gulf futurism

on finding a japanese bakery in dubai

Gif from the Hello Kitty and Friends cartoon

Gif from the Hello Kitty and Friends cartoon

Last night I had Korean BBQ at Hyu Korean Restaurant. Hyu is a family-owned Korean place in Jumeriah Lake Towers (JLT). JLT is the quintessential Dubai neighbourhood: towering skyscrapers, city lights, taxis, traffic, restaurants, bars, office buildings. Hyu is authentically Korean - clear from its frequently visiting Korean clientele - and is nestled between JLT’s modern buildings and awkward infrastructure (if you’ve been there you’ll know what I mean). The modernity and awkwardness of JLT doesn’t bother me much - I have taught myself to be indifferent to the pointless skyscrapers and accepting of the fact that the future of the city is uncertain and possibly dystopian. For me, I just wanted to enjoy and devour the Korean barbecued beef, which by the way, was insanely mouth-watering-delicious.

A Korean barbecue, a plate of Dakgangjeong, and a green tea later, we decided to go looking for Japanese cheesecake. “There’s a Japanese cheesecake at Yakitate in Al Rigga” said my companion who was researching Japanese cheesecake options on his phone for the last ten minutes. “Al Rigga it is” I said, ready to trek on the 40 minute drive across Dubai, to one of its oldest neighbourhoods. Al Rigga is the quintessential neighbourhood of old Dubai; low-rise buildings, flickering shop signs, bicycles, traffic and shared living spaces. Anyone who grew up in Dubai knows Al Rigga as the neighbourhood that held Dubai’s promise of modernity and is now part of a forgotten past. It is a glimmer of hope that a bit of the city’s history - my history - is preserved. To me, finding the Japanese bakery in Al Rigga was a relief. When we got there, I ordered a Japanese cheesecake, a tart, Mochi and a Nutella-filled croissant for the both of us. To my dismay, I didn’t really like the taste of any*.

The confusion and disappointment I felt at the end of this East-Asian adventure in the heart of Dubai made me think of our experience of Dubai in general. The continuous striving for modernity, the promise of the future, the idea of a “utopian” life in the Middle East. This all of course was triggered by my recent reading on Gulf Futurism and the image of Dubai as a “city of the future existing in the present”. For those of you that might be interested in reading more about these themes, check out this article by Yasser ElSheshawy, Professor of Urban Studies at UAE University.

Of course the idea of a utopian Dubai - or a utopian anything for that matter - is a sham. I don’t even think utopia is a necessary ambition. And also, its okay for everything to just be as it is. Al Rigga doesn’t have to be a sign of hope that Dubai’s past is still alive, and JLT doesn’t have to be a sign that the future is all gloom and doom. I guess what I am trying to say is, its okay to not enjoy Yakitate in Al Rigga. And its also okay to enjoy Korean in JLT. Maybe Hyu is a sign that the future will be alright after all.

*By the way, Yakitate is a really old Japanese Bakery that now has two branches in Al Rigga and also has great reviews on google. It’s affordable in relation to the more recent Japanese concepts popping up around the city. I highly recommend you try it.

hqdefault (1).jpg