Tamara Pitelen heads to a Dubai restaurant where the house speciality is camel with everything – and realises the ships of the desert are now served with chips.
“I’ll start with the camel soup please followed by the camel burger… that comes with fries, right?”
It’s not often you get to say a sentence like that. In fact, I can claim with conviction that those words in that order had never passed my lips until a few hours ago when I visited Local House Restaurant in Dubai’s historic Bastikiya area.
A few hours ago I was a camel-eating virgin. That innocence is lost. I have since feasted upon the flesh of some hapless dromedary (a one humped camel to you) and as a result, the kangaroo steak sandwich I had in Australia a few years ago has been stripped of its prize for ‘oddest thing I’ve eaten’.
In the heart of old Dubai, not far from the misleadingly-named Dubai Creek (it’s a sizeable river) Local House is a beautiful space for casual dining and specializes in offering a traditional Emirati experience. Built in traditional Arabian-style and dating back to 1890, there’s no roof, making it outdoor dining indoors, ideal for temperatures in the desert.
However, the fabulous ambience and historic décor of Local House are not the extent of its marvels. Since January 2010, the management took the relatively unique position of offering an array of dishes featuring camel meat or milk so this is the place to get your camel soup or salad, camel burgers or biriyani. There’s also camel kebabs, camel steak and camel milkshakes. In other words, the ships of the desert now come with chips.
For the occasion of my deflowering and camel knowledge, Dubai put on one of the balmiest and best evenings that it can offer. Myself and my best friend Rach spent the warm night relaxing on the long cushioned bench seats staring up at the black, starry sky complete with a shining, full moon while taking our first tentative bites from the flesh of hump-backed beast.
And guess what? It was absolutely delicious. Kind of like beef but a bit sweeter.
I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so delicious, I thought the whole camel thing was a gimmick but no, desert dwellers have apparently been eating their water-carrying companions for centuries and, according to Ramesh, the manager of Local House restaurant, camel meat is far superior to lamb, beef or any of your other common or garden sources of meat. He says it has 10 times the protein of beef as well as less fat, fewer calories and less cholesterol. Plus it’s succulent and tasty – although there is a secret to ensuring this that he tells me he absolutely cannot reveal.
About 30 seconds later he reveals it. The secret is to take the meat is from the creature’s shoulder. That’s the best bit, akin to the sirloin from some poor cow. “Other parts of camel’s body can have tough meat,” he says.
The restaurant gets through about 40kg of camel meat a day and the most popular dish is camel soup (thumbs up from me, it’s superbly flavoursome consomme, full of scallion). Next are the camel burgers, about 100 are sold each day, as well as camel biriyani. Although for local Emiratis, a dish of camel harees is the favourite, a cracked wheat speciality from the UAE that’s normally made with lamb or beef and is most commonly eaten during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting.
The camels that end up in these mouth-watering dishes are bred at a farm in Al Ain, a town about 90 mins up the road from Dubai. But the milk that’s used to make the camel milkshakes and chocolate is from the camels owned by Ruler of Dubai His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Royal camel’s milk no less but it doesn’t come cheap. If you’re still hungry after your burger, you can take home a 700gm gold-foil wrapped solid chocolate camel. Not for me though, I finished off with a cup of coffee with cream and sugar. Just one lump.