Posts Tagged ‘Dubai’

Book Review ~ From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim

August 21st, 2012 6 comments

The one book that all residents of the UAE should read is From Rags to Riches by Mohammed Al-Fahim. The subtitle is A Story of Abu Dhabi, but because Abu Dhabi is the capital, the book reads like the story of the UAE.

First published in 1995, the book is part history and part memoir. Al-Fahim recounts his childhood, the hardships his family endured and his experiences in the UAE from the 1950s onward. This is all woven with the history of the UAE and its dramatic transformation from a tribal society to a modern nation.

The book is full of fascinating anecdotes about life in the UAE before the discovery of oil. Al-Fahim explains that as a child, the kandura had no pockets because they had nothing to put in them. He recounts traveling by camel from Al Ain to Abu Dhabi and describes the treacherous job of pearl diving. He gives insights into why Sheikh Zayed is so revered by his people. Interestingly, Al-Fahim discusses how the British exploited the UAE and why he has forgiven them.

The book was ghostwritten by Susan Macaulay. She visited my book club some years ago and told us how she conducted a series of interviews with Mr. Al-Fahim, recorded his words and turned them into a cohesive story.

In short, this book provides illuminating insights into the history and culture of the United Arab Emirates. The book is sold all over the UAE in various languages, and I recommend it to all expats living here.

Question: Have you read from Rags to Riches? What are your thoughts on the book?

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? 

Day 2 ~ Food Photography Workshop at the Atlantis Hotel

April 13th, 2012 20 comments

In my last post, I told you about Day 1 of my Food Photography Workshop.

The second day began with a trek to Lafayette Gourmet at Galleries Lafayette in Dubai Mall. If you’ve been there, you’ll know it’s both a gourmet grocery store as well as food hall.

In the past, when I was shopping at Galleries Lafayette, I would accidently wander into the grocery store. I would think: Who the heck shops here? This upscale French department store seemed like an odd place to buy milk, eggs and produce.

Excursion to Lafayette Gourmet

As part of the food photography workshop, we had a proper tour of the place. We were there to practice some “in the field” food photography, while working with less than ideal lighting conditions.

Our guide was Chef Russell, who proudly showed what was on offer, including fresh seafood, meats, produce, dairy, etc. He told us that 80% of the grocery items are exclusive specialty products, while the rest are regular foodstuff.

So, I perused the shelves and examined the fancy teas, infused olive oils and specialty pastas.

I tasted the beautiful cheeses and viewed the cheese room of Lafayette Gourmet.

I poked around the various aisles, took a long look at the fish, and thought Hey, I could shop here.

Next we took photos in the food hall. Seven counters sell a range of meals: Mediterranean, Italian, South Asian, and Indian; plus there are grill and sushi counters, luxury and pastry counters. I zeroed in on the exquisite chocolates and desserts.

I do enjoy eating lunch at Lafayette Gourmet, which is a chic place to get a quick gourmet meal in a cheerful venue. You can be enjoying Arabic fatayer while your dining companions are eating curry, sushi, or noodles.

After our market excursion, we rushed back to The Atlantis Hotel. Switching gears, we settled in for a cooking demonstration by Chef Hani. He demonstrated a smoke-infused kufta kabob.

When he was done, he delivered the plate to Meeta for the magic of food styling.

To be honest, it’s hard to make certain foods look good (like cooked meat). That’s where the styling comes in. Meeta showed us her tips and tricks for making any food look appealing in a photograph.

After lunch, we were given our official assignment. We were put into teams of two and assigned a dish to style and photograph. (Food was provided by Nasimi of the Atlantis Hotel). This salad photo was taken outdoors in shade.

My fellow students got very creative. 

At last we each presented our results for critique. This was a highpoint of the workshop—looking at each other’s photos from the past two days, some of which were truly gorgeous. It always impresses me how everyone has their own eye and style–even when taking photos of the exact same subject.

At the end, Sally presented with a certificate and not one, but three goodie bags from the Atlantis Hotel, Lafayette Gourmet and other sponsors. Included in our bags was a Weber chef’s knife, a bottle of Locadeli olive oil, tea from Jones the Grocer, artisan sweets from Toffee Princess, and lovely stack of other gourmet foodstuff.

I left the workshop, exhausted and a bit overwhelmed, but happy. We accomplished so much. What a pleasure to spend two days talking about blogging, photography and food. Meanwhile, my head is still spinning with all the technical and creative tips from Meeta. She told us it would take time to absorb and incorporate the techniques she taught us. She encouraged us to practice and have fun.

Questions: Have you shopped for food at Galleries Lafayette?  

What are your favorite types of food photographs?