skin is not in

254996-emirates-bikini-banTourists are being warned to cover up on certain public beaches in the United Arab Emirates or face the consequences of showing too much skin. Authorities in Ras al-Khaimah, the northernmost emirate in the UAE, have posted signs on public beaches warning of possible fines for revealing swimwear, such as bikinis and banana hammocks. Located 60 miles northeast of Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah is one of the least popular emirates for tourists, but the decision still highlights the cultural challenges facing the UAE as it attempts to balance its booming tourism industry with the sensibilities of its conservative citizens. Many local women choose to wear the modest abaya to the beach and few enter the water to swim. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi tourists can wear bikinis on the beach but are advised to cover up when visiting other public areas, such as malls. In 2010, a British woman was arrested after she stripped off to a bikini in the Dubai Mall following an altercation with a local who complained about her wearing a low-cut top. Throughout the mall, signs urge women to “wear respectful clothing”. Similar messages are flashed up on LCD screens in most shopping malls across the United Arab Emirates. Reality is so complex that equally valid observations from differing perspectives might seem to be contradictory, but one thing’s for certain: in the UAE skin is not in.

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just published: spa couture

You love designer duds, covet a closet full of fashionable shoes and handbags – why would you even think of staying anywhere other than a designer hotel?  That’s exactly the thinking among a handful of the world’s top fashion houses, including Armani, Versace, Bulgari, Missoni, and Moschino, who are boldly taking the idea of lifestyle chic where no hotel and spa has gone before. Haute holidays have arrived. Here’s our peek at the new chic: vacationcouture.

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indian superfood

Exec Digital is a new digital-only magazine that randomly dropped into my in-box earlier this month. Although more geared toward “executives” – whatever that means – it nevertheless features an interesting pastiche of travel, food and lifestyle writing. One piece in particular really struck me where it counts: the belly. Chef Gurpareet Bains’ favorite curry houses around the globe made for a quick read yet left me with a fistful of notes-to-self for future reference. You can read it below or catch it in situ HERE, courtesy of the folks at Exec Digital.

International House: The Best Curry by Gurpareet Bains

Gurpareet Bains, chef to A-listers and royalty, author of Indian Superfood and most recently winner of the 2011 Chef of the Year ‘Curry Gong’ at the English Curry Awards, takes a breather from his book tour to share a select handful of his personal favorite Indian restaurants dotted around the world.

Devi, New York, USA - Average $60 per head

Only in the last few years have dapper Indian restaurants started popping up in New York. And although it is most definitely the pioneering days of curry in the US, New York just had to deliver in style…

Devi is America’s only Michelin star Indian restaurant, and accordingly worth a visit. Chefs Suvir Saran and Hemant Mathur are sure to whip your taste buds into a frenzy with traditional Indian home cooking fused with the bold flavours of the new world.

I’m salivating just musing over fond memories of the grilled scallops with roasted pepper chutney and bitter orange marmalade, and the signature Tandoori lamb chops with pear chutney. Or for something a little more traditional, how about Phool Makhanee Kee Sabzee (lotus seeds and cashews in a creamy sauce) or the all-time-favourite, and must have Indian street food, Bombay Bhel-Puri?

With an ambience akin to an old worldly Rajasthani boathouse palace, this is the place to entertain and astonish. Be sure to invite your Indian business clients to a dinner at Devi. Deal done and dusted!

Cinnamon Kitchen, London, England - Average $60 per head

With London widely recognised as the curry capital of the world, restaurants on this side of the pond have a mighty high bar to aspire their standards upon – and the Cinnamon Kitchen doesn’t fail to astound. Right in the heart of London’s financial district, the Cinnamon Kitchen is located in a courtyard abuzz with activity. Start with a Cinnamon Spiced Martini in the Anise Bar, sipping it just to the left of the main dining room.

When you’re ready, the main dining room is a converted warehouse with 20 foot ceilings that reverberates a debonair ‘007’ style.  With an exceptional wine-list, a flawless brigade of staff and most importantly, award-winning chefs Vivek Singh and Abdul Yaseen on-hand, you’re really in for a spectacular night.

The menu is short; instead, it focuses on a select few dishes that they get right every single time. Although the meals are presented in an aptly contemporary fashion, with subtle hints of fusion, the food is truly Indian at heart. To start, I’d recommend the Fat Chillies with Spiced Paneer or Hyderabadi Lamb Mince.  As an entree, try Scottish Angus Fillet with Masala Chips or Seared Sea Bass with Kokum Curry and Rice (kokum is slightly sour, although less so than tamarind). The dessert menu is as equally as spectacular – so remember to leave room.

Dhaba, Claridges Hotel, New Delhi, India - Average $30 per head

Dhaba specializes in Punjabi Highway Fare. In the Indian state of the Punjab, locals consider highway eateries – better known as Dhabas – to serve up the best food…and they are absolutely right. It’s rather a kind of street food for people on wheels, who miss home cooking.

Dhaba’s menu is comprised of many traditional family recipes handed down generations. Try something suitably rustic, and typically Punjabi, such as Baingan Ka Bharta (spicy barbecued eggplant), Dahl Makhini (lentils slow cooked overnight, until rich and silky), and accompany this with flaky Tandoori Rotis and some of the more familiar suspects such as meat kebabs and  balti curry dishes – and you will be eating just as heartily as any Punjabi farmer. If you’re not sure what to order, or if you want to try a bit of everything, go for the Thali, which is the chef’s taster menu, and is very much the avant-garde thing to do.

But at Dhaba, it’s not only about the food. The ambience is also of the classic rural highway eatery, complete with a truck fresco, rustic interiors and waiters dressed in traditional Punjabi dress. There is even a thatched ceiling and walls replicating the irregular mud painted texture of a village hut. An old wireless belts out golden oldies from the silver era of Indian cinema, putting the final touches on a perfect evening. 

Ravi’s Restaurant, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Average $10 per head

Ravi’s on Satwa Road (near Satwa Roundabout) is an institution, and arguably Dubai’s number one curry house. Set amidst the hustle and bustle of old Dubai, and bounded by spiraling minarets and the haunting sound of muezzins’ calls, this is the place to eat curry.

It’s very much a rough-and-ready diner style restaurant with Formica tables; fortunately, the tacky decor only enhances the experience of Dubai before it became an international tourist destination.

Ravi’s is frequented by the legions of Indian and Pakistani expats living in Dubai – which is always a good sign of authentic food. If you can imagine classic dishes, such as Butter Chicken, Tarka Dahl, Biryani and Naans, all served up in monumental portions, and for just a few dollars – this is Ravi’s!

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hearts and minds and buttercream dreams

Proving the old adage that winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide is best accompanied by banana pudding, Magnolia Bakery celebrated the grand opening of an annex in Dubai today.

[All bow to the awesome power of Carrie Bradshaw.]

It’s the much-fetishized bakery’s first foray outside of NYC – let alone the USA.  And though it initially looked set to whip up a cupcake-crazed detente on a scale heretofore unimaginable (picture it:  Christians, Jews, and Muslims coming together over a shared love of red velvet and buttercream) there’s one significant difference in Dubai’s kitchen – nothing is kosher. According to a company spokesman, “due to cultural sensitivities, only the US bakeries are kosher.”

Sorry, Shlomo: no pastel-colored icebox cake for you.

And no world peace for the rest of us.

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dubaious?

High among the clouds the world’s tallest structure opened yesterday in duty-free Dubai.  The $1.5 billion dollar Burj Khalifa – called Burj Dubai until yesterday’s official renaming for Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the president of Abu Dhabi – stretches 200 stories and some 2,717 feet into the troposphere, leapfrogging past Taiwan’s Taipei 101 tower by more than 1,000 feet.

Is it a coincidence that a ritzy-glitzy opening ceremony comes hard on the heels of a burdensome debt crisis which threatens to shatter the emirate’s well-tended image as a modern moderate Muslim Xanadu?  For those who’ve compared this city of shifting sands to another pleasuredomed oasis – Las Vegas – the juxtaposition in light of recent events seems curiously apt now more than ever:  Burj Khalifa plays like the equivalent of a high stakes double down.

But will the world’s first Armani hotel – and its incumbent highest swimming pool in the world – turn the tide?  How about a 124th floor observation deck – it, too, the highest in the world, natch – with views running almost sixty miles across the Persian Gulf?  And is the highest mosque on the planet – floor 158 – a crowning glory of the citystate’s flirtatious contradictions or just a last gasp of economic recklessness?

Whatever your take, there’s no denying the big bang that took place Monday. As this video of the opening ceremony makes abundantly clear, Dubai ain’t going down without a fight.

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