Meet the Locals
With a plethora of the biggest, highest, fastest, greatest out-of-this-world attractions to choose from in Dubai, taking a peak into the rich history of the UAE might not always top-of-mind when planning your time in Dubai. However, we’re here to tell you it’s time to make room! If you’re looking to get a better understanding of the Emirati culture, whilst indulging in some seriously delicious local dishes and light-hearted, yet highly fascinating discussions, head over to Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood and Meet the Locals.
An authentic welcome
As you leave the modern Downtown behind and make your way to the beautiful Al Fahidi District (formerly Al Bastakiya), you can’t help but feel as if you’d taken a time machine instead of the Metro. How else could you explain suddenly finding yourself surrounded by buildings topped with robust wind towers dating back to the 1800s?
Nestled in one of those buildings, you’ll find Al Khayma Heritage Restaurant in what used to be the home of Meet The Locals founders aunt. As you enter the magical courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a number of locals enjoying a leisurely breakfast. There’s no doubt this is a go-to restaurant for those looking to indulge in authentic, homemade Emirati dishes. As if you need any proof of how fresh the food is, you’ll notice a lady wearing a black abaya, using her hands to swirl batter onto a massive frying pan to create crispy and oh-so-yummy crêpe-like cakes. You’ll soon find out these mouth-watering treats are called regag and are best enjoyed with a bit of cream cheese and date syrup.
Suddenly, a friendly face introducing herself as Khadija pops out of one of the many rooms and invites you in to break the fast and get the experience started.
Food for thought and tummy
As you leave your shoes at the door and settle in for a majlis-style meeting with your host and the rest of the guests, you can’t help but already feel a deeper connection to the local culture.
While the food is being prepared, you’ll be enchanted by the fascinating stories from your host as well as the mouth-watering aromas coming from the kitchen. Khadija will reminisce about the times when the building belonged to her aunt and she used to come here to play with her cousins in the courtyard. She’ll tell you why local women wear black (be prepared for two truths and a lie), how guests can determine if they’re allowed to visit someone at home and how they prepare for Ramadan. This is your best chance to really get to know the locals and their values, so have your questions ready.
While you’re learning more about the Emirati culture and other guests, the tables will be filled with local delicacies. As a basket of pita and a plate of regag bread reach the table, it’s clear where the enticing smells were coming from. Once all the plates, pots and mugs have found their place, Khadija excitedly introduces the dishes and gives a few tips before digging in.
There’s no need to reach for the spoon, whilst tasting the scrambled-egg-like goodness that is beidh tomat. Khadija shows you how to eat brown beans known as bajela in the most elegant way and makes you fall in love with chebab bread covered in date syrup. If you’re a bit of a pasta lover, beidh balaleet should be right up your alley and you can wash it all down with a steaming cup of karak or sulaimani tea.
A walk down memory lane
Once breakfast is done, it’s time to walk off those treats you may have eaten, maybe even three too many. Your host leads you through the narrow streets of the district, until you reach a little coffee museum, where Arabic coffee etiquette courses are held. For self-proclaimed coffee connoisseurs, this is a must. Find out what makes Arabic coffee stand out and enjoy the juiciest dates and other local treats, whilst getting to know the ins and outs of local coffee culture.
Once the coffee kicks in, it’s time to explore the magic of Old Dubai further. Your guide will lead you to the grandiose Al Fahidi Fort, full of secrets and stories from the past. You will then have the chance to hear all about the fort and the fascinating Dubai Museum as you admire the beautiful building from outside. This is the perfect chance to find out more about the rich and exciting past of what used to be a small fishermen village.
The journey continues down the beautiful Tolerance Walk, leading up to the Dubai Grand Mosque with your host telling you a mix of fun facts, inspiring stories and memories from her childhood growing up in Dubai. Stroll a little further to admire the extraordinary and grandiose Hindu Temple guaranteed to make you question if you didn't accidentally just journey straight to India.
Then it’s time to hit the souks. You’ll first make your way through the bustling textile souk before hopping on a traditional abra boat to reach the world-famous spice and gold souks on the other side of the Creek. Don’t forget to place your order at one of the oldest juice shops, before making your way towards the world’s largest gold ring. No need to reach for your wallet though, as it’s not for sale. By now, you’re probably feeling quite inspired to try and recreate all the delicious local dishes at home, so stock up on aromatic and flavoursome spices at the spice souk. Before wrapping up, take a ride back to the other shore in a modern abra for an elevated experience. If you’re in for a full day of familiarising with the local culture, you’re probably feeling a bit hungry by now. Luckily, there’s a new restaurant with a full lunch experience waiting. In case you prefer a later start to your day, you can also enjoy this eye-opening and truly inspiring look into the Emirati culture over a dinner with the locals.
Our experts agree that there’s no better way to truly immerse yourself in the Emirati culture than breaking bread with the locals. So conquer Burj Khalifa, enjoy a thrilling desert safari, but remember to Meet the Locals!