How Dubai's Restaurateurs Are Creating a Farm-to-Table Movement in the Desert – Yahoo Lifestyle

Dubai is bellowing with dizzying skyscrapers, elaborate malls, slinky hotels, and commercialized restaurants. In a city that thrives off of five-star endeavors, localized sustainable dining options are somewhat of a rarity. But a new generation of restaurateurs and farmers are drawing upon the abundant creativity in this dynamic city and slowly shifting Dubai’s food scene to be more environmentally conscious. Today, homegrown restaurants are cropping up in the city’s design-centric neighborhoods, with menus full of locally sourced produce from a variety of farms on the outskirts of the city.
In Dubai’s International Financial Centre sits one of the city’s most enticing experiments in food sustainability: Spanish tapas bar BOCA. With a menu designed around Emirati products, BOCA is an ode to the region’s nature, the highlight of which is a garden dedicated to edible Emirati desert plants.. The creative minds behind BOCA draw inspiration from the land and sea of the U.A.E. in an effort to create slow, locally sourced food with a story that is distinct from the typical commercial restaurants saturating Dubai’s food scene.
“Over the years, we began to realize how much waste we were producing and how much consumption we were encouraging,” says Omar Shihab, one of the restaurant’s founders. “And as climate change and environmental degradation became more pressing issues, we evolved and multiplied our sustainability efforts in many aspects.”
BOCA’s dishes include a colorful salad of aged local beetroot, locally grown vegetables, and pickled khansour, an Emirati desert plant that resembles a succulent, or a ravioli stuffed with Emirati sea bass—a fusion of the flavors of the Mediterranean and the Arabian Gulf. Other dishes incorporate oysters grown in the Arabian Gulf, edible flowers sourced from a desert garden, Emirati kingfish, and native desert plants, to name a few. When ingredients aren’t available locally, BOCA sources them regionally, drawing from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in the Levant. Each dish is a masterpiece of culinary innovation and sustainability, creating an experience for both the eye and the palate.
“Sourcing seafood from the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman was paramount in the first year of our operation,” says Shihab. “It showcases the richness of local produce, reduces our carbon footprint, and supports local fishermen. The unique ingredients give our chefs a creative challenge, encouraging them to find ways to adapt to their flavors and incorporate them into traditional tapas dishes.”
For an authentic Parisian-inspired café experience, head to Cassette in the alternative neighborhood of Al Quoz. An oasis flooded with natural light and greenery in community center The Courtyard, Cassette is a homegrown eatery that blends the warmth of a neighborhood bistro with the culinary creativity of a fine-dining restaurant.
The menu features globally inspired dishes and comfort-food favorites like truffle asparagus quinoa risotto, peach and burrata salad, and portobello burgers. Additionally, Cassette has a bi-weekly special menu “dictated by nature and creativity,” using seasonally available ingredients, says Haider Madani, the restaurant’s founder. “Our main goal since day one is to create a healthy and sustainable-focused restaurant menu,” Madani says. “We believe every restaurant in Dubai should help to sustain our natural resources and ecosystem.”
Dubai’s shifting food scene extends beyond restaurants. Small-scale farms are advancing the U.A.E.’s local food supply in unique ecosystems across the country. These initiatives play an equally important role in the region’s food revolution, where, until recent years, a localized food source was scarce.
Off the quiet shores of the Indian Ocean against the spectacular Hajar Mountains sits Dibba Bay Oysters, a small oyster farm that is quietly disrupting the United Arab Emirates’ seafood industry. Inspired by Emirati pearl diving heritage, Dibba Bay became the first farm to grow oysters in the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf—a concept previously thought impossible—and send the fruits of their labor directly to local markets and restaurants.
Another change-making farm is Mary Anne’s Fresh Produce, situated in a desert oasis outside of Dubai. It grows edible flowers, micro greens, and herbs using aquaponics, a farming system that reduces water usage drastically and eliminates the need for pesticides. Meanwhile, Emirates Bio Farm, the largest organic farm in the U.A.E., grows crops like onions, potatoes, and carrots directly in pure desert sand. The farm holds regular dinner events with gourmet dishes made with local ingredients including farm-grown vegetables, camel milk from the neighboring camel farm, and Emirati dates to raise awareness to the importance of organic, locally grown products.
Indeed, that is the goal of many of Dubai’s pioneers of local cuisine: to raise awareness of sustainable practices to encourage more deep-seated change in the city’s food scene. “We began to see ourselves as a platform to promote issues that revolve around sustainability,” says Shihab. “We can influence people and bring their attention to important issues, especially when it comes to food, natural resources, and waste.”
Originally Appeared on Condé Nast Traveler
Raising fresh produce empowers people to become forces for good well beyond their own plates, while also stretching their food budgets.
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