Dubai's best cup-cakes, biryani? Housewives' challenge for food inspectors

Food safety experts worry about ‘unregulated’ market

Dubai authorities strive to keep food available to a high standard.

Restaurants, cafeterias, supermarkets and small groceries are monitored by the monthly inspection team of the Food Inspection Section of Dubai Municipality and violators of food safety rules are penalised.

But a section of the food business has gone unregulated.

Homemade food – food that is made in the home for distribution instead of personal consumption - is making its way to many households without being seen by any food inspector.

"Homemade foods are getting very popular.

“I see regular advertisements on social media and through personal networking- people trying to sell cakes and other foods that are more ethnic to certain populations," says Bobby Krishna, Senior Food Studies and Surveys Officer at the Food Control Department of Dubai Municipality. "The danger is that we do not know who is selling it."

The homemade chef is often a housewife passionate about cooking.

A Pakistani woman who put up an ad on a leading classifieds website offering biryani, chicken karahi, mutton karahi and many more dishes is one.

"She just loves to cook, she does not even care about the money," tells her roommate about the chef who has temporarily left the UAE.

Homemade foods are usually based on recipes typical of a country and appeal to the buyer’s memories of home or his/her mother's kitchen.

Also, because these recipes are not always easy to make, homemade chefs can be a blessing.

"There are certain Arabic dishes that need a lot of preparation time like kibbeh, yebra and yalanji," says Kinana Homsi-Mardini, a Syrian.

"I heard of a woman who is preparing and selling these dishes. Not everybody has the time to prepare such food, so I think it is a good idea."

Because homemade food is often linked to certain nationalities, word of mouth plays a major role in marketing.

People recommend a chef that they know to others. "I was told about this woman by my friends," says Kinana.

According to her, it is not an issue of trust.

"If a dish is not prepared properly, you can tell. Then you will not order food from this person again. Unless the food seller wants to poison you, I don't think there is really a risk here," she says. 

"People try out," says the Pakistani lady about her roommate chef.

"They try the food once, and if they like it, they come back. I know that she is very hygienic. People really like her food."

But, for the Food Control Department, the availability of unregulated home-made food is a challenge.

"If it was legal to commercially produce and distribute food, we would be able to regulate this activity. But it is not," says Bobby. "We can only tell people to be cautious."

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