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.
Biryani is a savory meal consisting of basmati rice that is slow-cooked and served with chunks of meat, typically lamb or chicken. It is an extremely popular dish in the Gulf region, even though its roots are probably in India, Iran, and Turkey.
Biryani is the kind of meal that could take several hours to prepare at home, as the rice is first infused with spices like cinnamon and cloves long before being cooked with the meat.
But in the United Arab Emirates, you can now order and eat biryani – the country’s unofficial national dish – within a matter of minutes at new Abu Dhabi restaurant.
You don’t normally walk into a shopping mall food court expecting to find delicious, healthy food.
Especially if that mall is the Madinat Zayed Shopping Center, one of the oldest enclosed shopping malls in the United Arab Emirates. Madinat Zayed feels very long-in-the-tooth for an ultra-modern capital like Abu Dhabi. Aside from its dozens of Indian-run gold shops, the mall offers little for most shoppers. There are a few perfume kiosks and plenty of stores peddling cheap, Chinese-made electronics.
The mall’s second floor food court is home to several American-style burger joints, as well as the uninspiring Biryani Hut and ChicKing, where most of the food is deep-fried.
But Madinat Zayed, perhaps surprisingly, is also home to what is quite possibly the finest Indian restaurant in the entire Middle East.
Most of the challenge of finding good food in Abu Dhabi is in knowing where to look – and then literally finding the restaurant.
Even though it’s located just off of a busy street in the Khalidiyah neighborhood, one of the capital’s outstanding Indian restaurants is easy to overlook. Anjappar has an illuminated sign that one can see only when standing directly underneath it (the facade and sign are partially obstructed by a shed that appears to house a utility box). And its door is nestled between several shops, including an Afghani bakery, a barber shop and a separate store that sells merchandise for barber shops – like combs, scissors and swiveling chairs.
If you can find it, though, Anjappar is worth the hunt. It serves some of the spiciest South Indian Tamil food in the entire United Arab Emirates.
You might assume that an Indian restaurant named “Peppermill” would serve fiery hot kebabs and spicy, sweat-inducing curries. Especially if the word “spice” is used no fewer than six times on the inside flap of the menu.
But the Indian colonial cuisine at Peppermill just isn’t all that spicy. One of the restaurant’s two Abu Dhabi outlets is located on the second floor of al Wahda Mall’s extension, near the capital’s bus depot on Hazza bin Zayed Street.
Peppermill is just a year old, and the furniture looks as if it could have been installed just yesterday. Velveteen purple, magenta, and turquoise chairs provide pops of color against the modern black tables and crisp white walls. During the lunchtime hour, the dining room is bright, with sunlight streaming through the tall bay windows accented with wrought iron spiral designs.
Like the space itself, Peppermill’s food is clean and rich in traditional spices and flavor. Perhaps that’s why some in Abu Dhabi have called this the best Indian food in the capital. Just don’t expect to be blown away by heat.