The Al Hakeem Cafeteria in Naif is a small, no-frills eatery opposite the Beltheeb Masjid, not far from the Naif Police Station. It’s typical of dozens of such low-cost establishments which are aimed at the very bottom end of the market. Low-cost does not necessarily mean unhygienic or unhealthy or inferior. Its interior (and benches outside) isn’t much to look at, I’ll give you that, but where food is concerned, Al-Hakeem, in particular, will knock you for a six. This is a real hidden gem. And I was here to try their breakfast.
Alright, it’s greasy and hellishly spicy so all you foo-foo, goody two shoes, vegan, unicorn-loving health-freaks can flip to the next story right now. Try their Keema and Channa, both with fried pooris (of course), and you’ll understand where labourers get the energy to work all day – I’m convinced it has something to do with the gas you get from the Channa. I could have flown back to Arabian Ranches on fart power alone. Jokes aside, this is really good stuff. But I think it made me all red-faced and sweaty because the owner suddenly appeared with an omelette, presumably for me to cool down with.
Not much talking goes on between the restaurant staff and the customers…who are mostly all regulars. In its place there are a lot of guttural sounds and gestures; clicking, clucking, grunting, head bobbing, eyebrow throwing – it’s a language on its own, worthy of a Professor Higgins case study. In addition to the food, I loved the simple, communal ambience of the place, its freedom from social boundaries and the fact that I shared one part of my bench with a crisp, polished police officer and the other side with a Pathan labourer who had parked his trolley laden with electronic gizmos on the side of the restaurant, and was sipping and slurping his super sweet, 1 Dirham Karak Chai with such noisy intensity that I had to ask my companion, a local, to speak up.
The Al Hakeem Cafeteria is one of dozens of similar eateries dotting the backstreets of every Dubai bazaar and souk; each with its own distinct identity and character. Don’t be intimidated by the way some look. Walk in and make your space. In addition to great food, I guarantee the one thing so many of new, glitzy restaurants of Dubai today lack – adventure. Yalla, go and have some fun.
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Xerxes physically dines at, or orders from, each and every venue he reviews. He pays in full for whatever he and his companions eat, drink, take away or occasionally throw at each other. Xerxes accepts no money, gifts, discounts or free meals in return for reviews or favouritism. What you have read was NOT influenced in any way by the venue. Join me on Instagram @ravenousxerxes or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.