the localised version of the Yemeni mendi-style of slow roasting either lamb, chicken or fish in a pit is certainly a must.
The annual Qasr Al Hosn Festival is also a marvellous opportunity to try a host of Emirati treats cooked before your eyes, including luqaimat sweet dumplings, a Ramadan favourite. In the meantime eateries in Abu Dhabi where you can enjoy local cuisine include Café Arabia opposite Mushrif Park, Al Maqam at Arabian Nights, where you dine in a barasti-themed dining hall, Al Arish in Al Dhafra Tourist Village and Mezlai in the grand setting of Emirates Palace.
Abd El Wahab Souk Qaryat Al Beri Lebanese 02 558 1616
Abd El Wahab The Collection, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Lebanese 02 677 2238
Abi Al Fida Al Zahiyah Lebanese, Arabic 02 644 6511
Abu Dhabi Oasis Kitchen & Restaurant Behind Madinat Zayed Shoppping Centre, Near ADDC, Madinat Zayed Emirati & Gulf 02 563 1103
Abu Kaabi Restaurant & Grills Al Khalidiyah Lebanese 02 666 6854
Abul Nawas Al Dhafrah Arabic, Lebanese 02 642 2322
Abu Shakrah Off 9th Street, Al Zahiyah Arabic, Egyptian 02 644 7770
Abu Yousef Restaurant & Grill Mussafah Arabic 02 552 6100
Abyan Al Khalidiyah Middle Eastern 02 665 5545
Aish & Zaafaran Restaurant Behind Emirates Islamic Bank and Choithrams, 9th Street, Al Khalidiya Middle Eastern, Kuwaiti 02 667 0477
Al Akkawi Cafeteria Near Mina Zayed Fish Market Area, Al Mina Arabic, shawarma 02 446 3690
Al Arish Near Mina Port, Fish Market Area, Al Mina, Abu Dhabi Arabic 02 673 2266
Al Asalah Marina Village Seafood www.alasalahrestaurants.com 02 681 2188
Al Bathna Restaurant Armed Forces Officers Club Emirati www.afoc.mil.ae 02 497 5169
Al Dahfra Al Mina, Abu Dhabi Emirati 02 673 2266
Al Falaj Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort, Liwa Desert, Middle East, BBQ 02 886 2088
Al Fanar Venetian Village, Ritz Carlton Abu Dhabi Authentic Emirati cuisine www.venetianvillage.ae/al-fanar 02 448 1144
Al Fanr Manarat al Saadiyat Middle East, Emirati www.fanrrestaurant.ae 02 657 5888
Al Fannous Grills & Restaurant Al Khalidiya Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 666 3250
Al Fawar Restaurant Arabian, Middle Eastern, Lebanese 02 449 4051
Al Habib Restaurant Opposite Sky Net Worldwide Express, Near Modern Bakery, Hamdan Street, Tourist Club Area (Al Zahiyah) Arabian, Indian 02 672 1688
Al Habshva Restaurant Al Zahiyah, Abu Dhabi Ethiopian www.alhabasharestaurant.com 02 644 4826
Al Hawamir Seafood Restaurant Al Manhal Seafood 02 633 3996
Al Jazeerah Subaldeen Building, Al Falah Street, Tourist Club Area (Al Zahiyah) Fast Food 02 644 2241
Al Liwan Najda, Abu Dhabi Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 622 1255
Al Mayass Sheraton Hotel & Resort, Corniche Road Lebanese, Armenian 02 644 0440
Almaz by Momo The Galleria, Al Maryah island Middle Eastern, Moroccan 02 418 2533
Al Naseem Bar Novotel Gate Hotel, Al Maqtaa Arabian, Middle Eastern, American 02 508 9999
Al Rabeeh Restaurant Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Street (Hamdan Street) Middle Eastern, Lebanese 02 674 4124
Al Raousha Mussafah Lebanese 02 551 4060
Al Raousha Khalifa Street Lebanese 02 627 2637
Al Rayan Restaurant & coffee shop Al Khalidiya Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 665 9906
Al Safadi Restaurant & Grills Al Khalidiya Lebanese 02 666 0201
Al Safeer Restaurant Mazyad Mall, Mussafah Middle Eastern, Shawarma 02 559 1855
Al Sayad Marine Restaurant & Grills Muroor Arabian, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Seafood www.alsayyad-ad.com 02 444 4712
Al Shaderwan Restaurant Tourist Club Area Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 645 5400
Al Tazaj Fakieh BBQ Chicken Restaurant Hamdan Street Arabic www.tazauae.com 02 633 7303
Al Waha Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort Arabian, Middle Eastern, International 02 886 2088
Al Wahda All Day Dining Grand Millennium Al Wahda Arabian, Middle Eastern, Asian, Italian, European, International 02 443 9999
Atayeb Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Yas Island Middle Eastern, Arabic 02 656 0600
Automatic Restaurant Tourist Club Area Middle Eastern, Shawarma 02 676 9677
Automatic Restaurant and Grill Channel St Middle Eastern, Shawarma 02 556 2354
Awtar Restaurant Al Zahiyah, Abu Dhabi Middle Eastern, Arabic 02 644 1551
Azura The St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Corniche Middle Eastern 02 694 4553
Bait Al Mandi & Madhbi Al Khalidiya Emirati, Mandi, Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 633 7713
Bait Al Mandi Al Madhbi Mussafah Emirati, Mandi 055 994 4253
Bait El Khetyar Al Najda Street, Najda Middle Eastern, Lebanese 02 418 2556
Bait Yaffa Al Nahyan Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 418 2483
Barouk Crowne Plaza Yas Island Lebanese, Mediterranean 02 656 3068
BBQ Al Qasr Emirates Palace Hotel Barbecue 02 690 7999
Beirut Restaurant & Grills Al Wahda Mall Lebanese 02 443 7644
Bonna Annee Restaurant Tourist Club Area Ethiopian 02 491 2128
Boubouffe Yas Mall Lebanese www.boubouffe-uae.com 02 448 7474
Bshawarma Reem Island Lebanese, Shawarma www.bshawarma.com 02 666 7227
Bu Tafish Seafood Hamdan Street Lebanese, Seafood 02 418 2438
Bu Tafish Seafood Khalifa City A Lebanese, Seafood 02 556 5477
Byblos Sur Mer InterContinentalHotel, Abu Dhabi Lebanese www.byblossurmer.com 02 666 6888
Café Arabia Al Karamah, opposite Mushrif Central Park Arabian café restaurant www.facebook.com/CafeArabia 02 643 9699
Café Bateel Yas Mall Arabic café www.bateel.com 02 565 0244
Café Bateel The Galleria, Al Maryah Island Arabic café www.bateel.com 02 671 2337
Cafe Blanc Eastern Mangroves Promenade Lebanese 02 677 9881
Cedar Lounge Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Bain Al Jessrain Lebanese 02 654 3238
Dine Aloft Abu Dhabi, ADNEC Arab, Middle Eastern, Seafood, International 02 654 5000
Dish Dash Yas Mall Middle Eastern, Arabic 02 565 0601
Escape Restaurant Hilton Abu Dhabi Cafe, Arabic, Middle Eastern www3.hilton.com 02 681 1900
Esfahan Yas Mall Persian, Arabic www.alkhajauae.com 055 400 3971
Flooka Eastern Mangroves Promenade Lebanese, Seafood www.flooka.com 02 441 8244
Foodlands Madinat Zayed Shawarma www.foodlands.com 02 631 1150 / 02 617 3133
Galito’s Al Wahda Mall African, Portuguese www.galitos.ae 02 643 8221
Galito’s Dalma Mall African, Portuguese www.galitos.ae 02 447 8912
Galito’s Yas Mall African, Portuguese www.galitos.ae 02 565 1849
Hatam Marina Mall Persian, Arabic 02 681 8585
Istanbouli Madinat ZayedTurkish 02 621 2557
Kahraman Southern Sun, Mina Road Middle Eastern bit.ly/22HoFc4 02 818 4888
Kamoon Khalidiya Palace by Rayhaan, opposite Emirates Palace Lebanese, Arabic bit.ly/1VI3Nj4 02 657 0111
Koshari Factory Tourist Club Area Egyptian 02 673 3733
Kuwaiti Cuisine Opposite Gulf Piping Company, M20, Mussafah Middle Eastern, Kuwaiti 02 558 8831
L’Auberge Al Markaziya Lebanese 02 627 3070
Lebanese Flower Restaurant Al Dhafrah Lebanese, Arabic 02 665 8700
Lebanese Flower Restaurant Al Zahiyah Lebanese, Arabic 02 642 4208
Lebanese Flower Restaurant Khalidyah Mall, Mussafah Lebanese, Arabic 02 665 9423
Lebanese Flower Restaurant Mazyad Mall, Mussafah Lebanese, Arabic 02 665 9423
Lebanese Flower Restaurant Near Alam Supermarket, Muroor Road, Muroor Lebanese, Arabic 02 448 8130
Lebanese Flower Restaurant Near Lebanese Flower Bakery, Al Manhal Area Lebanese, Arabic 02 665 8700
Le Boulanger Marina Breakwater Café, Lebanese 02 441 8000
Lemon Tree Holiday Inn Abu Dhabi, 31st Street Lebanese, Middle Eastern bit.ly/1WKAESC 02 657 4888
Li Beirut Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Middle Eastern, Lebanese 02 811 5666
Liwan Mansour Al Khalidiya Middle Eastern, Lebanese 02 666 0201
Ma Wal Emirates Palace Lebanese 02 690 8990
Meylas Al Muneera Emirati www.meylas.com 02 444 8884
Mezlai Emirates Palace Emirati 02 960 7740
Milas Souq Qaryat Al Beri Arabian 02 558 0425
Mijana The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal Contemporary Lebanese bit.ly/1UymVz2 02 418 2573
Mono Defense Road, opposite Dar Al Shifa Hospital, Al Dhafra Lebanese, Shawarma 02 641 6655
Nolu’s Downtown The Galleria, Al Maryah Island Afghani, Café 02 644 1516
Oceana Grill Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi Seafood, Arabian 02 617 0000
Osha Gourmet Masdar City Emirati 02 555 3575
Rozanah Yas Marina, Yas Island Lebanese www.rozanah.ae 02 496 3411
Sambusek Rosewood Hotel, Al Maryah Lebanese fine dining bit.ly/1Uyp2CP 02 813 5552
Saudi Kitchen Defence Road, Al Nahyan Saudi Arabian 02 641 8488S
Savannah Grill & Lounge Al Sahel Villa Resort, Sir Bani Yas Island African grill bit.ly/1PsOnYe 02 801 4300
Sennara One to One Hotel – The Village Lebanese seafood bit.ly/253Ja4I 02 495 2000
Shish Shawerma Al Khalidiya Lebanese, Street food www.shishshawerma.com 02 650 5576
Steers Yas Mall Burger www.steersme.com 02 565 1624
Studio Masr Yas Mall Egyptian www.cdlc.ae 02 575 8301
Tarbouche al Basha World Trade Center MallLebanese, Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 304 8076
The Meat Co. Souq Qaryat Al Beri Steakhouse www.themeatco.com 02 558 1713
Urban Kitchen Dusit Thani, Sultan Bin ZayedThe First Street Arabian, Middle Eastern, European, International 02 418 2495
Wafi Gourmet Nation Galleria, West Corniche, Al Khubeirah Lebanese, Moroccan, Seafood, Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 665 6077
Yadoo’s House Al Muroor Street Emirati www.yadooshouse.com 02 441 1311
Zaatar W Zeit Abu Dhabi Mall Lebanese, Arabian, Middle Eastern 600 522 231
Zaatar W Zeit Al Salam Street Lebanese, Arabian, Middle Eastern 600 522 231
Zaatar W Zeit Corniche Lebanese, Arabian, Middle Eastern 02 642 6551
Zaytinya Seef Village Mall, near Khalifa Park Middle Eastern, Lebanese 02 447 4489
Zyara Near Hilton Corniche Apartments, Khalifa Street, Al Markaziyah Lebanese 02 627 5007
The Indian subcontinent
If you think spice is nice, take a culinary tour of the Indian subcontinent. As varied as the cuisine is within this enormous landmass includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and (arguably) Myanmar as well as India, the food is characterised by spice masalas that will blow your mind – not to mention your top, if you are unaccustomed to the flavour bomb effect.
Given the diversity in climate, culture and ethnic groups, India’s cuisines vary significantly, primarily using local spices, herbs, vegetables and fruits. Indian food is also heavily influenced by religious and cultural traditions, in addition to the Central Asian influence on North Indian cuisine from the years of Mughal rule.
Just as with the Americas, foreign invasions, trade and colonialism have also played a role in the introduction of certain foods to Indian cuisine. The Portuguese introduced the potato – now a staple of the modern Indian diet – as well as the chilli pepper (via Mexico in the 16th century). Think about how that changed the cuisine forever!
History has also shaped the area’s cuisine. The spice trade between India and Europe has long been cited as the primary catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery. Spices were bought from India and traded around Europe and Asia. India’s culinary traditions have influenced other cuisines through trade, especially those from Southeast Asia, the British Isles, Fiji, and the Caribbean.
Westerners are perhaps most familiar with the Mughal-style dishes of North Indian food, which is what you will commonly find in Indian restaurants throughout most of the world. This style of food is best known for its tandoor oven, not too different to a clay pizza oven; tandoori cooking – which is essentially grilling – imparts a smoky, roasted flavour to its meats and flatbreads.
The food of the southern provinces, such as Goa and Kerala and Chennai, features more use of chilli peppers, heavy spicing and seafood. Goa, which was colonised by the Portuguese, may be the most familiar to westerners as it has a very European feel to it.
The other characteristic of food from the region is the way it has been exported – you will find no shortage of Indian restaurants wherever you are. There has been a lot of modification, in particular with the invention of dishes like chicken tikka masala to appeal to European palates and the arrival of fine-dining treatments. But you know what you are going to get, and it will probably be very, very good.
The spice is right but tread carefully
Novices and the fearful should stick to creamy and flavourful favourites, such as chicken tikka masala, butter chicken and pilau rice. Scoop it up or clean your plate with a heaping basket of garlic-buttered naan.
The braver will look beyond the meat dishes. They are so hearty and heady, they can convert even the most sceptical carnivore into a veg head.
Though most of us are familiar with an aromatic high street curry or chicken tikka, the typical diet of most people on the Indian subcontinent is based around grain and legume staples such as pearl millet, rice, wholewheat flour, lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans. These produce distinctive curries.
The most frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli peppers, black mustard seed, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, ginger, coriander and garlic. Each region, often each family, has a distinctive garam masala blend, which typically includes five or more dried spices, usually cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.
Diners from other parts of the world do not necessarily associate Indian cuisine with desert and for westerners without much as a point of reference, it can be hard to decipher what is on your plate and how you should eat it. So here is a quick guide to three of the favourite sweet Indian treats:
Also known as the Indian donuts, gulab jamun are the deep-fried dumplings that have been soaked in sugar water laced with rose. Those with a sweet tooth will not be able to stop at one, but too many can be sickly.
Often made of chickpea flour, semolina or ground coconut depending on the region, these ball shaped sweets are cooked into a paste and rolled when cool. There is also a deep fried variation to savour known as boondi ke ladoo.
Wonderfully sweet and dense kulfi is a popular frozen dairy dessert coming in a conical shape and much sought after in the hot and humid Indian summers. It’s traditionally made from milk alone and simmered for hours with a lovely nutty flavour.
Abara Refreshment Al Khalidiyah Indian 02 665 9361
Abu Ashraf Restaurant Mussafah Pakistani 02 552 8142
Abu Fayiz Restaurant Mussafah Indian, Pakistani 02 552 1148
Airlines Restaurant Opposite Abu Dhabi Plaza Hotel Apartments, Near Wearmart, Al Markaziya, Indian 02 633 5214
Al Badiya Restaurant Tilal Liwa Hotel, Near Liwa City, Indian 02 894 6111
Al Bathna Armed Forces Officers Club & Hotel, Al Maqtaa Indian 02 497 5100
Al Ekram Restaurant Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi Indian 02 639 8000
Al Fujairah Restaurant Al Markaziya Pakistani 02 677 5628
Al Ibrahimi Restaurant Al Jazira Royal Hotel Pakistani 02 632 3344
Anand Vegetarian Restaurant Hamdan Street, Al Markaziya Vegetarian Indian 02 677 5599
Angar Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Yas Island Indian 02 656 0600
Anjappar Al Khalidiya Indian 02 666 7763
Anjappar Chettinad Restaurant Mussafah Indian 02 552 2031
Arab Udupi Al Dhafrah, opposite Central Hospital Indian 02 634 3325
Arab Udupi Tourist Club Indian 02 650 3181
Arab Udupi Deerfields Townsquare Indian 02 563 2215
Arab Udupi Mussafah Indian 02 552 9983
Arab Udupi World Trade Center Mall Indian 02 658 8331
Arya Bhavan Restaurant Al Dhafrah Indian 02 445 0909
Asha’s Yas Mall Indian 02 492 6680
Athena Food Court, Level 3, Abu Dhabi Mall, Tourist Club Area Indian 02 645 0060
Avasa The Collection, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Contemporary Indian 02 674 2221
Bhavna Restaurant Liwa Street, Al Markaziya Indian, vegetarian 02 677 4288
Biryani Pot The Galleria, Al Maryah Island Indian 02 676 6555
Bombay Chowpatty Al Wahda Mall Indian 02 418 2484
Bombay Chowpatty Dalma Mall Indian 02 418 2422
Chapphan Bhog Najda Street, behind ADNOC Indian, Vegetarian 02 677 8864
Evergreen Beside Eldorado Cinema, Electra Street, Al Markaziyah Indian 02 676 7361
Flavours of India Al Khalidiya, Golden Curtain Building 02 418 2521
Ghee Rice Electra Street, Najda Indian www.gheerice.com 02 418 2532
India Palace Salam Street, Al Zahiyah Indian www.indiapalace.ae 02 418 2453
Indigo Beach Rotana Hotel Indian, North Indian www.rotana.com 02 697 9011
Jumanah Malabar Restaurant Al Wahda Mall Indian, Malabar www.jumanahs.com 02 621 1133
Kababs and Kurries Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach, Indian 02 552 6900
Kababs and Kurries World Trade Center Souq Indian 02 628 2522
Kerala Thanima Madinat Zayed Shopping Center Indian, Kerala 02 418 2444
Konkans Restaurant Najda Street Indian 02 676 0588
Kwality Near LuLu Centre, Salam Street, Al Markaziyah Indian 02 672 7337
Lazeez Al Markaziya Indian 02 677 7070
Moti Mahal Salam Street, behind Adnoc, near ADCB 02 674 2121
Nihal Al Markaziya Indian, Chinese 02 631 8088
Peppermill Al Wahda Mall Indian 02 622 5586
Peppermill Bawabat Al Sharq Mall Indian 02 585 9581
Peppermill Eastern Mangroves Promenade Indian 02 441 3582
Punjab Grill Venetian Village, Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Contemporary North Indian bit.ly/1Vyh65B 02 304 8071
Rangoli Yas Rotana Indian bit.ly/1DYfefL 02 656 4000
Rangoli Yas Island Rotana Indian fine dining bit.ly/253WDJT 02 656 4000
Ritaj Al Markaziya Indian 02 631 0036
Salam Bombay Electra Street Indian, vegetarian 02 677 7076
Salam Bombay Al Muroor Road Indian, vegetarian 02 446 3040
Salam Bombay Mussafah Indian, vegetarian 02 554 2229
Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor Nation Galleria, Corniche West Indian fine dining www.signaturebysanjeevkapoor.com 02 666 4343
Student Biryani Al Makaziya, near Central Market Indian 02 622 2898
Tandoori Corner Tandoori Corner Al Wahda, Abu Dhabi Indian 02 445 8686
Udupi Mussafah, next to Fresh and More Supermarket, M11 Indian, Chinese 02 552 0851
Ushna Souq Qaryat Al Beri, between the bridges Indian fine dining www.facebook.com/UshnaFineDining 02 558 1769
Via Delhi Salam Street Indian 02 304 8112
Think of America and burgers, fries and KFC probably spring to mind. Or you might think of deep-dish pizza, Buffalo wings or apple pie.
But the American food landscape is more diverse, and more healthy too. The same people that brought you the dollar heart attack in a paper wrap – the quarter pounder – are also responsible for ceviche, tacos, vegan food and the health food craze of the 1980s.
And ‘America’ is a big place. It’s two expansive continents, for a start. So it’s hard to sum up American cuisine in just a few words … but it’s an entertaining exercise, so let’s try.
We’ll start with North America and travel south.
The food of the US and Canada is as varied as the two nations are large, but they have been heavily influenced by the European nations that colonised them and the traditions of the nations that they border.
You are as likely to find traditional English fish and chips in Boston, for example, as you are to find a steaming bowl of the Spanish seafood dish paella in New Orleans. Likewise, you will stumble on more cups of café con leche (Cuban coffee with milk) in Miami than you will cups of Starbucks. And in the Southwest, Tex-Mex rules – do not leave without trying the regional variations of chili con carne (meat chili) or a burrito from a food truck.
Mexico heavily influenced the cuisine of the Southwest for obvious reasons. The food is a spice explosion. There are more varieties of chili peppers in Mexico than anywhere else in the world, and chefs are constantly discovering new ways to use them.
Fresh ingredients served with a wealth of spicy condiments characterise traditional Mexican food and the same is true as you travel further south from Central America into South America.
There you should stop in Peru, regarded by many travellers as the culinary centre of Latin America. It would probably be too simplistic to say that Peruvian ceviche is one of the most delicious foods on the continent, but let’s do so anyway. The popular seafood dish is made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices and spiced with ahi chilli peppers and other condiments. Ceviche is becoming increasingly popular in neighbouring countries that make regional variations on the traditional recipe.
The ethnic fusion of South America means that the cuisine has many influences – ceviche comes from the Mediterranean, but the food is influenced by Native America and Africa as well. The customs and food products vary according to the physically distinct regions.
If raw fish is not your thing, don’t worry! South America is a carnival for carnivores. Throughout Latin America you’ll find carne asada, simply grilled meat, using thin marinated cuts of beefsteak, usually skirt, flank or flap steak. It is usually cooked with a certain amount of searing to impart a charred flavour.
Whether you prefer your food bland or spicy, raw or grilled, there is a wealth of food and unusual food preparation techniques to explore in the Americas.
You be the judge
Judge a burger by its cover. If the roll looks deflated or low quality, the meat in between is as well with no exceptions.
Judge a good taco by its condiments. If they come in bottles with brand names you recognise, walk away – a real taco smith brews his/her own hot sauces or uses artisanal brands.
The dominant ingredient of the Central and Southern Americas is the chili pepper. Whether you like your peppers sweet like candy or oesophagus-searing, there is a dish to suit your taste buds.
What’s hot in 2016?
We have globalisation to thank for the fact that American food trends have spread far and wide. So it’s worth paying attention to the food trends expected to come out of US this year. The NRA, (no not the gun-toting lot but the National Restaurants Association) surveyed nearly 1,600 professional chefs – members of the American Culinary Federation to find out what the hottest menu trends will be. Here’s the top 10 food trends they predicted for this year which, are likely to have wider influence overseas as well:
Locally sourced meats and superfoods
Chef-driven fast-casual concepts
Locally grown produce
Natural ingredients/ minimally processed food
Healthful kids’ meals
New cuts of meat
House-made/ artisan ice cream
18 oz American Bistro One to One Hotel – The Village Steakhouse bit.ly/22tgAuW 02 495 2000
49er’s The Gold Rush Al Diar Dana Hotel Al Meena Bar, Tex-Mex www.aldiarhotels.com 02 645 8000
Amerigos Mexican Bar & Restaurant Park Inn, Yas Island Mexican http://bit.ly/1QXc5Bm 02 418 2575
Applebee’s Dalma Mall, Meyzad Mall, Mussafah, Mushrif Mall American, Mexican 02 555 8388
Barbacoa Masdar City Mexican Latin Spanish 02 304 8125
Boa Eastern Mangroves Promenade American Steakhouse www.boaabudhabi.ae 02 641 1500
Burger Bureau Marina Square, Reem IslandBurger 800 128 7437S
Burger Fuel Various locations inc. Souk Qaryat Al Beri, The Galleria, Yas Mall Burger bit.ly/1Rze0YU 02 622 3816
Burger Hood Guardian Tower, Al Muroor RoadBurger www.bhuae.com 02 304 8016
Burger House Al Muneera, Al Raha BeachBurger bit.ly/1UKxOxQ 02 304 8135
Burger Hut Various locations inc. Al Khalidyah, Al Raha Mall and Bain Al Jesrain Burger www.burgerhut.com 02 666 6858
Cabana Bar & Grill The St. Regis Abu Dhabi, Nation Towers Burger bit.ly/1UB4yuD 02 694 4553
Cantina Mariachi The Mall at World Trade Center Mexican 02 508 2400
Cantina Laredo Al Khalidiya , Level 1, Khalidiyah Mall, Al Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi Mexican 04 705 9679
Caramel Restaurant & Lounge The Collection, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island American www.caramelgroup.com 02 678 3344
Chamas InterContinental Abu Dhabi Brazilian, Steakhouse 02 666 6888
Chili’s Al Mariah Mall, Al Markaziya Tex-Mex, Mexican www.chilisuae.com 600 561 112 / 04 705 9658
Chili’s Dalma Mall Tex-Mex, Mexican www.chilisuae.com 04 705 9800 / 600 561 112
Chili’s Deerfields Townsquare Tex-Mex, Mexican www.chilisuae.com
Chili’s Khalidiyah Mall Tex-Mex, Mexican www.chilisuae.com 04 705 9669 / 600 561 112
Chili’s Yas Mall Tex-Mex, Mexican www.chilisuae.com 600 561 112 / 04 705 9815
Diablito Yas Marina, Yas Island Tex-Mex www.diablitofoodandmusic.ae 02 565 1175
El Chico The Mall at World Trade Center Mexican 02 508 2400
El Sombrero Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort Mexican www.elsombreroabudhabi.com 02 677 3333
Famous Dave’s Abu Dhabi Mall Steakhouse, American www.tablez.com 02 615 6042
Fatburger The Mall at World Trade Center Burger 02 508 2400
Fly HotDog Al Khalidiya, Abu Dhabi American 02 633 3508
Fuddruckers Marina Mall American, Burger www.fuddruckers.com 02 681 8160
Fuddruckers Al Wahda Mall American, Burger www.fuddruckers.com 02 443 7538
Hemingways Hilton Hotel, Al Khubeirah Tex-Mex www3.hilton.com 02 681 1900
Hwy 55 Building C66 Al Muroor Road American, Burger www.hwy55.com 02 641 1161
Jim’s Kitchen Table Masdar City American www.jims.kitchen 02 491 9401
Johnny Rockets Deerfields Townsquare American, Burger www.johnnyrocketsuae.com 02 563 5510
Johnny Rockets Eastern Mangroves Promenade American, Burger www.johnnyrocketsuae.com 02 563 5511
Johnny Rockets Khalifa Street, Al Markaziya American, Burger www.johnnyrocketsuae.com 02 563 5512
Johnny Rockets Yas Racing School American, Burger www.johnnyrocketsuae.com 02 563 5513
Market Kitchen Le Royal Méridien Abu Dhabi American gourmet grills www.marketkitchenabudhabi.com 02 695 0300
Noche Hilton Capital Grand, Airport Road South American bit.ly/1hBD7eT 02 617 0000
Papa Murphy’s Pizza Yas Mall Pizza 600 540 440
Red Lobster Al Wahda Mall Seafood, American www.americana-group.com 02 445 6677
Rodeo Grill Beach Rotana Hotel Steakhouse 02 304 8085
Russo’s New York Pizzeria Al Wahda Mall American, Pizza 02 445 7434
Russo’s New York Pizzeria Dalma Mall American, Pizza 800 787 767
Salt Mushrif Central Park American, Burger www.instagram.com/findsalt
Shake Shack Dalma Mall Burger 02 492 6657
Shake Shack Yas Mall Burger 02 612 0750
The Sportsman’s Arms Zayed Sports City Bar food, burger sportsmanszsc.com 02 403 4235
Stars ‘n’ Bars Yas Marina,Yas island Burger restaurant 02 565 0101
Stills Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi, Yas Island Finger Food, American 02 656 3066
Texas Roadhouse Ground Level, Yas Mall, Yas Island American www.texasroadhouse.com 02 304 8111
TGI Friday’s Mushrif Mall American 02 491 4318
Combining together the cuisines of Southeast Asia and Australia may sound crazy. But, Southeastern Asia is Australia’s nearest neighbour and has influenced the culture and cuisine as much as the Europeans have with their colonisation.
Southeast Asian cuisine is characterised by lightly prepared dishes with a strong aromatic component, such as bright notes of citrus and herbs like mint, coriander/cilantro and basil. Ingredients in the region contrast with the ones in the North Asian cuisines, substituting fish sauces for soy sauce and the inclusion of ingredients such as galangal root, tamarind and lemongrass.
The Thai classics you probably know are pad Thai (stir-fried rice noodles) and green curry. Made from a moreish blend of coconut milk, green curry paste and other succulent ingredients, it is a reliably good sauce and can be paired with meat, vegetables or noodles. Once the intoxicating aromas hit your nose, you will crave this dish and find yourself travelling farther afield in search of new and better variations.
The food of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam uses the same fresh ingredients, lightly prepared (and often not cooked at all) into meals served over rice noodles or wrapped inside rice wrappers. Favourites include summer rolls, which are simply vegetables, herbs and sometimes meat wrapped into a roll that you can dip into a myriad of sauces from sweet chilli to peanut hoisin. It’s perhaps the healthiest raw dish on the planet that will leave you fully sated – not wanting for anything else.
As you move down the Malaysian peninsula that connects Asia to Indonesia, you travel through Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Spicy chillies characterise the cuisine, but you will find a surprising range of north Asian delights thanks in part to the Chinese diaspora to the region.
And then wind up in Australia. Though it’s far from everything and everywhere, the cuisine will feel familiar. There probably isn’t a typical Australian dish; immigration from Europe and the country’s proximity to Southeast Asia have made it a melting pot of different cooking styles. But all those sheep and cattle mean that meat is a core feature, and barbequing is de rigeur for many families; that requires good-quality well-butchered meat.
Though fast food outlets are abundant, Australia’s city centres are becoming better known for the many nouvelle cuisine establishments offering both local and international food due to multiculturalism and culinary sophistication which has led to a demand for higher quality fare. Restaurants whose product includes contemporary adaptations, interpretations or fusions of exotic influences from all over the world are frequently called Modern Australian and their chefs are international superstars.
The food of Southeast Asia is characterised by top notes of lemongrass, galangal root, coriander and citrus. Expect fresh herbs and vegetables to constitute most dishes, along with the ubiquitous grain, rice.
In Southeast Asia, the street food in particular is out of this world. You should try everything you see whose appearance or smells tempt you or if you dare! In Thailand, try the oyster omelettes or aromatic and spicy curries. In Vietnam, sample the bun xiao (savoury pancakes) filled with meat or vegetables.
As you travel south through Malaysia and Indonesia, look for nasi goreng (stir fried rice) and regional curries.
Do not miss out on the haute cuisine down under. Sample fusion cuisines, but be certain to tuck into dishes regarded as native to Australia – such as damper (soda bread), Pavlova (meringue dessert), lamingtons (sponge cake that is covered in chocolate and coconut) and vegemite spread … and of course the barbeque.
Bandung Al Zahiyah Indonesian 02 645 2008
Benjarong Dusit Thani Thai 02 698 8095
Fish Market InterContinental Abu Dhabi Thai seafood 02 666 6888
Hanoi Boutik Mall, Al Reem Island Vietnamese 02 677 0866
Hanoi Khalifa Street, Al Markaziyah, opposite NBAD Vietnamese 02 626 1112
Hoi An Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al BeriVietnamese bit.ly/1DZYIrh 02 509 8555
Ingredients Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara Indonisian, Philadelphia www.abu-dhabi.anantara.com 02 656 1000
Jones the grocer Al Raha Gardens Plaza, Khalifa City A Casual, stylish Australian, Gourmet café bit.ly/1vMj2ve 02 557 4882
Jones the grocer Etihad Airways Centre, Al Muneera, Al Raha Beach Casual, stylish Australian, Gourmet café bit.ly/1vMj2ve 056 734 1595
Jones the grocer Pearl Plaza Tower, Khalidiya Casual, stylish Australian, Gourmet café bit.ly/1vMj2ve 02 639 5883
Jones the grocer Al Mamoura Building, Muroor Road Casual, stylish Australian, Gourmet café bit.ly/1vMj2ve 02 443 8762
Li Jang The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal Southeast Asian restaurant with an open kitchen bit.ly/1lWHMIx 02 418 2569
Lemongrass Thai Restaurant Cascade Walk, Yas Mall Thai, Asian 02 565 0440
Lemongrass Thai Restaurant Bawabat Al Sharq Mall Thai, Asian 02 582 1100
Lemongrass Thai Restaurant Mushrif Mall Thai, Asian 02 650 0205
Lemongrass Thai Restaurant The Galleria, Al Maryah Island Thai, Asian 02 677 0100
Pachaylen Eastern Mangroves Hotel & Spa by Anantara Thai bit.ly/1MDTGo1 02 656 1000
Philippine House Near National Cinema, Al Markaziyah Filipino 02 641 6126
Resto Pinoy Al Khalidiya, behind RAK Bank Filipino 02 666 0484
Silk & Spice Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche Thai 02 813 7777
Silk n Spice Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche, Corniche Road East Thai 02 813 7777
Smoking Doll Boutik Mall, Al Reem Island Thai, Asian www.smokingdoll.com 600 560 603
Smoking Doll Nation Galleria, West Corniche Thai, Asian www.smokingdoll.com 600 560 603
Talay Thai Restaurant Le Meridien Abu Dhabi Thai www.talayabudhabi.com 02 644 6666
Trader Vic’s Beach Rotana Hotel French Polynesian 02 304 8085
Most foreigners begin their culinary sojourn into the cuisines of China and Japan with chicken chow mein and sushi, respectively.
What few know is that what many of us believe to be Chinese food is largely a heavily caloric western interpretation that bears little resemblance to the much healthier Chinese tradition of stir-fry.
And that sushi you know and love? It doesn’t mean raw fish at all; it is an outdated Japanese term that literally means “it’s sour” and refers to vinegared rice, commonly topped or mixed with fish or vegetables.
If you are keen to travel beyond Anglo-Asian food, let’s examine what is really on the tables in Northern Asia: traditional dishes, ingredients and etiquette to which few are privy.
China’s population comprises over two-thirds of the entire world’s population, so it’s not easy to sum it up. But ingredients common to many cultures in the East and Southeast regions of the continent include rice, ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, chillies, dried onions, soy, and tofu. Stir-frying, steaming, and deep-frying are common cooking methods.
Most tables brim with dumplings and steamed buns, filled with meats and/or vegetables. These steaming hot pockets of bread or thin dough are dipped in soy-based sauces. The ingredients vary throughout the country depending upon the region and are often spiced.
Just about every family owns a wok and prepares searing stir-fries using the freshest meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu every night for their families.
Japan consists of a whopping 6,852 islands; as a result, seafood dominates the cuisine. Beyond sashimi and maki rolls, Japanese cuisine offers an abundance of regional gastronomical delights to sample in a wide range of venues.
Incidentally, much of what you think you know about eating sushi is wrong. Let’s start with nirigi and maki rolls. They should be small enough to eat in one bite. Use your hands – they are too fiddly to eat with chopsticks, which are offered as utensils only alongside sashimi.
Also, do not dip your rolls or fish into the soy sauce. Dip a thin slice of ginger root into the soy and then lightly brush it over your fish. Heady soy sauce overpowers the delicate flavour of raw fish, and dipping is a big no-no in Japan.
Finally, tour the cuisine of North and South Korea by venturing beyond the Korean barbeque. This is not to minimise this marvelous preparation of meat, but Korea offers kimchi (fermented, spicy cabbage), bibimap (rice with vegetables), and japchae (sweet potato noodles with vegetables and beef). Most dishes in Korea are fairly spicy and will leave you wanting to sample the entire menu.
Discerning diners and dim sum
If you are keen to explore North Asian culinary traditions, try to find the most authentic restaurants possible where you are. The menu should look foreign and exotic. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not that authentic. Ask for help. Order what your server recommends based on your likes and dislikes.
To discover traditional Chinese foods, visit a dim sum brunch where you can sample hundreds of small plates of traditional foods and swiftly discover new treats. For traditional Japanese foods, order a bento box at lunchtime. It will be filled with small portions of new delights.
A brief history of the wok
The versatile round bottom pan that is so popular in Asian cuisine today has as rich a history as the food it is used to produce.
Believed to have originated in the China’s Han era (though this is disputed) the wok was traditionally used to roast tea and also dry out vegetables and some meats. Its use evolved until the imperial cooks of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when it became synonymous for stir-fry dishes and remains so to this day.
The use of cold oil being introduced to a red hot wok cooks the ingredients instantly and offers a unique aromatic experience in and around the kitchen which the chinese refer to as ‘wok air’.
While the wok is known for its stir-frying usage it is truly versatile. It can be used for steaming, pan frying, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, stewing, making soup, smoking, and even roasting nuts. The word ‘wok’ even translates to “cooking pot” in Cantonese.
Al Hanah Bar Souk Qaryat Al Beri Japanese 02 558 1670
Aquarium Restaurant Yas marina Yas Marina, Yas Island Seafood, Sushi 02 565 0007
Asian Garden Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi Chinese, Filipino, Thai 02 676 3350
Beijing Restaurant Madinat Zayed, Abu Dhabi Chinese 02 621 0708
Benihana Beach Rotana Hotel Japanese 02 304 8085
Cho Gao Crowne Plaza Abu Dhabi, Hamdan Street Asian bit.ly/1TNIqgo 02 616 6166 / 02 616 6265
Dai Pai Dong Rosewood Hotel, Al Maryah Chinese fine dining bit.ly/1cEC7rW 02 813 5552
Fresh Way Near intersection of SalamStreet and Hamdan Street, Tourist Club Area (Al Zahiyah), Abu Dhabi Japanese, Sushi 02 657 3333 / 02 650 3028
Hakkasan Emirates Palace Chinese bit.ly/1pwBXcH 02 690 7730
Hankook Opposite Central Bus Station, Al Nahyan Korean 02 642 3399
Inakaya Venetian Village, Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi Japanese robata-yaki bit.ly/1S2D9eW 02 404 1921
Jimmy’s Killer Prawns Mushrif Mall Japanese, Seafood, Sushi 02 650 0300
Jing Asia Crowne Plaza Yas Island Asian 02 656 3055
Kazu Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Yas Island Japanese 02 656 0600
Koi Restaurant & Lounge The Collection, The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Contemporary Japanese, Sushi www.koirestaurant.com 02 678 3334
Mandang Korean Restaurant Al Ghazal Golf Club Korean www.facebook.com/madanguae 02 575 8185
Manna Land Al Mamoura Korean www.mannalandkorean.com 02 446 6860
Mikado Café Al Hana Tower, Corniche Street, Al Khalidiya Japanese, Sushi, Bakery 02 418 2416
Noodle Bowl Zayed Sports City Asian 02 447 2405
Noodle Box Yas Viceroy Abu Dhabi, Yas Island Asian 02 656 0600
Noodle House Al Wahda Mall Asian www.thenoodlehouse.com 02 443 7391
Noodle House Souq Qariyat Al Beri Asian www.thenoodlehouse.com 02 558 1699
P.F. Chang’s Abu Dhabi Mall Chinese 02 612 0838
P.F. Chang’s World Trade Centre Mall Chinese 02 612 0888
P.F. Chang’s Yas Mall Chinese 02 492 6670
Qian Zhou Hot Pot Near National Cinema, Al Markaziyah Korean 02 674 5677
Red Castle Between Jawasat & Electra Street, Madinat Zayed Chinese 02 633 4199
Relax@12 Aloft Abu Dhabi, ADNEC Japanese, Asian, Cocktails & Snacks 02 654 5138
Rouge Hilton Capital Grand Abu Dhabi Asian 02 617 0000
Samurai Japanese Restaurant Embassies District Japanese, Sushi 02 447 0070
Samurai Japanese Restaurant Tourist Club Area Japanese, Sushi 02 676 6612
Shang Palace Shangri-La Hotel Qaryat Al Beri Asian, primarily Chinese bit.ly/1vj9DHE 02 509 8555
Shanghai Surprise Al Diar Capital Hotel Chinese www.shanghaisurprise.ae 02 677 7010
Sho Cho Souk Qaryat Al Beri Japanese, Sushi www.sho-cho.com 04 346 1111
Sontaya St. Regis Saadiyat Island Asian bit.ly/1Wq37wH 02 498 8888
Soy Express Etihad Plaza, Khalifa City A Asian 02 557 4759
Sumo Sushi & Bento Masdar City Japanese, Sushi www.sumosushibento.com 02 557 0500
Sura Ramada Abu Dhabi Downtown Chinese, Korean bit.ly/1XPjFih 02 659 7666
Sushi Art The Galleria, Al Maryah Island Sushi 800 220
Sushi Central Commercial Bank of Dubai Building, Opposite Dana Plaza, Al Khalidiya Japanese, Sushi www.sushicentral.ae 600 520 007
Sushi Central NBAD Bank Building, Near ADIB, Mina Road, Al Mina Japanese, Sushi www.sushicentral.ae 600 520 007
Sushi Counter Al Raha Gardens Plaza, Khalifa City A Japanese, Sushi 02 304 8107
Sushi Maru City Golf Club Japanese bit.ly/1WEFtN2 02 445 9600
Sushi Story Dalma Mall, Mussafah Sushi www.sushistory.ae 02 552 4290
Royal Orchid restaurant Hilton Abu Dhabi Thai, Chinese 02 681 1900
The Yacht Club InterContinental Abu Dhabi Asian bit.ly/21EM2AI 02 666 6888
Toki Hilton Abu Dhabi Japanese 02 681 4151
Tori No Su Jumeirah at Etihad Towers Japanese, Sushi www.jumeirah.com 02 811 5666
Toshi Grand Millennium Al Wahda, Airport Road Japanese, Sushi bit.ly/1XPjKCl 02 495 3921
Waves The Club, Meena Zayed Asian www.the-club.com 02 673 1111
Yamasaki Sushi Bar Dalma Mall, Mussafah Sushi 056 342 6246
Zuma The Galleria, Al Maryah Island High-end Japanese, Sushi bit.ly/1UKswCt 02 401 5900
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” If food is your first love, immerse yourself into the cuisine of Europe.
Describing “European food” as a single culinary tradition is not an easy task. From baklava and bubble and squeak to borscht, bratwurst and beef bourguignon, the food is as varied as the languages spoken in the 50 or so countries that make up the continent.
Those who dismiss European food as one-dimensional rarely factor in seasonality; many culinary traditions, both on and off the continent, are a function of the climate. In the colder areas, sometimes castigated for their one-dimensional tastes, the winters have led to fermenting, pickling and smoking to preserve perishable foods and sustain people through sparse growing seasons.
The Germans relish their sauerkraut, while the Russians devour their pickled beets. Dinner tables from Iceland to Finland brim with seafood dishes from pickled herring to gravlax, berries and hearty whole-grain breads. Fish, roasts, potatoes and pea puree are staples in pubs across Ireland and the United Kingdom while vegetables have long been an afterthought accompaniment to various meaty dishes.
South European tables are another story indeed. Longer growing seasons and ample sunshine blessed the southern European countries with what is now commonly referred to as the Mediterranean diet, though it’s little more than the ways things have been done for millennia across tables in Portugal, Spain, the South of France, Italy, Greece and beyond.
Fresh ingredients, such as herbs, green, leafy vegetables and grilled meats and seafood, dominate the cuisine of the region. Because these countries were accessible by boat, there was much more cultural interaction, and indeed invasion, with and by foreign powers. A love affair with spices was ushered in by such cross-cultural encounters with the Moors.
The conquering Moors introduced Spain, and in turn the whole of Southern Europe, to a wide array of spices but also to citrus fruit, olive oil, sugarcane, almonds and apricots. Perhaps their greatest gift though was one of the most important flavour-building techniques used in kitchens to this day: the powerful taste combination of sweet and savoury in the same dish was previously unknown to the Western world.
It’s difficult to converse about southern European food without talking about the manner in which the locals dine. Every table brims with a cornucopia of many small plates; all guests are expected to share all the small plates with those at the table making it a communal meal, and more is merrier.
The Spanish call it tapas, though they are really bar snacks. The Greek mezze is the real deal; on these small plates, you will find sizzling sardines, grilled prawns and fish, octopus, clams and mussels. You will also find vegetables, grilled or sautéed to perfection drizzled in garlicky and herbal sauces and oils.