Dubai’s business-friendly policies make it a popular destination for startups and companies that want big city amenities without paying big city taxes. We sat down with local Natasha Amar of Thebohochica.com to learn more about settling in in this United Arab Emirates tech hub.
Tell us about Dubai. Dubai is very dynamic. There’s always something new happening in terms of development and city projects. It’s quite cosmopolitan because of the many nationalities that live and work here. But as modern as Dubai is, it’s still the Middle East. The culture is quite different from that of the U.S. or Western Europe. Locals are friendly to expats and foreigners, but skimpy clothing, public displays of affection, and unruly drunken behavior are all frowned upon.
For a lot of people moving here from the West, it can get confusing to find the balance between the extremely modern setting they find themselves in, and the fact that they’re still in the Middle East. In Dubai, rules and regulations must be adhered to. As long as you respect that, it’s a great city to live in. Dubai offers a good lifestyle, great infrastructure, modern comforts and conveniences, and plenty of work opportunities, and the entertainment and nightlife options are endless!
What tips would you give people to help them assimilate with the culture? If you’re curious about a certain aspect of local life, I’d suggest a visit to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding to get your questions answered in a friendly, informal setting.
And if you’re not sure how to behave in a certain situation, try to observe what others are doing and follow their example.
Let’s talk food! What are some of your favorite Dubai delicacies? Shawarma is to Dubai like banh mi is to Vietnam, pad thai is to Thailand and doner kebap is to Turkey. A shawarma is chicken or lamb wrapped with garlic and tahini sauce. It’s a quick and cheap street food loved by locals and expats alike.
Manakeesh is baked flatbread topped with cheese, meat and herbs. It looks a lot like pizza and tastes great. Machboos is a mix of rice, meat and spices that makes for a good filling main dish. And for dessert, try kunefe: a mix of crispy pastry, cheese, sugar syrup, pistachios and rose petals. Need I say more?
What are your favorite restaurants in Dubai? For Lebanese try Zaatar w Zeit. This 24-hour restaurant is my go-to place for a quick, cheap meal. They specialize in Arabic wraps stuffed with chicken, turkey, tuna, pickles and vegetables.
Filful is a new Lebanese eatery that gets a 10 out of 10 for their amazing chicken shawarma wraps and creamy hummus. While House of Curry is the best place in town to grab fish tikka, spicy mutton seekh kebab or deliciously creamy butter chicken with naan. All the dishes are best washed down with their cumin-spiced lemonade.
I love Thai cuisine and luckily, there are some really great Thai restaurants in Dubai, including Lemongrass, Pai Thai and Thiptara. But my favorite is Little Bangkok for its huge menu, easy-on-the-wallet prices and super-friendly service.
Just like everywhere else, Italian food is very popular in Dubai. Trattoria Toscana is my favorite Italian restaurant, not only for its delicious food but also for its romantic setting near the canals in Madinat Jumeirah. If you go here, you must try the burrata!
Finally, the Ripe Market is a popular food market, and the annual Taste of Dubai festival is a fun – and delicious – cultural experience!
Just a heads up: you will see camel meat and milk on some local menus.
Are there any neighborhoods you recommend food lovers check out? The Al Bastakiya Quarter was once the home of wealthy Iranian merchants. The restored buildings along the cobblestone alleys were originally made of coral, limestone, mud and plaster. Today, they house art galleries, stores, boutique hotels, cafés, and restaurants. When you need a rest, head to the Arabian Tea House to enjoy a wide range of teas in their beautiful courtyard.
Then, follow your nose to the Spice Souk, a traditional Arabic market home to a dizzying selection of saffron, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, chilies and other Middle Eastern spices. The nearby Gold Souk is a market of more than 300 shops selling gold and silver jewelry. The quality of gold and workmanship is believed to be very high; yet bargaining is acceptable and even expected.
I’m personally looking forward to seeing how the new neighborhood of Box Park Dubai develops over the next year. This strip is home to some nice restaurants and cafes that feature al fresco seating. The buildings are made of shipping containers decorated with funky lighting and art projections. I’ve seen street artists here – something that’s relatively new to Dubai.