DubaiDubai is a city in the United Arab Emirates known for luxury shopping, ultramodern architecture and a lively nightlife scene. Burj Khalifa, an 830m-tall tower, dominates the skyscraper-filled skyline. At its foot lies Dubai Fountain, with jets and lights choreographed to music. On man-made islands just offshore is Atlantis, the Palm, a resort with water and marine-animal parks.
The Iranian Sweets Palace
Sweets are very important in Persian culture and there are a huge variety of them. So, it’s not surprising that Mr. Zandi (as he’s known to his staff) would build a “palace” to house them all. Walking into this charming confectionary you’ll see towers of Iranian pastries, piles of jewel-like dried fruit and nuts, and lots of mirrors and gilded surfaces.
The store was established in 1986 and, in addition to traditional Persian treats, sells exotic variations of confections you may be already familiar with: saffron flavored cotton candy, pistachio and rose petal nougat, and various French-style pastries. There is also Iranian saffron, considered to be the best, and at 100AED for 8 grams, some of the most expensive in the world.
WHAT TO TRYFaloodeh is one of the earliest known frozen desserts, dating to 400 BC in Persia. It originates in the city of Shiraz, but the term can refer to a variety of sweet concoctions made throughout the Middle East, India, and Pakistan.
This faloodeh is something in between a granita and sorbet, studded with vermicelli noodles made of cornstarch. On the counter, there are small pitchers containing rose water, lemon juice, and sour cherry syrup. You can top with your faloodeh with varying amounts of each as you please. The combination results in a wonderfully nuanced eating experience — cold, smooth, crunchy, sweet, sour and floral all at once.
NAAN-E KHAAMEH-E, CREAM PUFF
This pastry is close to the French profiterole, using choux pastry dough, but with two distinctions. The cream filling is very cold and dense—the result of whipping over a bowl of ice – until it is almost frozen. It’s also delicately scented with rose water to give an Iranian twist to a French classic. While there are lots of places in the city that sell similar cream puffs, but this is the only one I’ve discovered that adds a touch of rose.
Iranian Sweets Palace, Dhiyafa Road, Satwa near the Etisalat building, +97143980164
Our stay at Al-Maha was the best holiday we have ever experienced. We have stayed in 5 star luxury hotels in Mauritius, Madrid, NZ, USA and the UK, but this was certainly the best by far. We were greeted on arrival by Airlene, our Guest Relations Coordinator, and Nathalie, our Field Guide. The reception area in the main building is beautiful, with Arabian artifacts on the walls, and local art. The atmosphere is of understated elegance and calm with no computers, just a wonderful fruit cocktail waiting for us as we were told of the pleasures ahead, including a range of activities available during our stay from falconry and Desert drives to nature Treks and camel rides. Our luggage was taken to our suite and we were transported there on an electric buggy. These are used to transport the staff and guests around Al-Maha as it is 225 square km in size. We stayed in a Bedouin Suite, which is surrounded by luxurious green trees and bushes, and out of sight and sound from it’s neighbours. Each suite has its own private infinity pool, surrounded by a decking area, and a dining area, and two sunbeds. We were in suite 7 which faced east, so we were woken to a glorious sunrise over the desert. Each suite looks out onto a desert landscape, and ours stretched as far as the eye could see. The suites are truly stunning. The bed is handmade and is 234 cm width (7.8 feet!) and 200cm length (6.6 feet). It is solid carved wood, with a wonderful mattress. There is a bespoke pillow menu. Our pillows were Canadian goose down. The bedding itself was 600 thread count, Jacquard 100% Egyptian cotton, and had the Al-Maha logo (the Oryx) in a discrete gold pattern on the white bedding. The bedroom/living area had a desk, 2 chaise longues, an artists easel with paints and paper, binoculars, a large antique chest at the end of the bed, a beautiful coffee table, various original antique Arabic artifacts such as vases, paintings and wall hangings, and a large wooden wardrobe of Arabic design. The hallway had a large box of various teas from The London tea company, a kettle and china tea cups and saucers, a Nespresso machine with a box of various Nespresso pods. There was a fridge with lots of bottled water. All drinks, water, tea, coffee and all meals are included in the hotel stay.
The bathroom was huge, with a large bath, big enough for two, a shower room, a toilet room, and a vanity area with two large sinks, alcoves for your toiletries. Bulgari toiletries provided include shampoo, hair conditioner, shower gel and body moisturizer.
We had dinner on our deck on our first evening. It is delivered by a waiter who sets our your table with a white linen table cloth, and serves up your meals. The food is to die for. Cooked by David Miras, a wonderful chef. The Yellow fin Tuna Carpaccio starter is wafer thin slices of tuna, with a crisp Parmesan wafer, Ruccula and Black Truffle Olive oil. Another favourite starter was Perigord salad, with smoked duck breast, blue cheese, croutons, pork bacon and raspberry dressing. There was excellent choices for the All day room menu with a choice of 12 starters, 17 main course, plus as many side dishes as you desire. Main courses include Argentinian beef fillet, Herb crusted Hamoor, and Jumbo prawns. Desserts include Vanilla crème brulee with lemon shortbreads, and Baked chocolate torte with Orange sorbet. Our dinner guests included three shy gazelles, who cannot get onto the deck but who are literally within three feet of you waiting for some of the bread provided. Gazelles and Oryx roam freely amongst the suites and along the paths, and are perfectly delightful to behold. The Oryx have huge horns, so we gave them a wide berth, but they do not bother you if you leave them alone. On our second day, we ate every meal on our own private deck as it was so lovely eating outside in the fresh, warm (35 degrees) air. That evening, we chose to do an activity called Sundowners, which was a short drive into the desert dunes, at sundown, where a waiter was waiting with a cabinet of drinks and fruit for us. We were handed a glass of sparkling wine (or was it champagne?) whilst watching the sunset over the dunes. We had a selection of dates and fruit to choose from, as well as many types of drinks. On our third day, we were up at the crack of dawn for a falconry display at 6:15 am. We saw two falcons and an owl swooping and eating their meal (quail meat). It was amazing. We were allowed to wear a cuff and hold the falcons, and take photos. That evening, we went on a camel trek to the sundowners. The camels are very well looked after, and indeed we were shown their living area, which was very clean, and the camels were in the shade with plenty of food and water. We were also shown the falconry mews, and how the falcons are trained, weighed and fed. These are animals are very well looked after indeed. Although we did not choose horse riding as an activity, we were shown the horses, and allowed to feed them chopped apples in their stables. The horses are all ex -race horses, varying in age from 8 to 30. They have 3 people just to look after the horses, to feed them and clean them. Again, they have plenty of room, and their stables are very clean. Another activity we did was dune driving in 4 by 4’s through the sand dunes. This was great fun. We saw camels in the desert, including one who had just been born. The umbilical chord was still attached, and the camel’s fur was wet. It was truly a magical sight. Nathalie, our Field guide was great. We went on a desert walk, and she taught us and showed us all the different animal tracks and their hiding places. We didn’t see any actual snakes or scorpions (thank goodness) but we saw their tracks and hiding places.
Whilst eating lunch in the restaurant on our third day, the restaurant manager (Srini) asked us what we would like for dinner. Apparently, we could have anything we liked, and NOTHING was ever refused. I was going to ask for human, but thought better of it. Srini had noticed I like fish as I had just eaten Jumbo prawns (and JUMBO they were!) so asked if I would like a seafood platter cooked to my specification for dinner. We were offered a meat platter as he had a penchant for the Argentinian beef. When we arrived for dinner, we ate outside in the restaurant and dinner is a 5 course affair. The seafood platter was huge, with enough fish for 5 meals. There were at least 5 large portions of different types of fish, including large prawns, mackerel, salmon, tuna steak, and two different types of white fish steaks. This came with a garlic butter sauce in a jug. We had a large plate of meat, including lamb, beef, veal. It was cooked to perfection. He said it was like cutting through butter, as the meat was so tender.
I have to say though that despite the luxurious surroundings, the desert views, the calmness, serenity, roaming wildlife, and superb views….. what makes Al-Maha so special are the staff. They truly make you feel like Royalty. Actually, they make you feel like family- that you are the moat important person in the world, and nothing is too much for them. I have never met such a wonderful group of professional, kind, warm, friendly, happy people. Special thanks go to Airlene, Nathalie, and Srini. We had a tour of the kitchen which was very impressive- very well organized and clean. They only use the best quality ingredients at Al-Maha. Chef David says this is why it is so easy to cook. Do not believe him. David is a great cook- Full stop. Special thanks also to David for the wonderful food, and especially to Prakash, Sateesh, Ariel, Arun, Remy, Shakeel and Naresh, the lovely lads who served our meals and water. Absolutely delightful.
The housekeeping duo, Rasideen and Sahid were also delightful, cleaning our room twice daily, providing clean towels, and pretty postcards. Thank you. We met their manager, Hari, who wanted to make sure that everything was to our satisfaction. Yes, it was.
We even met the General Manger, Arne Silvis, a lovely South African, who truly believes in conservation and that what makes Al-Maha great is the staff. And I could not agree more."
Fishing The GulfThe UAE borders the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Since a part of the country is bordered by the water fishing is very viable and a very sought after sport here. The Gulf of Oman merges with the Indian Ocean making the water here more fierce and home to a varied variety of fish. The official fishing season in UAE begins from October and extends up to May.
Abu Dhabi: Those of you who are looking to go fishing in Abu Dhabi can choose the months from October to May for your fishing expedition as this is the official fishing season of UAE. However, the Boat Captains and experienced anglers will advise you to choose from the months between November to February as the variety of fish found during this period is more. The fish that you can catch in Abu Dhabi are Grouper, Kingfish, Cobia, Queenfish, Sheri and Trevally (Jush).
Dubai: The best time to fish in this pristine emirate is between the months of October to May. With the Persian Gulf on the west the emirate of Dubai has a wide range of fish species that include Queenfish, King mackerel, Barracuda, Dorado, Yellowfin Tuna, Kingfish, Grouper and Cobia. If you are looking to catch a Barracuda, you can reel them in all year round as they are found in abundance all the time, even during the summers. On the other hand, if you are planning to catch one of Kingfish, Queenfish, Cobia or Grouper then the best time of the year is between October and May.