Among all things culinary at the ongoing Dubai Food Festival, which has brought tastes from across the globe here, one of the most appealing is the “Hidden Gems of Dubai” in which about 3,500 voters selected the undiscovered culinary treasures of the city. This list is surprisingly topped by a small kiosk….writes Saket Suman
After an initial shortlist of 50 by top food influencers, such as Muna Al Shamsi and Talal Al Rashed, foodies in Dubai were given the chance to pick the top 10 outlets.
Famed for its traditional Lebanese sesame bread stuffed with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings, Ka’ak Al Manara is located in Mercato Mall in Jumeirah 1 area. It’s a long straight street dotted with a number of fancy as well pristine dining spaces, but at the centre of it all lies the Mercato Mall.
Bringing down ages-old charm from Spain, the mall is one of the oldest in the city and just within the short span since its inception towards the end of 2016, Ka’ak Al Manara has emerged as one of the busiest spots inside the mall, frequented by those looking out for traditional Lebanese dishes.
This outlet is all about ka’aks, a Lebanese sesame bread similar to Arabic bread but with a peculiar taste on its own. It’s a national treasure of Lebanese cuisine and is very close to the hearts of local people there, often evoking nostalgic memories of yesteryears.
The warm hosts of the small kiosk welcomed this visiting correspondent to their outlet and shared their success story joyfully, while loading my tummy with a range of ka’aks, served of course in different variants.
It is a special recipe served for generations by the street vendors of Beirut. Here it is baked fresh daily, is dairy and trans-fat free and does not contains any oil, butter, or artificial flavours. This bread is completely apt for vegetarians, they informed.
A preferred one from the menu was chicken fajita which contains cocktail sauce, onions, bell peppers, fajita mix with melted cheddar. The ingredients used are garden-fresh, which in turn makes the bread taste absolutely divine for most visitors.
You could also try out the halloumi cheese with zaatar and vegetable toppings, or go for a chicken fajita. Top it off with the most traditional of sweet offerings from Lebanon: knafeh ka’ak, which is basically melted sweet cheese pie stuffed in the bread.
How did a small kiosk rise to such great fame within a matter of months?
The process actually began long ago. Ka’ak Al Manara began its drive by participating in a number of food festivals and other significant events that sweep the city throughout the year. The participation in such events saw a huge appeal among not only the Lebanese people living in Dubai but even the locals and people from countries as far as New Zealand, who became regular customers.
Among other prominent “Hidden Gems of Dubai” are Desi Adda (Indian and Pakistani), which offers a trendy take on street food from the subcontinent, Tuk Tuk Thai, which is located in the food court of Uptown Mirdiff Mall and offers incredible cuisine at a very reasonable price.
Also included in the list is Rasoi Ghar. Serving only vegetarian Indian cuisine, Rasoi Ghar is fast-becoming an institution in Al Karama with people enjoying a range of different Indian foods from thalis to desserts.
“We are incredibly lucky to live in a multicultural city that offers us so much culinary diversity, however, sometimes we might not know about the smaller hidden treasures — this is why we created Hidden Gems as part of the Dubai Food Festival — to shine a light on these alternative restaurant choices which represent excellent value,” said Suhaila Ghubash, Director, Festivals and Events, Dubai Festivals and Retail Establishment (DFRE), an agency of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (Dubai Tourism).
The fourth edition of the ongoing Dubai Food Festival concludes on March 11.