What does UAE love most: Curry, pizza or kibbeh?
Diversity is the pulse of the UAE and preference of cuisines among the residents show how acquired taste buds break all the conventional barriers and make people try out new delicacies and new recipes.
Just ahead of the Middle East's premier food exhibition Gulfood, which started on Sunday, leading research houses have ranked Indian cuisine at the top followed by Italian, Lebanese and Chinese food, among others.
A recent research report by KPMG and Al Masah Capital say "Indian cuisine continues to be the most preferred in the UAE". The research further indicates that GCC residents have become richer, trendier and more brand-conscious. Thus, the food consumption pattern of GCC residents is shifting from traditional Arabic cuisine to more international flavours, ranging from Japanese to Indonesian, Italian and Lebanese food to reflect their social status.
The food sector in the UAE has remained active, given the large consumer base comprising nearly 10 million inhabitants and 17 million annual international visitors. With expatriates representing over 88 per cent of the population, the multi-cultural society has fostered the demand for different types of cuisines, apart from the traditional Arabic food.
In terms of per capita annual spend on food, the UAE with $2,683 per person not only ranks first in the region, but is also above most of the developed nations', including the US ($2,432), the UK ($2,334) and Japan ($2,702).
Khaleej Times spoke to some popular brands such as Mahesh, Kamat, Calicut Paragon, Junoon and De Fish, and discovered that UAE residents have acquired the taste buds in a cosmopolitan society like Dubai.
The menu at Mahesh Lunch Home Dubai has been crafted to offer an international seafood experience. Aseervadam Gaddala, executive Sous Chef at Mahesh Lunch Home, said there is immense depth to Indian cuisine.
"We present to our guests many preparations, from coast-to-coast, an offering that captures elements of the rich traditions and heritage of the Indian subcontinent. The sheer diversity of cultures in India lends an influence to the myriad of flavours, textures, colours and smells."
Endorsing the similar view Alpen Capital, which came out with its GCC food industry report last week, said presence of people from various nationalities has carved a large market for international foods in the region, more specifically in the UAE.
Moreover, a high spending power enables consumers to try new dishes. According to a recent survey conducted among the UAE residents, 88 per cent of the respondents were willing to try new cuisines and concepts. As a result, several multi-cuisine restaurants have been opening throughout the region.
According to the aforementioned survey, Indian cuisine was the most preferred in the UAE, followed by Italian, Lebanese and Chinese. Among the multiple culinary options available, Japanese cuisine is also gaining popularity. Sushi is the favourite, but other not-so-known preparations such as soba and udon are also being preferred.
Sumesh Govind, owner of Calicut Paragon and Salkara restaurants, said Dubai has this ability to attract the best from the world and with growing diversity of many nationalities UAE residents are open to taste different cuisines. "We at Calicut Paragon have witnessed Arabs, Germans and Americans, among other nationalities, frequenting us. This is just a one of the parameter to indicate the growing popularity of Indian cuisines."
The food sector in the UAE has remained active, given the large consumer base comprising nearly 10 million inhabitants and 17 million annual international visitors, as well as its position as a major re-export hub. Several domestic and international food service providers have established brick-and-mortar presence in the country to tap the market.
With expatriates representing over 88 per cent of the population, the multi-cultural society has fostered the demand for different types of cuisines, apart from the traditional Arabic food. Factors such as influx of expatriates and business/leisure visitors are driving demand for packaged foods, a market that grew at an annualised rate of 8.2 per cent between 2010 and 2015 to $4.3 billion.
A Kamat Vegetarian Restaurant spokesperson said Indian cuisine in Dubai and the world over is lauded for its warming and pungent spices that bring peculiar flavours and intoxicating aromas to preparations.
"Perhaps one of the most defining characteristics of Indian cuisine is the use of a miscellany of ingredients. Research suggests that out of around 381 ingredients found around the world, Indian cuisine makes use of 200 of them."
While traditional Indian dishes such as biryani and even tandoori chicken will be loved forever, Junoon prides itself on integrating traditional flavours in a very modern way.
Sheldon Rodrigues, restaurant manager of Junoon, said Indian food in the UAE continues to grow in popularity simply because of the sheer variety and uniqueness of the cuisine itself.
"The UAE is undoubtedly a very diverse country and we can see this diversity especially in Dubai where almost every person you meet comes from a different part of the world. With this mixture of ethnicities and culture, food becomes more interesting and fun as one is encouraged to try and partake in cuisines which are unfamiliar."
The newly-opened De Fish seafood restaurant also offers variety of seafood delicacies. Rafheek Paral, managing director of De Fish, said the fame of Indian food has reached all foreign shores and there is galloping demand for it from all quarters.
"The impact of globalisation and spread of Indian people have given a big boost to the popularity of Indian food. With majority the population hailing from India, the aromatic flavours of the country have seamlessly mingled in the cosmopolitan culture of Dubai. The taste of India can be felt anywhere in the foods of Dubai," he said, adding that the Indian expats have played a big role in popularising Indian cuisines in Dubai. "Due to the huge influx of expats in Dubai, there are many Indian restaurants that cater all these distinct variety of foods. Most of the expats would not want to cook at the weekends. So hotels and restaurants are full during the weekends," Paral concluded. - firstname.lastname@example.org
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