In a city where eating out is as much part of the culture as driving, food is at the centre of this year's Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF).
Festival organisers say food knits the city's diverse communities together and attracts more visitors to the city. Over the years, DSF has used food as a marketing tool to promote culinary tourism. "Food is an element that brings people from various backgrounds together and this is very much in line with the 'One World. One Family. One Festival.' slogan of DSF," says Yousif Mubarak, Chief Operations Officer of the DSF Office.
Accordingly, food from everywhere is being featured at this year's event, as professional chefs and housewives alike present the finest they have to offer as part of the Dubai Food Festival.
The annual event, which recreates a food market at Uptown Mirdiff this year, begins tomorrow and runs until February 14. Twenty city restaurants will serve up a variety of cuisines, including Sri Lankan, Filipino, Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, Indian, Japanese, French, British and Emirati. Many of these will be in the live cooking tents that are a hallmark of the event.
"The idea is to celebrate the different resident cultures in Dubai," says Mubarak.
Cookery workshops, tasting sessions and cooking competitions are also on offer, while a gourmet market running alongside will feature top-quality confectionery, preserves and chocolates.
And anyone who fancies their cooking skills can dish out the proof at the event, in the Friends of the Festival category – maybe even earning a little money in the process.
"All it costs is a Dh500 entry fee for the 14 days – what you make on sales is all yours," says Bryan Furtado, who is putting the whole event together with DSF. Already, some 15 amateur chefs have registered to take part. Details are available at www.dff.ae.
But for those more interested in the eating, two new events offer a chance to heap those plates high. Sampling Sundays, tomorrow and next weekend, are designed so visitors can try out a variety of cuisines for free, while Buffet Tuesdays (on February 3 and 10) provide a choice of 40 delicious delicacies for Dh40.
DSF is also associated with record-breaking, and attempts to set two food records are being made this year. All eyes will be at Global Village next Friday, February 6, when the Emirates Culinary Guild attempts to break the Dubai record for the largest bowl of biryani.
"Last year an Indian team broke our 2001 record, so we've been inspired to at least better our own performance," says Chef Uwe Micheel, President of the Emirates Culinary Guild and Director of Kitchens at the Radisson SAS Dubai Deira Creek. Micheel has had a hand in stirring the city to set all kinds of food records. "These endeavours allow you to cut across competitive barriers and work with colleagues from other hotels towards a common goal of promoting our city and ourselves to the world," he tells Emirates Business.
Some 400 people will be involved in the Dh400,00 biryani attempt, from chopping the 800 kilos of Sadia-branded chicken to distributing – for free – all 3,500 kilos of the pan-Asian rice specialty.
Another 200 pastry chefs from 40 city hotels will work to set a separate record on February 13. The Guild wants to create the world's largest dessert buffet at Uptown Mirdiff with 2009 different dishes. Tickets at Dh50 will be sold to 1,000 people for the ultimate in sugar fixes.
Micheel says holding the events at different places also helps boost footfall to those areas. "We proved that in the past, when we organised similar events at Times Square Center – people came from around the emirates. DSF is about people and food, which is at the centre of our culture and instrumental in bringing people in," he says.
And if all of that isn't enough, there are several other options, particularly for culture vultures: A tour of Global Village offers everything from spicy sandwiches almost exactly like you would find in Mumbai at the India pavilion to exotic tropical fruit in the Thai pavilion. Alternatively, head to Heritage Village in Dubai's Shandagha district to try out some freshly cooked Emirati delicacies, such as the traditional sweet called luqaimat.
Even simply heading down to the Night Souk on Al Seef Road down by the creek is an education in itself: At the Honey Festival, which runs until February 13, some 15 different honey products from Yemen, Pakistan, Iran and Lebanon are on sale. But beware – not all of it is for eating!