The oasis of Al Ain, located deep in the Arabian desert near the United Arab Emirates’ border with Oman, is home to towering dunes, palm trees that produce some of the best dates in the region, and plenty of camels wandering the red sands that surround the city.
Al Ain – a good two-hour drive inland from either Abu Dhabi or Dubai – might be the last place you’d expect to find good Indian cuisine (or any good food at all, for that matter).
But curry-lovers wandering in the desert rejoice: there is a modern and upscale restaurant in Al Ain that serves authentic, sumptuous Indian food that will likely defy your expectations.
It’s called Coriander, an independently-owned Indian eatery that opened in 2010 in the Bawadi shopping mall on the outskirts of Al Ain. Coriander shares an open-air courtyard with three other restaurants inside the mall, but there is also an enclosed, air-conditioned seating area.
Coriander’s concept is not all that groundbreaking: “authentic Indian cuisine served in an modern setting”, according to the staff. But given the location – in the hot, desolate heart of Arabia – it is quite an amazing find. Not to mention, the food lives up to its promise.
Coriander serves some of the best, and most thoughtfully presented, Indian cuisine in the UAE. Their murgh tikka tirang is a spicy selection of three different types of grilled chicken, each marinated in either pomegranate juice, dill, or a garlic rub before yoghurt is added. The chicken is flavored with masala, an Indian spice mixture that includes cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper, among other spices.
Coriander sees Al Ain as a perfect location to attract a wide base of local customers, despite being somewhat isolated. Staff said this is largely because of Coriander’s menu, which includes Emirati favorites like chicken and lamb biryani.
Most of their customers are indeed Emiratis, according to Prayey Kapil, Coriander’s assistant manager.
“The UAE doesn’t have its own cuisine,” said Kapil. “Their food comes from other places, like India. Indian spices have been coming here for centuries.”
Coriander’s food is excellent, but if you’re coming from Mumbai, you might not find the food as spicy as the version at home. Coriander reduces their masala spices and peppers when serving dishes to locals.
“People around here generally don’t like very spicy food,” said Kapil. “Forget about hot chilis or peppers, I mean the basic masala spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg. Most locals don’t appreciate the heavy masalas like Indians do.”
But don’t let that stop you if you do like spice. The Indian chef at Coriander prepares two batches of curry each day, according to Kapil. One goes heavy on the typical Indian masala spices like nutmeg, curry leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper. The other, which they serve to most customers who don’t specify preference, has only a little masala.
But ask for your food especially spicy, and Coriander will deliver.