Dubai’s burgeoning kosher-food scene

And like everything else in the Emirates, the vision of kosher travel has become a reality in the blink of an eye. 

 CHEF SHIMON Ben Shitrit at The Kosher Place. (photo credit: Mark Gordon)
CHEF SHIMON Ben Shitrit at The Kosher Place.
(photo credit: Mark Gordon)

It’s nine o’clock on a Sunday morning. The sun is shining over a desert landscape. A man is donning tefillin in a hotel synagogue, while a hearty kosher breakfast awaits in the neighboring function room. 

But this isn’t Eilat or Mitzpe Ramon. It’s Al Habtoor City in Dubai

And like everything else in the Emirates, the vision of kosher travel has become a reality in the blink of an eye. 

The complex overlooks Dubai’s canal and is located less than a 15-minute drive from the airport and downtown Dubai, and less than 10 minutes from Jumeirah Beach.

Head back to September 2020 and a few weeks before the official signing of the Abraham Accords, when Abu Dhabi’s Department of Culture (DCT) advised all hotels in Abu Dhabi to include kosher options on restaurant and room service menus. Within a month, the DCT had signed an agreement with the fledgling Emirates Agency for Kosher Certification (EAKC) headed by Rabbi Levi Duchman, to provide supervision for this kosher food.

 AL HABTOOR is looking to be the No. 1 brand in Dubai hospitality. (credit: Mark Gordon) AL HABTOOR is looking to be the No. 1 brand in Dubai hospitality. (credit: Mark Gordon)

Duchman, originally from Brooklyn, moved to the UAE seven years ago. When he touched down, most kosher food products were imported in suitcases, with the limited exception of those ubiquitous American products found in local supermarkets that just happened to bear an OU kosher symbol. However, as the Jewish population grew quietly prior to the accords, the community established a kosher slaughterhouse in the city of Al Ain. Duchman points out the leadership of the Emirates had always promoted tolerance and freedom among its many nationalities and communities, so the introduction of kosher certification was a logical step. 

This certification is now available on kosher meals with Etihad Airways, and the EAKC has expanded, opening a second office in Dubai. The EAKC has started supervising kosher events in some of the smaller Emirates such as Ras Al Khaimah and Ajman. The EAKC certification is to the highest kashrut standards for all visitors, no matter how religious, keeping to the Emirati value of inclusion.

At the same time as the 2020 Abu Dhabi DCT announcement, Al Habtoor Group introduced kosher room service across all of its hotels in the Emirates, including its three hotels at Al Habtoor City, Dubai – the 1,006-room, family-friendly Hilton, the trendy art-deco V Hotel, Curio Collection, and the upscale Habtoor Palace, an LXR hotel. Move forward nine months, and working in conjunction with the EAKC, Al Habtoor City opened an on-site kosher kitchen to provide a full kosher breakfast, in-room dining and event catering. 

The kitchen is under the watchful eye of executive chef Nicholas Shadbolt, a Londoner who recently arrived in Dubai, via Manila, Hanoi, Phnom Penh and Macau. Shadbolt learned his trade at London’s famed Dorchester Hotel but had prior experience of kosher kitchens growing up in Tottenham and helping kosher caterers in nearby Stamford Hill, with a large percentage of Orthodox Jews. He has full responsibility for the kosher food menu, as well as the 20-plus other food and beverage outlets in the complex.

EAKC also supervises a growing number of restaurants. Dubai’s first kosher restaurant was the Armani/Kaf. Based in the luxury Armani Hotel in the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, for those with a fear of heights it thankfully sits on the first floor and comes with a front-row seat for the world’s largest choreographed fountain show. The menu celebrates the very best in kosher cuisine, paying homage to global classic flavors, with executive chef Khaldoun Annis Nassar sourcing the best kosher ingredients from around the world to create both Middle Eastern and international dishes. If you are looking for a very special treat, Nassar recommends the one-kilo Black Angus steak.

A 15-minute drive down the central Sheikh Zayed Road is the Jumeirah Creekside Hotel and the Kosher Place restaurant run by Treat Kosher, a catering and event planning company. Treat Kosher is able to cater for individual events, group bookings or simple food delivery. The company just completed a kosher desert experience and was gearing up for a Seder night with 1,000 guests. As of April 2022, they were handling around 30 events or group meals a week.

The restaurant menu at Kosher Place is traditional Middle Eastern. Treat Kosher’s Israeli executive chef Shimon Ben Shitrit believes Israeli guests like home comforts when they travel, so his menu reflects that. He sources quality meats in Europe and the US but there is also a good supply of local fish and produce.

Back to a last lunch at Al Habtoor and a chance to meet the commercial director of Al Habtoor Complex, Soufiane ElAllam, a jovial Moroccan who has been living in Dubai for 20 years, although he grew up among many Jewish neighbors in Casablanca. He tells us Al Habtoor is looking to be the No. 1 one brand in Dubai hospitality. The current jewel in its crown is the eye-popping Las Vegas-style show, La Perle, but Al Habtoor also recognizes the commercial potential of the Israeli and Jewish market, and thus, has been leading the way in Dubai in making the Jewish traveler’s experience as comfortable as possible. Certainly, for kosher visitors, Al Habtoor and Dubai represent a new and exciting value-for-money alternative to an equivalent stay in Israel.

The writers were the guests of were guests of Dubai’s Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing and Al Habtoor City Hotel Collection. They host The Jerusalem Post Podcast – Travel Edition: jpost.com/podcast/travel-edition