Today’s Travel Tip comes from our Malaysian friend GFAD (Girl from Abu Dhabi) who lives in Abu Dhabi. She loves her food and she bakes and cooks like a champion. She’s really the expert on ‘where’ to eat ‘what’.. In the short time she has lived in AD, she has uncovered all the top joints for great food. Here are her top 5 Eats of Abu Dhabi.
We Malaysians are a spoilt lot when it comes to food. No matter where we are around the world, nothing seems to ever compare to what we can find back home. And we always end up searching in the foreign land for something that is closest to what we grew up eating.
photo credit Abu Dhabi.ms
I always complain that there is nothing to eat in Abu Dhabi (AD). Nothing that is remotely similar to what we have in our dai-chow (neighborhood Chinese foodstall), warung (Malay foodstall), mamak (Indian food shop) and kedai kopi (local coffee shop) that is. So when Ciki first asked me to do a writeup on my favourite restaurants in Abu Dhabi, I was flabbergasted. One, a famous blogger like Ciki asking me to write a guest post for her! And two, but there’s nothing good to eat in AD!
And after months of procrastination, and I really mean months, and racking my brains and looking through my archive of photos, I discovered that I had had some really good eats in Abu Dhabi and neighbouring Dubai. We’ve had superb Italian, fantastic Continental, awesome American, tantalising Arabic. So much so that I had problems shortlisting the 5 top places to eat. However, I finally managed to narrow it down and here in no particular order, are my favourites.
1. Lebanese Flower Restaurant, Defence Road
This place is practically an institution in AD! When AWhiffofLemongrass made a brief visit to the city during a flight transit, the flight attendant recommended this place as THE place to eat an authentic Arabia meal. One of the most popular restaurants in the city, I believe their secret lie in the fast turnover of food, constantly ensuring that all the food are always fresh. Their chicken shawarma (flatbread spread with garlic paste and rolled with slices of chicken roasted on a spit, french fries and pickles) is super moist and super tasty.
You can’t go wrong with bottomless flatbread fresh from the oven of the bakery next door, hummus (chickpea dip) and garlic dip (like a garlicky mayo), the quintessential plate of salad, olives and pickles while waiting for your main course of mixed grill (grill lamb and boneless chicken, chicken wing, kebabs, arrayes – grilled flatbread sandwiched with minced lamb) which is big enough to share for 2 or 3. All for the princely sum of no more than AED60 (USD16). My children love the chicken shawarma (AED6/USD1.65), which I like to think is our Ramly burger for a quick snack on the go. Cheap, fast, fresh and open til late – Lebanese Flower is our version of mamak in AD.
2. Sangeetha Vegetarian Restaurant, Madinat Zayed
There is a plethora of Indian restaurants in town. Mainly because there is such a huge population of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in the city. The good news is, we are inundated with loads of inexpensive restaurants offering a wide range of delicious and authentic food from Northern and Southern India. I particularly like the vegetarian restaurants as they have the most amazing curries made from a wide variety of vegetables, beans and lentils, fantastic breads and dosas.
Sangeetha is one such restaurant. This place is not like some of the hole-in-the-wall cafeterias that cater only to the men workers. It’s spacious, clean and very family-friendly. Most importantly, they serve hot, fresh food in a jiffy!
I especially enjoy their Mini Tiffin as it has a variety of snacks on one plate plus a cup of chai (tea). There is a small bowl of tiny idlis(rice cakes) soaked in gravy, a small masala dosa (rice pancake with potato filling), a mound of kichadi (savoury semolina pudding), and a vadai (lentil donut), served with sambar, coconut and onion chutney and a dessert kesari (sweet semolina pudding). What we know as stringhoppers/putu mayam is called idiyappam and it’s served with a delicious creamy kuruma (mild vegetable curry).
Let me say that their vadai deserves a special mention – golden brown crispy on the outside, hot and fluffy on the inside and tastes so, so good! And what better way to end the meal than with a cup of hot frothy chai (tea). Reason the cup comes with a bowl? I’m not quite sure,but I use it to ‘pull’ my tea to cool it down. I hope that is the reason for it, otherwise the waiters would probably wonder why this weird Chinese lady keeps pouring her tea from cup to bowl and bowl to cup… Again, a fantastic bargain as the both of us can have a decent meal for less than AED25 (USD7).
3. Wasabi, Al Diar Mina Hotel
After a while no matter how enjoyable exotic food is, I will always start to hanker for something closer to home. And when you’re in this part of the world, anything remotely from Far East will hit the spot. And what can be more Far East than Japanese?
Wasabi is one of my favourites not because it’s cheap (it’s not), but because it serves pork! It isn’t easy to find a non-halal restaurant in this Islamic country and I am very thankful that the AD Government does allow for some establishments to serve this much-maligned meat.
Prices aren’t cheap – they range from AED60 (USD16) to AED120 (USD32) for bento meals, but portions are huge making it really value for money. And coming from a place where most Japanese restaurants are halal, it was really an eye-opener to taste pork Japanese-style. Oishi (delicious!)
I’m no small eater, but one bento meal is usually more than enough for me to share with my 6 year old child. The bowl of seafood over rice was almost like the size of a soup bowl for the entire family! We always leave Wasabi happy and satiated.
4. The China Club, Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek
Of course, being a true blue Chinese, there is only so long I can survive without a session of yumcha! I must admit, AD lacks decent Chinese restaurants, unfortunately. In my humble opinion, most of the good ones are actually found in Dubai. My favourite restaurant for dim sum is The China Club. Thankfully the decor is modern Chinese with only discreet splashes of red here and there.
Every Friday, they have a fabulous Friday Dim Sum Buffet whereby you order the dimsum fresh from a special menu. As many dishes as you please. As many times as you wish. But pork-free, alas..
All the usual steamed delights like har gau (prawn dumpling), siew mai (chicken dumpling), chicken pau (steamed bun); fried goodies (beancurd rolls, springrolls, wontons, fried glutinous balls); soup; porridge and noodles you can eat. For desserts they serve one of the best red bean soup I’ve ever tasted, and I don’t even like red bean soup. Tea (Chinese and fruit-flavored English ones) are included as well.
5. Fishmarket, InterContinental Hotel
Every now and then, we like to splurge a bit. Particularly when the weather is gorgeously cool at lower 20 degrees Celsius.
The Fishmarket is a charming place by the sea, serving Thai-influenced Asian food. Sitting al-fresco with the sea breeze and enjoying a glass of wine, it can’t get any better than this. Another big plus for us is that the children are suitably entertained with the beach just off the restaurant deck, leaving the parents free to enjoy their food at a more leisurely pace.
It’s not unlike those seafood emporium/restaurants you find in Bangkok where fresh seafood are displayed for you to choose from and cooked according to the style you want. It can get a bit pricey and the cooking style has been somewhat diluted to suit more of the western palate, but what it lacks in authenticity, the ambience and location of the place more than makes up for it.
We like the way they finish cooking the food at your table before serving it from the little stoves. Although the taste is mild according to our fiery Malaysian tongue, it’s nothing some spicy sauces can’t fix, served in familiar blue made-in-Thailand jars. It’s always comforting to eat familiar food – grilled fish and prawns, sweet and spicy squid, mussels, stir-fried kangkong and taugeh (water convulvus and bean sprout) and of course, what would we do without our fried rice.
But the best part is yet to come. The long walk back to the car - it’s such a pleasure to stroll through the marina. A lovely end to a lovely meal.
Last but not least, what I feel is the best kept secret in AD. The neighbourhood Afghan bakery.
You can find these little bakeries all over the city. Really cheap at AED1(USD0.27) for a dinner-plate sized thick flatbread. Delicious when taken while it’s still hot but a tad chewy after it gets cold. One man will roll the dough, while the other will bake it in this in-built kiln-oven. It’s not so bad to sit in front of the flaming hot oven during the winter months, but I really salute them for doing the same during blazing hot summer months!
So there you have it. My top 5 restaurants in Abu Dhabi. I’m still very much an Asian at heart. Although I enjoy my salads, sandwiches, pastas and risotti, it’s still the flavors of Asia that I go back to time and time again. So yes, AD does have great food in a variety of cuisine. Even for the fussiest Malaysian!
About today’s guest writer:
A SAHM (Stay At Home Mum) from KL currently on an extended holiday in Abu Dhabi, GFAD (Girl From Abu Dhabi) enjoys nothing better than to explore the vast variety of food found in this place of more than 200 nationalities. You can take her out of Malaysia but you can’t take the Malaysian out of her as she searches wide and far for good eats and experiments with making food of her homeland whenever she gets homesick.
Follow her on twitter @KatCL
Check out her blog