Gyros, tzatziki, souvlaki: Where you can find must-try Greek dishes in Dubai
Food from the island nation is finally getting the love it deserves in Dubai
There’s a shared history, a commonality of ingredients and an emphasis on eating healthy meals. That in one line is what’s common between Middle Eastern and Greek cuisines. Digging deeper, there are dishes that appear on menus that claim to be Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Greek — gyro/shawarma, stuffed grape vine leaves, baklava/baqlawa, moussaka and several other signature dishes.
You get the drift.
No wonder, Dubai has recently seen an increasing affinity towards Greek cuisine amid the emirate’s emergence as the food capital of the world. It comes as no surprise that foodies in Dubai are suddenly familiar with the Greek tradition of breaking plates, and indulging in keftethes (meat balls), souvlaki (meat on skewers), tzatziki (classic Greek sauce), and more.
Yes, Greek and Middle Eastern food have uncanny similarities, which trace their origin to the Ottoman regime, and whilst Greek and Mediterranean are often synonymous with one another, all Greek food is Mediterranean, but not all Mediterranean food is Greek food!
“Greek gastronomy having had the influence of the Ottomans shares a few similarities with the likes of what is served within the Arabian peninsula region, but with a twist. This zest of familiarity is also what makes it appealing to try. Imagine you’ve landed in a place where you don’t know a single item on the food menu. Chances are you’ll pick the closest thing you can identify with. I think, that’s why people in this region are so attracted to Greek food,” said Timothy Newton, Group Executive Chef/Partner, OPA, a Greek restaurant and Myrra, a Greek-Spanish restaurant, which was launched in 2018.
The rise of Greek eateries in Dubai
Go! Greek was opened in 2018 as a delivery-only restaurant, and now has a brick-mortar address in Dubai. They were one of the first Greek eateries in town. “There was a gap in the market for this cuisine and it’s brilliant to see the rise in its popularity owing to its inclusivity and the ever-loved Greek hospitality and warmth that resonates through its food,” said Soha Merhej, Brand Manager, Kitopi. Go! Greek is part of Go! Restaurants, and falls under the umbrella of Kitopi.
“Although there isn’t a void in Dubai for Greek food, the demand is high among the UAE residents. Ultimately, Greek food is loved by all and that can in part be put down to the fact it strongly promotes healthy eating. The Greek cuisine was perfected centuries ago. It doesn’t need to be reimagined, as people will never get bored of its classic comfort and fresh food, oozing vibrant flavour,” said Nouredin Mugheb, Chef de cuisine, Soluna Restaurant & Lounge, another Greek eatery that opened in early 2021. With the knowledge of the success of OPA, the team opened yet another Greek concept, Myrra last year, which adds a Spanish twist into the mix. “If the consumers see a particular food concept or cuisine do well, they’ll perceive it as a great place to eat/try. All in all, the rise of Greek eateries is dictated by the success of the already established ones,” explained Timothy.
Mediterranean flavours tickle palates
Greek food is renowned for its Mediterranean flavours and inclusive nature where it’s suitable for all types of diners. “This is a perfect concept because Dubai is a cosmopolitan city that is home to expats from all over the world. Besides, Greek food is very wholesome — it’s quite healthy and welcoming,” said Soha. “We’re seeing a rise in Dubai for healthy living and wellness in general. People automatically embrace a cuisine they’ve always known to be healthy, Greek and Mediterranean,” added Nouredin.
Soluna’s patrons are from all over the world. The restaurant receives an average of 50 Arabs from the wider region, 70 expatriates, and up to 25 Emiratis daily. The customer base at Go! Greek has expanded to include several other nationalities such as Asians and Arabs. “The restaurant was created at a time where there was a noticeable gap and high potential because of the nature of Greek cuisine in Dubai,” added Soha.
The visual charm
Timothy makes an interesting observation when he said how the UAE is mostly coastal, which means that many food & beverage (F&B) concepts are catered towards that differentiator. “Our cuisine, being from the Greek islands of the Mediterranean shares some of the same scenery with coastal UAE. These visual bridges are important. Myrra, with its relaxed vibe, beachfront approach, and authentic Greek (and Spanish) food caters not only to expatriates, but also to Emiratis looking for that familiar feeling with a sunbathing experience,” he said.
At Soluna, too, the laidback and beautifully blue interiors setting transports guests to the land, of course over dishes such as taramasalata, a traditional Greek creamy dip garnished with cucumber, olive oil, lemon and mullet roe; orzo pasta, a Greek style rice shaped pasta dish with baby pepper, confit cherry tomatoes and Greek feta, and many more.
Gastronomic differences & similarities
“We share a lot of the same dairy products — be it yogurt or types of cheese. There is also a predominance of the use of olive, grape leaves, and fruits such as pomegranates. We also share some of the same preparation of meat and rice-stuffed vegetables, grilled meat, fish and seafood, soups, stews, and desserts like knafeh/kataifi or coffee,” said Timothy.
“Greek food is often confused with Middle Eastern cuisine, thanks to the stark similarities in the process of cooking food resulting from the Ottoman rule,” said Soha. She added, “Both cuisines share a common list of ingredients including olive oil, fresh vegetables, sharing-style mezza platters, rich aromas and flavours from a mélange of spices, herbs and cooking traditions.”
Keep it authentic, but don’t be afraid to adapt
The team at Go! Greek is multicultural. However, all their suppliers are Greek, and all the produce are imported from Greece. Most of OPA’s team is Greek, whilst Myrra’s team is Mediterranean due to its brand positioning, which is a happy blend of Greek and Spanish. The team at Soluna collectively has over five years of experience in Greek cooking, with many having worked in Greece.
Significantly, restaurants need to be an extension of the diners’ spirit that have a home-away-from-home feel for an expat way of life in a melting pot called Dubai. “In that sense, it’s our homage and love for the region and its residents that makes us adapt. Fortunately for us, in a Greek concept, it’s easier to add a dash of Middle Eastern influence in our menu because of the geographical proximity,” added Timothy.