Dubai, Jordan and Israel

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Food writing students at my Dubai workshop, working on a writing exercise on using the senses.

It’s been an incredible three weeks away, starting with a writing workshop in Dubai. Our group comprised local Dubai food bloggers and three students from South America, Lebanon and Pakistan.

Put on by Food Blogger Connect, the students feasted on Middle-Eastern food and high-end Asian each night of the two-day workshop. The second day featured photography and recipe writing tips by Ellen Silverman and Martha Holmberg.

Our workshop caught the attention of the local Dubai paper, which interviewed me and listed the top bloggers of Dubai, some of whom attended my class. That’s quite an honor.

Food Blogger Connect founder Bethany Kehdy, fresh from her fabulous cookbook signing in Lebanon, coordinated the first-ever Dubai workshop  with her sister Joslin Kehdy.

Are you doing a double take? The food courts in Dubai malls feature all the American chains, and so many people were eating fries and burgers there.

Commercial Dubai is like an over-the-top Las Vegas for Arabs and vacationers from neighboring countries, without the gambling. It’s so hot that we ended up in air-conditioned malls, which sounds boring but I’m telling you, you’ve never seen malls like these. They are mini-cities with every American brand you can imagine. There’s a full-size hockey rink and aquarium in one and a ski resort with live penguins in another.

Emerati people watching there is a pleasure: men in immaculate headdress and flowing white dishdash, and women in stylish black abayas and headscarves. One Emerati man we met wore camel-shaped silver cufflinks on his formal dishdash.

Arvah Ahmed shows how to eat with our hands at a Bedouin restaurant in Dubai. Note the plastic covering on the carpet.

To get an idea of the food scene, my husband and I toured old Dubai with food blogger Arva Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures. Our group sampled dishes and sweets from Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Yemen and yes, the Emirates, where we ate in a Bedouin restaurant, on the floor, with our hands. I had met Arva on email two years ago, when she alerted me to a popular post on comparing, so it was a delight to meet her in person.

Flatbreads with nigella seeds at the Lewinsky market in Tel Aviv.
Flatbreads at the Lewinsky market in Tel Aviv.

From there it was off to Jordan to see Petra, and then to Israel to visit friends and family. In Tel Aviv, I met up with food bloggers Liz Steinberg, Ben Brewer, Sarah Melamed and Ishay Govender-Ypma (visiting from South Africa) who were touring the Levinsky food market, sampling bourekas with boiled eggs, olives, and Iraqi pastries. I would move to Israel for the markets alone.

We started our days with Arabic coffee, brewed with cardamom and saffron in Dubai, and just cardamom in Jordan and Israel. It’s quite bitter so it needs a little sugar. In Israel we ate salad and fresh cheeses for breakfast. Sadly most of those cheese are not sold in the US. Most days included hummus (so creamy and mild that I don’t think I can go back to the stuff sold in tubs in the US), and falafel or shawarma, typical street food sandwiches in the Middle East.

Halvah-Yehuda Mahane-Market-Jerusalem
Halvah varieties at the Yehuda-Mahane market in Jerusalem.

One of the most pleasurable parts of the trip was staying with a dear friend in Jerusalem who did all the cooking and serving, including three dinner parties. We did nothing except wash a few dishes and make a salad. Now that’s a vacation!


    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Wendy. If you friended me on Facebook you can see more photos. I posted them as I went along. I really do feel very lucky.

  1. says

    Wow Dianne – it looks as though you’ve had a great trip. Dubai is on my list of places to get to, as much for the food as anything else. And modern Israeli cuisine is something that looks very tempting indeed. I have a cookbook on it and the wonderful salads feature strongly.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, amazing food in Dubai from many countries. And tons of super expensive restaurants, if that’s your thing. Re the Israeli salads, the hotel buffets featured anywhere from 6 to a dozen different kinds for breakfast. It took a little getting used to, to eat them then, but boy were they good. Particularly the sweet and sour eggplant.

  2. says

    I really feel sad to have not had the chance to meet you while I was in Dubai :( But I guess since I am now based in the US, more chances to attend one of your workshops? :)

    I really miss the food in Dubai. The city is exploding with so much cuisine diversity per square inch :) It is one of the most underrated culinary destinations in the world. Glad to see that you’ve enjoyed Frying Pan Adventures with my good friend Arva :)

    • diannejacob says

      Didi, I hope we will have an opportunity to meet here in the US then. If you get my newsletter you can see where I am speaking next.

      I agree that the food scene is underrated in Dubai. And it is even better with Arva showing us the way.

  3. says

    Oh, Dianne, what a trip! I am a bit speechless except to say how lucky you are! Fabulous! And the food… I so want to make a food trip through Israel.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, I agree. I am VERY lucky. As a nice Jewish girl, you owe it to yourself to go, Jamie. And as a food lover, even more reason!

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Sally, it was a pleasure to have seen you again in class. I am thrilled that you saw fit to do a repeat from last year in London. May our paths cross again soon.

  4. says

    It was an honour meeting you Dianne in your workshop. ANd even a greater honour when you said that you had read my post on ‘Things to do in Dubai’ and had even taken printouts!!! I have been learning a lot through your blog but meeting you in person and talk about blogging and writing, was a different thing altogether. You are a great teacher. Look forward to meeting you again:)

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks so much, Ishita. I learned a lot from you regarding that post about Dubai. Even though it’s super long, it would not have had the same success as a shorter piece.

      It really is nice to talk in person, isn’t it? You can only get so far on a computer screen.

      Thanks again for coming.

  5. says

    Dianne, welcome back. Thank you for sharing your trip highlights! What an amazing part of the world indeed. I don’t recall the markets being as you describe when I visited in the early 90s, but maybe because those weren’t the best of times and we had an undercover police escort with us in Jerusalem. However, I’ll never forget the breakfasts-just as you describe with the multiple salads and hummus stations set up like an ice cream bar, olives and dried fruits instead of jimmies and chocolate shavings. And the hummus! Funny, after all these years, I rarely buy grocery store hummus-the memory of the light, fresh hummus still so strong after all these years. Thanks Dianne, for bringing back that memory.

    • diannejacob says

      You are most welcome, Maureen. It has been a pleasure to share my trip here and on Facebook.

      The hummus really is different, just as they said it would be. Much creamier, more aerated from whipping, and milder. I could eat it by the gallon! Fortunately, there is an Israeli restaurant near me that makes a superb hummus. I’m going tomorrow to buy some.

      Why did you have an undercover escort? That sounds intriguing.

  6. says

    Thanks for the edible travelogue, Dianne. It makes such a difference to have friends or contacts in another country to lead you to food experiences you might not otherwise find on your own. Definitely different than “just being a tourist.” Fabulous that your blog and book have unlocked so many doors. And I’m glad you ate with your hands!

    • diannejacob says

      Really, it is the best way to travel, isn’t it Anna, when you can do so with a local. I detest being just a tourist. The great thing about being a food blogger is that they are everywhere and it’s just a matter of finding them.

      Re eating with my hands, yes, it was a strange experience to eat rice this way, but I enjoyed it.

  7. says

    Sounds like a trip of a lifetime! It is my dream to go on culinary tours all over the world. And various parts of the Middle East would be my first trip! It really is great to see how you have been able to unearth these opportunities for yourself through sharing your gifts with the world. It gives me further inspiration to pursue my goals.

    • diannejacob says

      Thanks Halona. I just can’t get over all the opportunities that have come my way as a result of my blog and book. I have always loved to travel, but I never dreamed I would be fortunate enough to have a trip like this. Yes, please pursue your goals, especially if they lead to travel and eating around the world.

  8. says

    Glad to see that you got my face-stuffing pose on camera Dianne!! :) It was such an honour to have you and Owen join the tour and dine around Old Dubai with me. Thank you for the shout-out on this post, it sounds like you had a very fulfilling food-filled trip overall and I’m glad to have been part of that journey.

    Hope that we meet again in the not-so-distant future!

    • diannejacob says

      Yes, I’m afraid I did, Arva. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and hope to have another opportunity to see you one day. Best of luck with your food tours.

    • diannejacob says

      Yes not bad! I think the people at Food Blogger Connect set it up. We had such a great time on Skype that I met the journalist for coffee in Dubai.

  9. says

    It was an honour meeting you Dianne and most importantly learning from you. Glad to hear you had a good trip:) And your book now lives on my sidetable permanently…Much thanks,Prachi.

    • diannejacob says

      Hi Prachi! Gorgeous photos of the crab in your latest post. I’m drooling.

      Thanks so much for taking my workshop. I’m so pleased to have met so Dubai locals. It’s the best way to learn about a country.

    • diannejacob says

      Hey Liz, nice to hear from you. I hope it won’t be 40 years again until I come back. Thanks for the impromptu tour of 2 food markets in Tel Aviv.

  10. La Torontoise says

    Dear Dianne, my job got very hectic and I only now catch up with the posts in your blog! Was so inspirational to learn about the bloggers from the Emirates region. Thank you for sharing links and all, was very useful to me.
    Kind regards.

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