Tempt clients to taste the Middle East with a foodie experience, writes Katie McGonagle.
The foods and flavours of the Middle East have been slowly working their way onto our dining tables in recent years, thanks in no small part to Yotam Ottolenghi, the Israeli chef who’s credited for proving vegetarian food really can be delicious.
Whether you’ve feasted on falafel during Veganuary, swapped sugar for
the natural sweetness of dates, or sprinkled za’atar and sumac on your supper to liven it up, you’re bang on trend – but the people in this region have been eating this way for centuries. Here’s how to get your clients closer to these tasty ingredients with some of the best foodie experiences in the Middle East.
1. Eat your way around Jordan
Forget fine dining – the best food is always what ordinary folk eat, and that’s just what clients will get when they visit a women-run cafe in Jerash, one of the ‘highlight moments’ on National Geographic Journeys’ Explore Jordan tour. Travel 2 product and commercial executive Jennifer Watson says: “With any trip to the Middle East, food is an essential element and this tour is a great introduction the local delights. An exclusive highlight is preparing your own traditional Jordanian meal with a lively group of women at Beit Khayrat Souf. The cafe is run and managed by women seeking financial independence and is just one of G Adventures’ G for Good programmes around the world.”
“The best food is always what ordinary folk eat, and that’s just what clients will get when they visit a women-run cafe in Jerash.”
Book it: Travel 2 can package up the eight-day Explore Jordan tour with flights from Heathrow on September 19, from £1,889 per person.
2. Have a decent brunch in Dubai
This expat heaven is famed for its Friday brunches, signalling the start of the weekend with no-holds-barred affairs of unlimited indulgence. Some of the best are at Atlantis The Palm, a resort already known for top-notch dining, but that really comes into its own for this weekly feast. Choose from non-stop drinks and dancing with a DJ soundtrack at Saffron’s party brunch, sushi and sake at World of Nobu, or cooking classes and kids’ activities at Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen & Bar.
Book it: Emirates Holidays offers a three-night stay in an Ocean Room with complimentary upgrade to half-board and flights from Gatwick from £869. Brunch costs £113 at Saffron, £124 at Nobu and £75 at Bread Street Kitchen, all including drinks.
3. Learn to cook in Jerusalem
The Israeli capital is known for its religious landmarks and ancient
archaeological sites, but in between all that history and culture, there’s also an exciting food scene worth discovering. That’s why Cox & Kings has chosen the city for its new foodie short break, which starts with a tour of its bustling shuk (market), Mahane Yehuda, led by a local chef. That’s followed by a cooking workshop and a day exploring the city’s foodie highlights, and an excursion into the rural Jerusalem Hills to visit a goat’s cheese farm, winery and brewery.
“In between all that history and culture, there’s also an exciting food scene worth discovering.”
Book it: Cox & Kings’ four-night foodie trip stays at the five-star American
Colony Hotel, with flights, private transfers and activities, from £2,495.
4. Dine out in Doha
Dubai isn’t the only spot where international hotel brands, worldclass
chefs and an appetite for quality dining converge to create some truly outstanding eating. If Only’s Arabia product and commercial manager, Susan Greenhorn, recommends The St Regis Doha for its varied dining, with no fewer than 10 restaurants, including big-name brands such as Gordon Ramsay and Hakkasan, plus the option to have the chef prepare a private in-room meal. She says: “The St Regis Doha Grand Brunch would definitely be my top choice for a Friday brunch, with 16 food stations, nine liquid bars and live entertainment. What’s more, if you have a taste for A-list eateries, the hotel also boasts the prestigious Opal by Gordon Ramsay, home to the largest sommelier’s selection in Doha.”
Book it: If Only offers four nights’ half-board at The St Regis Doha from £1,019, including private transfers and taxes, flying with Qatar Airways on May 7.
5. Eat brunch on the beach in Ras al Khaimah
Take freshly shucked oysters and lavish platters of seafood, standout views over the Arabian Gulf, a cocktail bar on the beach and a DJ-run after-brunch party, and you’ve got the recipe for the hugely popular Barefoot Brunch at Al Hamra beach at the Ritz-Carlton Ras Al Khaimah. It has just resumed for theseason and takes place from 1pm-4pm on the second and fourth Friday of each month.
Book it: Prices start at £62 including soft drinks, £83 with beer and wine, or £95 adding spirits and cocktails. Lead-in rates at the hotel start from £591
per room based on two sharing.
6. Go wine tasting in Israel
It doesn’t get much better than a tasting at a family-run winery – except, perhaps, when the winemaker doubles up as a chocolatier and can combine two of your foodie clients’ favourite indulgences. Tishbi Winery, an hour’s drive north of Tel Aviv, produces a range of wines including sweet and kosher varieties, along with a host of pastries, chocolates and wine preserves, and serves them up with a menu showcasing some of the best Israeli cuisine at the on-site Zichron Restaurant.
“The winemaker doubles up as a chocolatier and can combine two of your foodie clients’ favourite indulgences.”
Book it: Cyplon can include a Tishbi Winery visit on tailor-made Israel holidays, from $12 per person for a wine tasting, and $17 for wine and chocolate.
7. Eat with a family in Amman
Dining in local restaurants is as close as many visitors get to experiencing traditional dishes in an authentic atmosphere, but book your culture-hungry customers on an escorted tour and they’ll get to delve even deeper by meeting local people and even eating with them at home. One of the Be My Guest experiences on Trafalgar’s Jordan tour is to dine with the Khzoz family in their home in Amman. Guests will arrive to find the fragrances of sawani dijaj (chicken stew) and maglobeh (a rich rice dish cooked on the stove then flipped upside down to be served) filling the house, then sit down to hear stories of Jordanian life, while enjoying a delicious family meal. It’s sure to be one of the most memorable moments of their visit.
“Delve even deeper by meeting local people and even eating with them at home.”
Book it: The meal is included on the second day of Trafalgar’s six-day Jordan Experience tour, which starts at £1,195 including hotel accommodation, some meals and in-country transport. Flights not included.
8. Go local in Muscat
Oman is known for its fine hotels and with them, fine dining, whether you want a swish afternoon tea at Al Bustan Palace or seafood by the sea on a private beach at The Chedi Muscat. So far, so sophisticated, but if your clients want a slice of real life as well, send them on a city tour of Muscat to see the local fish and vegetable markets, and take a stroll around the souks. Across the road is traditional restaurant Bait Al Luban, set in a 140-year-old guesthouse, where the decor is as authentic as the dining and the view overlooks the national museum – it’s an ideal place to refuel between sightseeing stops.
“If your clients want a slice of real life as well, send them on a city tour of Muscat to see the local fish and vegetable markets.”
Book it: Viator offers a half-day private city tour visiting the markets along with the Grand Mosque, Mutrah Souk and Al Alam Palace, from £149.
Best of the rest
• Dine by the Dubai Fountain Views don’t get much better than from the Amal restaurant at the Armani Hotel, set in the Burj Khalifa and overlooking downtown Dubai. Be sure to book ahead for dinner to see the fountain and light show at night.
• Authentic eats in Ajman Leave flash hotel restaurants behind for Emirati favourites at Ajman restaurant Qdeemek & Ndeemk, which features cardamom-infused omelette balaleet, spicy chickpea dish dangaw and date syrup-covered doughnuts known as luqaimat.
• Offshore indulgence The QE2 is more than just another Dubai brunch. This
elaborate feast is made up of nearly 200 dishes ranging from Indian curries and British roasts to artisan cheese and live cooking stations.
• Sweet treats in Abu Dhabi Families will love the ‘freakshakes’ – extravagant milkshakes topped with M&Ms, chocolate cookies, lollipops or even an entire slice of cake – at Black Tap in Yas Mall.