During Ramadan iftar is king, and anyone who’s visited one of Dubai’s elaborate after-dark feasts will know that they are a carnivore’s playground. Though iftars have their fair share of vegetarian options, we thought it a good idea to rifle through some of the city’s most prestigious à la carte menus to uproot a selection of tasty dishes that offer vegetarians (and vegans) some respite this summer.
Of course, anyone looking for vegetarian-friendly dishes need only visit one of Dubai’s many Indian restaurants: vegetarianism is interweaved with Hinduism (the prevailing religion in India), which is reflected in the cuisine. Sai Dham in Oud Metha, for example, prepares food in the satvik tradition, meaning no meat, onion or garlic. Why? According to the Upanishads (ancient scriptures), these ingredients spread negative energy and distort the optimum flavour of vegetarian food.
However, to even attempt to feature all the great Indian vegetarian dishes would take four magazines, let alone two pages (we’ve detailed many of them in our listings from page 50). So here we feature a few alternative dishes (and a biryani), as well as some great vegetarian-friendly restaurants where you can get your meat-free fix. Enjoy!
Quinoa and veg salad at Shakespeare & Co
Shakespeare & Co has more than 20 different vegetarian options on its menu, from Lebanese breakfast to a choice of five vegetarian soups, four pizzas and a veggie green curry. Our favourite is the quinoa and grilled veg salad because it’s vegan-friendly and a super-health-conscious choice: the quinoa grain contains all nine essential amino acids, is gluten free and high in antioxidants and fibre. More importantly, the juicy vegetables, pomegranate seeds, vinaigrette and pesto ensure it tastes great.
Dhs45. Various locations across Dubai including Souk Al Bahar, Downtown Dubai, www.shakespeareandco.ae (04 425 7971)
Gorgonzola ravioli at Café Chic
Effectively a deconstructed Waldorf salad, this elegant dish features gorgonzola ravioli topped off with a salsa of fresh pear, celery, tomato and caramelised walnuts. This tasty combination is embellished with apple granite, balsamic onion and herbs, which temper the gorgonzola’s otherwise overwhelming flavour. It’s not suitable for vegans, but a tantalising option all the same.
Dhs79. Le Méridien Dubai, Garhoud (04 217 0000)
Dakos at Elia
This refreshing Cretan dish is a perfect summertime staple. The key ingredient is Cretan barley rusk, which is topped with freshly grated tomato and feta, drizzled with extra-virgin Greek olive oil and sprinkled with oregano.
Also try: Tomato kefta – succulent pan-fried patties made with finely diced tomato, parsley and onion. The recipe hails from the beautiful Greek island of Santorini., and the result is mouthwatering.
Dakos Dhs35; kefta Dhs25. Majestic Hotel, Mankhool Road, Bur Dubai (04 501 2540)
Biryani at Cafe Arabesque
Classic vegetarian biryani gets the five-star treatment at Park Hyatt’s Café Arabesque, which marries 15 different spices and ingredients (including cashews, raisins, coriander, carrot and biryani spices) to create a fragrant, filling and wholly satisfying vegan dish.
Dhs60. Park Hyatt Dubai, Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club, Deira (04 317 2222)
Warm aubergines at Rhodes Twenty10
A high-end steakhouse is probably the last place you’d expect to find a vegan dish, but Rhodes Twenty10 serves warm aubergines tossed in a rich, spicy sauce made with fresh tomatoes, ginger, garlic and harissa, served with spring onions and fresh herbs.
Also try: It’s not suitable for vegans, but a very tasty vegetarian main nonetheless – a thin, puff-pastry tart served with buttered leeks, spinach and caramelised onions, topped with melting slices of brie and brioche breadcrumbs.
Aubergines Dhs55; vegetable tart Dhs95. Le Royal Méridien Beach Resort & Spa, Dubai Marina (04 316 5550)
Vegan wrap at Wild Peeta
As you can probably tell from our review, we’re big fans of this Emirati fast food chain, which serves vegan-friendly wraps bursting with carrots, potatoes, zucchini and plenty more locally grown produce. You can then embellish your tightly-packed veggie combo with eight home-made sauces, but vegans should avoid the spiced garlic mayonnaise – it contains eggs.
Dhs19. Dubai World Trade Centre (800 9453)
Miso nasu shigiyaki at Okku
Having made a name for itself with its yuzu-saikyo miso cod, high-end Japanese venue Okku offers vegans the next best thing in the form of baked Japanese aubergine glazed with home-made sweet miso and garnished with sesame seeds. According to the kitchen, this dish is popular with vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike (though if you’re partial to fish, we recommend you sample the real deal).
Also try: Truffle cha han – a decadent take on a classic fried rice dish (the truffles add the decadence, in case you were wondering).
Miso nasu Dhs49; cha han Dhs130. The Monarch Dubai, Sheikh Zayed Road (04 501 8777)
Vegetable penne at Baker & Spice
With its emphasis on locally grown, organic produce, global deli chain Baker & Spice is one of the most vegetarian-friendly places in the city. Though it doesn’t serve any vegan dishes, the vegetable penne with rich tomato ragout, cherry tomatoes, courgettes, garlic, olive oil and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese is a fantastic (and filling) option for hungry veg lovers. What’s more, Baker & Spice’s chefs are more than happy to prepare dishes on request, so vegans can order the same without cheese, or pick from the abundant salad options.
Dhs52. Souk Al Bahar (04 425 2240). Other location: Al Manzil Souk, Downtown Dubai (04 427 9856)
This chain of Indian restaurants serves tasty vegetarian dishes such as ava idli (mustard seeds, channa dahl, chillies and ginger), kal dosa (a soft, stone-baked bread) and chettinad paniyara (delightful doughy rice droplets). Herbivores with appetites can order Dubai’s longest vegetarian dhosa (measuring a whopping 1.5m).
Bank Street, opposite BurJuman, Bur Dubai (04 357 7800)
This high-end Thai restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC has a dedicated vegetarian à la carte menu. Highlights include yum mamuang tao hu fu: Chef Sawai’s version of this traditional green mango salad is served with peanuts, crispy tofu and a specially created sauce comprising tamarind sauce, lemon, soy sauce and dry chili (Dhs35). Another dish of note is the nor mai farang phad jay, effectively stir-fried asparagus with mushrooms and chili (Dhs65).
The Ritz-Carlton, DIFC (04 372 2323)
No vegetarian round-up would be complete without a nod to Magnolia, the beloved veggie restaurant nestled amid the Madinat Jumeirah. It dishes up vegetarian specialities ranging from purple potato and fried tofu crumbs to roasted artichokes on mash with crunchy stalks and mushroom shavings – lip-smacking stuff. The only problem? It’s closed until September.
Al Qasr Hotel, Madinat Jumeirah (04 366 6730)
Not only is this venue an all-veg affair but the dishes are surprisingly flavourful, despite them being cooked with absolutely no onions or garlic (according to the traditional satvik cooking style). Even oil and spice is used moderately, so it’s not for those who like their curry fiery hot. Yet it’s well worth a try if you’re keen on something different from the usual curry house fare.
Saleh Bin Lahej, Oud Metha Road (04 335 8788)