Your guide to being vegan in Dubai
Put down the beef bacon, because veggies just got cool. And 2016 has been dubbed the Year of the Vegan, with trends showing steep rises in demand for non-dairy products, growth in meat alternatives and a growing number of consumers open to plant-based products. ‘Veganuary’ has made its moral mark on the collective calendar, while celebrities covet cashew cheese and ditch their fur to dabble in ‘part-time’ veganism.
Health benefits, animal welfare issues and environmental concerns are shifting mindsets, propelling veganism from niche to mainstream. And given the correct tools, products and know-how, saying cheerio to cheese may not be as difficult as you think.
The best vegan spots in Dubai
Local vegan or vegan-friendly shops and services, as recommended by our vegan experts.
Be Supernatural Kitchen: Specialty food store and restaurant. Free of meat, dairy, gluten, sugar and chemicals, but packed with taste. If you’re in Downtown, Business Bay and DIFC, you’re in luck – they deliver.
Galeries Lafayette, Dubai Mall. besupernatural.com
Comptoir 102: A Jumeirah favourite, this stylish boutique with health-conscious café serves up many vegan options. Worth a visit for the juices and desserts alone.
Beach Road, Jumeirah 1. comptoir102.com
One Café at Life’n One: Gluten free, dairy free and refined sugar free café, with raw food options thrown in for good measure. The filtered water is free, too.
Beach Road, Jumeirah 1. lifenone.com/one-cafe
Organic Foods and Café: Drop by for a quick, fresh bite, then pick up your vegan supplies from the organic supermarket. The gluten-free bakery is a bonus. Delivery is available; see the website for details.
Raw food preparation classes
Nancy Alkhoury at The Cruco is a raw food chef and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who offers classes and one-on-ones in raw food prep.
Tel: (055) 4480142. facebook.com/TheCruco
Kitchen equipment supplier
For all the tools you might need, from nut milk bags to juicers, high-speed blenders to dehydrators. Check out their online shop for home delivery anywhere in the UAE.
Cookbook author and blogger
Loving it Vegan
Dubai-based Alison Andrews offers cleansing tips and exciting vegan recipes (including the perfect vegan cheese sauce!) that everyone will want to try, vegan or not.
Kat Von D and Too Faced make-up lines, available at Sephora. Neal’s Yard make-up is 100% vegetarian, and the majority is vegan. Check online for full lists of vegan products.
L’Occitane, Lush and The Body Shop, available at various malls. Again, check online for vegan product lists, and note that they all use honey.
Stella McCartney is a particularly dedicated vegan, and has created the world’s first and only vegetarian luxury brand.
Earth Choice cleaning sprays and laundry liquids are available at many supermarkets in the UAE.
Meet a Dubai vegan…
Rana Yassine, a popular veggie-loving blogger at zaatarandquinoa.com, shares some insights into her world of plant-based eating.
Nationality: Lebanese, born in Dubai.
Occupation: Work in the digital industry and now a mummy to a beautiful little girl.
Vegan for: Two years.
Best thing: How my body feels.
Toughest thing: Explaining to people how you can survive without cheese!
Most annoying thing people say: “I could never go vegan!”
Best thing about being vegan in the UAE: The diverse culture in Dubai means we can try many cuisines and more often than not, the number of vegan options will surprise you.
Best vegan breakfast: Banana oat pancakes drizzled with peanut butter and date syrup.
Best dinner spot: Zaroob (Arabic cuisine has a lot of vegan options).
Top shopping: Organic Foods and Café.
Favourite vegan website: ohsheglows.com
Simplest home recipe: Pasta, tomato sauce, veggies = done!
Top vegan product: Coconut oil – I use it everywhere! In the kitchen and on my body.
Why consider becoming vegan?
Let’s ask someone who knows. Carolina Ziemann is a dedicated vegan living in Dubai. Having discovered that she couldn’t find the products and culinary tools in the UAE that she needed for her vegan lifestyle, she launched her own company and imported it herself. Raw Bites offers super foods, kitchen equipment and recipes to support those wishing to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
How do you define a ‘vegan lifestyle’? If you ask different vegan people you will probably get different answers. To me, a vegan lifestyle means: a person who omits ALL animal products from their life. For example, food, clothing, bodycare products, houseware, cleaning products or anything else.
Is it really healthier? I’m not a nutritionist, but my personal observations are that it depends on how you choose to devise your diet. There is vegan trash food out there. But if you stick to fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes and everything is in balance your diet will be very alkaline and nutritious. There is one vitamin which is important to supplement: Vitamin B12. B12 is produced by neither plants nor animals; it is produced by bacteria that sits in the intestines of animals or you can also find it in the soil, for example.
Speaking of supplements, if you go to a supermarket you’ll find shelves full of them. These are obviously not for the vegan minority, but for omnivores on the standard diet. Vegans are usually very health-conscious; we read labels on food packages and we question where the food comes from and who is making money from it.
What drew you to the lifestyle? I chose a vegan lifestyle in 2013. I started with the change of diet for a selfish reason: I wanted to feel better. Despite having a nine to five office job here in Dubai that was physically not very draining, I felt exhausted in the evenings. I presumed it had to do with the food I was eating because after a meal I often felt so tired that I wanted to sleep.
I had heard that raw vegan food aids digestion because the enzymes do not get destroyed in the cooking process, so the body requires less effort to digest and therefore has more energy. I bought the book Raw Kickstart by Alison Andrews and felt a difference in energy levels after the first meal.
What made you commit to veganism? From there I started looking into where my food comes from and how it is produced, and I moved from eating mainly raw-vegan to a balanced vegan diet that includes cooked and uncooked food. As I educated myself on how animal products are produced – including products such as leather – I decided to withdraw my support from these industries by giving up all animal products.
Why makes you so passionate? I care about the environment. The meat and dairy industry is taking a toxic toll on it. If you want to know more, watch the documentary Cowspiracy on Netflix (executive produced by Leonardo Di Caprio). There are two other good documentaries as a starting point: I care deeply for other humans and the coming generations’ right to wellbeing and health, so I recommend Vegucated; and I care about animals – the needless suffering that occurs at the hands of the meat and dairy industries can be reduced, so I recommend Earthlings, narrated by Joaquin Phoenix. It’s so easy to do your part, and on a vegan diet you are practicing peace, non-violence and compassion with every meal.
What would you say are the main benefits? Health, longevity, peace of mind and overall enjoyment of life.
What does it take to ‘make it’ as a vegan? I don’t see it as ‘making it’. It sounds like deduction, discipline and restriction – if it feels like that, one is not doing it properly. Invest in recipe books and dive into abundance. I like to look at veganism like I am wearing a light garment that makes me feel good. Veganism should be enjoyment and indulgence, and it’s easy because many vegan foods are wonderful in their natural form – fresh fruits and veggies, steamed potatoes or wild rice, protein-rich legumes, seeds, green leaves; there’s so much. Once the taste buds are off the junk food withdrawal and you have implemented a variety of vegan meals, your body will crave it and the appetite for junk food will fade. It might even start grossing you out.
Making veganism easy
Alona Chyrva, a health coach and yoga instructor, has been living in Dubai for more than eight years with her vegan Emirati husband. Passionate about veganism, Alona is an organiser with the Vegans of Dubai Meetup club. Here she shares her top five tips for vegan living in Dubai.
– In my opinion Dubai is an amazing place for being vegan. The hot weather means we need to eat lighter food to keep our energy up, and there is a fantastic variety of fresh fruits and vegetables all year round in Dubai. You can’t go wrong by eating everyday local vegetables, herbs or fruits.
– I became vegan after many years of being vegetarian, and what I really recommend after both experiences is to keep things simple. Keep your food as close to nature as possible, and stick to options that are easy to cook.
– Most of the time I cook my vegan meals at home, but we have a great choice of restaurants in Dubai – and in each one you can modify your dish to a vegan option. That’s what I always do. I have never been to a restaurant in Dubai where I wasn’t able to have a vegan meal. If you do struggle to find something, the best options to go for are salads, grilled veggies or juices.
– In order to have a great time by being vegan, what I really recommend is to have friends who share the same interests as you. Join a group or Meetup so you won’t feel alone. Join some vegan cooking classes and learn this new, beautiful world of healthy food.
– Veganism is not only a diet; it is a holistic lifestyle as well as a totally peaceful movement towards animals and even humans. It is so important to spread love and compassion – that is what we get through our food.