Dubai - China Sea (and UAE ingredients)
This Middle East and Africa board seems like a desolate place -- and I suppose it's natural, since we're lacking the geographical density of participants that you'd get in New York. I relocated to Abu Dhabi more than a year ago from Jackson Heights, Queens, and I'm hoping that if these boards pick up a bit this place will seem slightly less a culinary wasteland of overpriced hotel food.
A first observation: had a fine meal last night at China Sea, recommended here by a previous post. The place is in Deira just west of the clocktower -- the facade is decked out in a neon-blaze of Orientalist excess. Inside it's pretty relaxed. The dumplings (especially the fried ones, which are on the menu as "gooley") were fantastic. Good Ma Po Tofu (if a bit sweet) and tasty Szechuan fried chicken. We had some so-so duck as well. I'd come back for dumplings alone, frankly. They will also serve you a certain haram beverage if you ask for it.
Anyone have suggestions for better Chinese outside of the hotels?
Finally, I'm trying to get my hands on some crushed/ground Aleppo pepper -- but struck out completely at the Deira Spice Souk yesterday. Any suggestions on places that might stock a few specialty ingredients?
Dubai may have its faults, but I think it's fair to say that it's a fabulous place for a foodie, both in terms of restaurants and places to buy ingredients. In the latter respect, it's getting better all the time, with new places opening everywhere.
You made a great choice with China Sea. The place won two Time Out magazine awards the other week - and the staff there are totally, wonderfully oblivious to that fact! The meat and vegetable dishes are no better than anywhere else, but the dumplings, steamed or fried, are sensational!
Another place you might like is Xiao Wei Yan, also in Deira. It's on Baniyas Road, right next door to the Twin Towers and near the Radisson. It's a big chain in China, and this is the only one outside China. It's a hotpot place. They light up a gas fired wok on your table, then fill it with two different broths, one savoury, one very fiery. (The wok is divided into two sides, so they don't get mixed up.) You order the raw stuff from the menu - it ranges from regular stuff like prawns, squid, thinly sliced beef and lamb, to very exotic items like lamb's spinal cord! There's also a table with jars of different spice combos and dipping sauces. You just help yourself to whatever you like the look of. Then dump all your menu items in the wok and let it cook. It's delicious and great fun, especially if you go in a group.
Hope you enjoy your explorations.