Find Filipino culture at it’s finest…

It’s a weeknight but Dampa Seafood Grill is packed. Eric, the operations manager at the Deira outpost, tells me this is a slow evening and that’s really everything you need to know about the spot’s legendary status in Dubai’s food community. Looking at the full tables, the twinkling lights in and out and the servers running around with megawatt smiles on their faces rubbing shoulders with each other, you can tell it’s a happy place.

“We don’t call it a restaurant in here,” says Eric. “We call it the happy place.”

Scanning around, you’d never have guessed that this beloved beacon of Filipino cuisine had experienced a devastating event just months ago. In August of 2023, a fire broke out at the location, tearing through the restaurant and forcing it to close its doors temporarily. The situation was bleak, but the team managed to make it through the whole ordeal, retaining their optimism and all their staff, many of them like family now.

Fast forward six months and Dampa Seafood Grill has returned, along with the crowds. Tonight, we’re seated outside – the weather is perfect; the ambience of the outdoor area says ‘wholesome neighbourhood eatery’ with the lines of fairy lights drawn over our heads, the neon hoarding and simple furniture.

Naturally, we’re eager to sample their most popular offering – the seafood bucket. Justin Alvarez, of Dampa’s marketing team, tells us that the concept of a table dump and the communal eating experience comes from the military men of the Philippines.

“It’s called a boodle fight and it’s the militant way of eating in the Philippines,” he explains. “Soldiers just dump everything onto one table and all attack it together. We have gloves but of course they just use their bare hands.”

You might also like

11 great at-home catering options for your dinner party in Dubai
Smoky meats: Where to find best brisket in Dubai

Our seafood selection, marinated in their bestseller spicy and slightly sweet cajun sauce is every bit as lip-smackingly flavourful as you might imagine. The mix – jumbo prawns, that are so fresh, they’re almost creamy, crab that melts in your mouth, clams that you can eat an endless amount of and mussels that are chewy, spicy and just delightful – comes with unlimited white rice, corn and two litres of mocktails with pop culture references and Dubai-style names like ‘Justin Bieber’ and ‘We Love You Long Time’. UnBeliebably good value.

The whole affair is priced at Dhs174 and will feed two to three hungry diners. A bang for your buck, if we’ve ever seen one. We’re also served some grilled squid (Dhs42) and baked mussel (Dhs43), both toothsome and hearty.

It’s a humbling feeling in the best way possible, eating with our hands and sharing from one plate, essentially. And all the diners around us, many not Filipino, are doing the same, and that right there is the power of culture – we all bow down in the presence of it.

What’s On Verdict: Certified catch.

Dampa Seafood Grill, Port Saeed, daily, 1pm to 11.30pm, @dampaseafoodgrill

Images: Supplied