Archive for the ‘Dubai / UAE’ Category

Happy New Year from Dubai!

January 1st, 2013 4 comments

Happy New Year to all my friends, family and blog followers.

Wishing you a fabulous new year filled with peace, joy, inspiration, health and laughter.

Bastakia Quarter ~ Rich in Dubai History

December 22nd, 2012 8 comments

To those who say Dubai is “not real,” I say: Get out of the hotels and malls. Venture down to one of the oldest neighborhoods in Dubai—Al Bastakia Quarter. Here, you’ll step into Dubai’s past and get a glimpse of what Dubai looked like in the days before oil. 

Bastakia, located along the Dubai Creek, is known for its traditional homes, wind towers, and labyrinth of narrow alleyways. Today the restored quarter is filled with art galleries, cafés, museums, and boutique hotels.

Rich in History

Traditionally a stronghold of rich merchant residents, Bastakia dates back to the 1890s when it was settled by pearl and textile traders from the Bastak region of Iran. Today many of the traditional homes are open to the public. When you enter one and step into its interior courtyard, you can imagine the beauty and comfort that these well-to-do merchants created for themselves.

Wind Towers

The distinctive architectural feature of Bastakia is the wind tower (barjeel in Arabic). Apparently, every house in Bastakia has at least one. In the early days, the number of wind towers indicated the wealth of the owner.

A symbol of UAE culture and heritage, the wind tower is not just ornamentation, but an early form of air conditioning. The open towers allow cool breezes to circulate around the inside while letting hot air to rise and escape.

Architectural Details

In addition to the courtyards and wind towers, Bastakia also features lovely traditional details, such as carved wooden doors, decorative grilles, hanging oil lamps, and wooden lattice.

The ceilings and roofs of these traditional homes are constructed with hardwood from Zanzibar.

Heritage Nearly Lost

After the discovery of oil in 1966, the merchants gradually moved out of Bastakia to other neighborhoods, and Bastakia began to house migrant workers. In the 1970s, half of Bastakia was destroyed to make way for a new office for the Ruler. The rest of the area fell into disrepair (except for the Majlis Art Gallery).

Prince Charles Visits

By 1989, the Dubai Municipality was scheduled to demolish Bastakia. That same year Prince Charles was planning a visit to the UAE. During his visit to Dubai, the prince, known for his love of architecture and historic buildings, asked to see Bastakia.

Legend has it that Prince Charles urged his hosts to preserve Bastakia. Soon after, the decision to demolish Bastakia was reversed.  Later, in 2005, the Dubai Municipality initiated a project aimed at restoring the quarter.

Art Galleries

Today Bastakia is filled with art galleries and cafés. Earlier I did a post about the Dar Ibn Al Haytham for Visual Arts located in Bastakia. Another gallery is the XVA Gallery, which features contemporary art with a shady courtyard café.

Meanwhile, the Majlis Art Gallery is the most well-known and oldest commercial art gallery in Dubai. The gallery opened in the 1970s and was one of the first Bastakia homes open to the public. The Majlis Gallery, which showcases both UAE-based and international artists, is named for the cushioned meeting room found in traditional Arab homes (the majlis).

For many years, the beloved Basta Art Café was located next to the Majlis Gallery. However, that café is no more. Now in its place is the Arabian Tea House Café.

Also Noteworthy

In one of Bastakia’s most elegant buildings, the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding offers cultural breakfasts and lunches, as well as heritage tours and walking tours of the area.

If you’d like to see a real fort, the Dubai Museum is housed in Al Fahidi Fort, the oldest existing building in the city. This museum tells the history of Dubai, and it takes only an hour to see everything, (as the history of Dubai is short).

Did you know?

Prince Charles is known for helping to save Bastakia; however, someone else was involved. Before the prince’s visit, British architect Rayner Otter had taken up residence in one of the houses in Bastakia and undertook renovations within. When Rayner Otter heard about the plans to demolish the neighborhood, he wrote a letter to Prince Charles. And the rest is Dubai history.

Question: What are your impressions of Bastakia?

Oh my! The Cheesecake Factory Opens in Dubai

August 19th, 2012 20 comments

Many American theme restaurants have opened in Dubai in recent years: P.F. Chang’s, Red Lobster, Romano’s Macaroni Grill … However, none have gotten me as excited as The Cheesecake Factory.

To be honest, I’m a not big fan of cheesecake. (I usually order their strawberry shortcake.) For me, it’s more about the memories I have of large family celebrations there. I even lamented last summer, as I sat in The Cheesecake Factory in downtown Seattle, that this was something missing in Dubai.

So, when I was invited to the PR opening last week, I hustled down to Dubai Mall & joined a table of fellow food bloggers to sample menu items and take it all in. The style of the place was exactly like the one in Seattle: same décor, architectural details, even the same furniture and lighting.

Meanwhile, food servers circulated the dining room, offering various samples from their menu, including avocado eggrolls, crab wontons, herbed salmon, mini-burgers, and Bang Bang Chicken (a signature dish).

I asked the American staff if they had any regional specialities, such as baklava cheesecake or date layer cake or couscous with lamb. They said they didn’t, but they might have some regional cheesecakes in the future.

Cheesecakes Galore

As for the cheesecakes, eat we did. We sampled the original, the Oreo Dream Extreme, and (my favorite) the lemon-raspberry cheesecake. I asked one of the American representatives where the cheesecakes were made. Was there a bakery in the back? Or maybe a factory in Al Quoz industrial zone?

No. The cheesecakes are shipped from the United States.

I gasped. He explained to me that there are two factories in the US which make all their cheesecakes, which are shipped to over 150 restaurants across the US. They are good at shipping cheesecakes, he said.

I watched the ribbon cutting ceremony and learned about why The Cheesecake Factory chose Dubai for their first international location.

Why Dubai? This was due to their partnership with Al Shaya Group, a franchise retail operator who has brought to Dubai such brands as: Starbucks, Pottery Barn, American Eagle Outfitters, PF Chang’s, and Office Depot.

Okay, one trip wasn’t enough. I convinced my family to go with me again the next day, which was the first day open to the public. The line was very long, and we waited for more than an hour. My family got very cranky, and we almost gave up. When the staff finally called us in and we walked past others still waiting, I felt like The Chosen Ones.

The place was packed. After we sat, my youngest looked around and said, “I feel like I’m in Seattle—except with different people.”

Yes, indeed. The staff was the usual international mix, but with lots of American transplants scattered throughout. Apparently, they will stay in Dubai and train the local staff for two months.


The menu is big. All meals are made from scratch in the kitchen. Meal portions are large, and most dishes can be shared. In addition to seafood, steak, pasta, pizza and more, they also offer Lunch Specials, Egg & Omelettes all day, and Friday Breakfast.

The appetizers include Thai Lettuce Wraps and Vietnamese Shrimp rolls and range from 48–68 dirhams. Specialty Dinners include Bang Bang Chicken (95 dhs) and Baja Chicken Tacos (68 dhs). Seafood Dishes include New Orleans Shrimp (84 dhs) and Wasabi Crusted Ahi Tuna (115 dhs).

As for desserts, the 31 kinds of cheesecake include: Red Velvet Cheesecake, Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake, and Key Lime Cheesecake. (28–34 dhs.) If you don’t care for cheesecake, other options include Apple Crisp, Carrot Cake, Lemoncello Cream Torte, and a selection of layer cakes (all 37 dhs).

My daughter ordered the Chocolate Tower Truffle Cake, which was huge.

You can see the original menu here, which is nearly the same as the Dubai menu.

By now you might be thinking, “This is why Americans are fat.” Well, yes. The calorie content is frightening. And that is why I think of this restaurant for special occasions only. It’s not every day fare.

The Cheesecake Factory is located in Dubai Mall on the ground floor, directly across from the Aquarium. An even larger branch is scheduled to open at Mall of the Emirates sometime in the fall, as well as a third branch in Kuwait.

Tips for eating at The Cheesecake Factory

  1. Go early. Plan on having a wait.
  2. Avoid over-ordering, as the portion sizes are huge.
  3. Don’t be shy about taking leftovers home. They have good take-away packaging.
  4. If you order a piece of cheesecake—or anything for that matter—plan to share.
  5. Schedule a trip to the gym the next day.

Question: Have you been to The Cheesecake Factory in Dubai or elsewhere?